Friday, February 18, 2011

Grachev Showing Signs Of Developing, Will the Rangers and Fans Be Patient Enough To Wait?

Among New York Rangers fans there has been a great deal of frustration with 20-year-old prospect Evgeny Grachev.  The expectations levels were simply too high based on his performance in the Ontario Hockey with the Brampton Battalion.  There was this idea that he was going to come into pro hockey as a 19-year-old and dominate, forcing his way onto the Rangers NHL club where he would score a number of goals.  When that did not happen last year the groans began and they only intensified to start this season.  Reality is there were known flaws in his game before he turned pro last season and they were exposed in the AHL.  The willingness of many fans to give up on a talent like Grachev because he is not NHL ready does not surprise me, but shows how expectations cloud the judgment and patience that players are afforded in their development.

Today on A.J. Atchue has a great feature on Evgeny Grachev's development in Hartford and how now, a year and a half into his professional career, he is learning what it takes to be a professional player and having his all-around game round into NHL form.

From Atchue's piece: 
Grachev, who turns 21 on Monday, stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 222 pounds, offering a towering presence wherever he is on the ice. Harnessing that size and strength and combining it with the ability to create offensive opportunities has been a work in progress, but he's beginning to show signs of turning the corner.
"He's certainly a strong skater. He has a big shot, and he's strong on the puck," said Rangers Assistant General Manager Jim Schoenfeld, who also serves as GM of the Whale. "He's starting to develop a complete game, which is one of our goals with him. He was a big scorer in junior, and he's worked hard at becoming a more complete player."
Grachev certainly was off to another slow start this year, but after a torrid January he has already surpassed last year’s goal total of 12, with 13 goals in 48 games this season.  In speaking to his all-around development he has gone from a minus 13 last season to currently playing at a team leading plus 11.
"I think he's made great strides in the past month and a half here," Whale coach Ken Gernander said. "All kids develop at a different rate, and sometimes the guys with physical traits such as Evgeny have to work on doing things a little quicker when they get to the next level. They can't rely so much on their physical skills where maybe they were able to get by at lower levels."
The real key to the change in Grachev’s game over the last couple of months has been Gernander using him on the penalty kill as it has kept Evgeny more involved in the game and allowed him to showcase his overall skill level.  It will be interesting to watch to see with most of the Whale are back in Connecticut with the Rangers getting healthy if Grachev can keep up the strides he made while they were gone and he had to be an offensive force for the team.  The signs are positive and in no way should the organization of the fans give up on this kid just yet.  Development is different for each prospect and for a fan base that cried out for young players and a youth movement the willingness to toss him overboard because he is not ready immediately is disconcerting to me.  It is that sense of urgency that had him rushed in the first place and now he is just catching up to where he should have been right now.  While I am willing to give Grachev more time there is still pressure on him though as he is being passed by other prospects in the system and more are on the way, so he will have to continue showing development or his chance may slip right on by.