The New York Rangers made a somewhat surprising move yesterday, returning prized prospect Anthony Duclair back to the QMJHL after his gold-medal run with Canada in the World Junior Championship. While there was always a very real possibility the Rangers would return him to juniors, I didn't expect it to happen immediately after the World Juniors ended.
I don't love this decision, for what my opinion is worth. I don't believe the Memorial Cup experience is as good as the experience he would have gotten in the NHL (obviously) but I do understand the value of the Rangers' brass wanting Duclair to play not only every night but a significant role every night. And it is clear Alain Vigneault believed that was not going to happen right away in New York. And right or wrong, if that's the case it's the correct decision for his development.
Why that's the case, however, hovers over this decision. If the reason why Duclair wouldn't get into the lineup is because guys like Kevin Hayes, Jesper Fast and J.T. Miller would have kept him off the ice, that's fine. In fact, that's a really good thing. And by all indications from Vigneault yesterday, that does seem to be the case:
AV on the Duke: "Our team’s healthy. Our team is playing well. J.T.’s play has picked up & it'd be tough for Anthony to crack our lineup."— Pat Leonard (@PLeonardNYDN) January 6, 2015
There's no doubting Miller, Fast, Hayes and Lee Stempniak have proven their worth in the top nine. And because they're all playing so well, as many as two of them might need to get pushed to the fourth line -- which is a good thing.
The move isn't without its risks. The Rangers have precious little scoring depth in the case of an injury -- since right now Tanner Glass is the only guy waiting in the wings that doesn't need a call up. The Rangers do have a few guys in the AHL (mainly Oscar Lindberg and Danny Kristo) who could fill in, but it's doubtful either are long-term options at this point.
It should be noted that preparing for injuries isn't worth stunting Duclair's development. If Duclair wasn't going to play every night -- which I think we can all agree is the case -- then it's not the right move to keep him up "just in case." You can do that with a Ryan Malone, someone who is who he is, but you don't do that with a 19-year-old with the potential Duclair has.
The Rangers are rolling, and they've finally seemed to find that swagger they had last year again. A lot of this has to do with the defensive corps returning to where they need to be along with Vigneault dressing a quality fourth line that can help relieve some of the defensive burdens on the top nine.
If Duclair couldn't fit in because of that, I understand the move. I don't like it, but that's my heart speaking, not my head. And you can't make these decisions with your heart.