As the Rangers' defensive corps continues to take shape for the upcoming season - with the exception of Marc Staal still not being re-signed - I could not help but to think about head coach John Tortorella's plans for former Hobey Baker Award winner Matt Gilroy. Gilroy came into the league as a 25-year-old rookie last season straight from Boston University. In the beginning, he looked promising and was being compared by many to former Ranger great Brian Leetch during the preseason. That continued into the early stages of October but then his game began to fade.
On December 10th, Tortorella made the shocking decision to send Gilroy down to the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League. Basically, they were holding him accountable for the poor defensive play that was mostly due to the usual suspects, Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival. Torts claimed that the youngster needed to learn how to compete better and his battle level needed to be raised majorly. I will admit that Matt was probably not competing like he should, but it was not something I would have buried him in Hartford for.
What Tortorella did not realize, however, was that most of the qualms he had with Gilroy's game were problems he created himself as the coach. To begin the season, it was all about pinching and joining the offense for the defensemen. Torts wanted no hesitation whatsoever, he just wanted them to make the move. This had to quickly change after it continually burned the club throughout the first month of the season. Now the Ranger blue-line was forced to play a more conservative style of hockey instead of the high-risk one they were used to.
Continue reading after the jump.....
Now picture being a rookie entering the league, coming from a college where you were taught to play a certain way for four years of your career. Once you hit the NHL, you now have to make a big adjustment to fit in with the coach's system. Gilroy did that just fine - the first time. And now, after making that adjustment, the coach changes his system yet again and you have to learn something new all over. That is obviously going to cause problems for all of the players, but especially the rookies.
While this seemed to favor some defensemen (Del Zotto and Staal) it revealed flaws in others (Gilroy and Redden). It was not fair and then to think Tortorella had the nerve to destroy Gilroy's confidence by sending him down because the kid was all messed up from having to make constant adjustments due to poor coaching is sickening.
Anyway, for the remainder of the season after that, Gilroy was not bad, but he was not spectacular either. He just quietly played his game (or Torts' game) and scored the occasional goal. I did not have a problem with that but again, it seemed to bother the coach. In the last few weeks of the season, Matt found himself a healthy scratch night in and night out. Anders Eriksson took his place and to be honest, I never felt he contributed much more than Gilroy ever did.
From here I believe both Gilroy and Tortorella should put the 2009-10 season behind them and focus on the one coming up. He deserves another shot at claiming a spot on this defensive squad, especially if Wade Redden is waived come training camp. Having Staal, Girardi, Del Zotto, Gilroy, and Ryan McDonagh all on the same defense would be a spectacular move for the youth movement as it would leave Michal Rozsival as the only overpriced aged player.
Gilroy has exceptional offensive talent and the fact that he grew up playing forward helped that a lot. We saw what he can do when he has confidence and is willing to skate the puck up to start the rush. Yes, at times he did look like Brian Leetch with those offensive moves and Michael Del Zotto later looked very similar. Having two potential offensive weapons on your blue-line is rare now-a-days but the Blueshirts have just that and need to take advantage of it.
All it will take is a confidence boosting preseason talk with the coaching staff and management at training camp to get Gilroy back to where he was during September of last season. He will again be willing to skate with the puck, make plays and score goals on defense. That would make him a threat on the dull powerplay as well. Which will need all the help it can get this season. I think if the opportunity is given to him, Gilroy can become a star in this league, and I would hate to see him slip from the Rangers' fingers and grow into a powerhouse elsewhere.