Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Difficulty In Deciding When A Prospect Is NHL Ready (Erixon, Thomas)

One of the toughest things for any organization in the development of their prospects is deciding when a prospect is ready for the jump to the NHL level of competition.  The New York Rangers have had some huge successes with their timing in the past few years while with others the prospects have been rushed in hopes of getting them ready to contribute and fill needs sooner.  At training camp this year the organization will have to make those calls on a few prospects with Tim Erixon and Christian Thomas being the two most notable.

As with all prospects the situations for those two are unique and the options that the Rangers have differ because of it.  In the case of Tim Erixon the Rangers acquired a player who is two years from his draft year and has spent those two seasons playing against men in the Swedish Elite League (SEL).  The fact that he has played in that environment should aid Erixon in his preparedness for the transition to the NHL.  If Erixon is determined to need more time the Rangers can send him to the minors, play Steve Eminger on the third pair and allow him to transition through the AHL, as they did with Ryan McDonagh last season.

The situation with Christian Thomas is different.  Thomas and his goal scoring abilities present the Rangers with an intriguing option to help an offense that has been inconsistent over the past few seasons.  Thomas certainly produced offensively in the OHL with 54 goals and 45 assists in just 66 games.  On the surface it is hard to see what another season in the OHL is really going to do for Thomas in terms of development.  The problem is because Thomas was playing in CHL at the time he was drafted he either has to play in the OHL this season or NHL and cannot be sent to the minors as Erixon can.  This is the same situation that Del Zotto was in two years ago.  Del Zotto played very well early in the season and when the decision came as to whether to keep him for the year or send him back to Juniors the decision seemed simple in keeping him.  Offensively Del Zotto had a very good year, but for him the year back in the OHL working on the rest of the aspects of his game might have helped more in the long term and avoided the kind of slip he had last season.

The decision on Erixon is much simpler than it will be on Thomas because of the type of options the Rangers have in moving Erixon between the different levels within the organization while Thomas is basically in the NHL or back in Juniors for the season.  Erixon’s background in the SEL should have him prepared for playing against the bigger competition, while Thomas who already has his size as a potential detriment does not have the experience playing against men. 

There is no telling in advance what either of these two will gain or lose based on the different options the Rangers organization will choose for them coming out of training camp next month, which is why deciding when a prospect is ready might be the hardest decision the organization makes in shaping the future of the club.