Upon his hiring, President John Davidson mentioned the need to use the Rangers’ financial muscle to upgrade the organization’s personnel and foster better operations across the board. The team has not wasted time since. Tanner Glass and Tuomo Ruutu join Jed Ortmeyer in player development roles, and the team is expected to add a fourth for defensive development; Sergei Zubov’s named has speculated.
That’s (an expected) three additions to the organization in quick order, and while it’s perhaps not the most pronounced work Davidson will do in his new role, it is the first tangible example of JD making his mark and changing the organization’s model.
It’s a dramatic change in approach to prospect nurturing, as the Blueshirts had previously preached a laissez-faire attitude. In discussions with Rangers’ prospects over the years, it was evident that, while the Rangers certainly checked in, they were largely content watching their prospects from a bird’s-eye view. Take Dylan McIlrath, for example, who noted that the Rangers mostly let his junior team handle his development.
There is some merit to that attitude. An organization doesn’t want to be full of overbearing Helicopter Parents, applying too much pressure with a constant reminder of the stakes. Young players need breathing room.
It certainly does not make sense to leave them alone, though. The expenditure that teams dedicate towards scouting is massive. Why not spend a little bit more to ensure proper development of the players you do acquire? It’s nonsensical to blindly trust that every team in juniors, college, and Europe is going to have the right personnel in place to properly develop these young, vulnerable players. Even the ones that do simply can not compete with the budget of an NHL franchise. Hiring a few nomads to offer, if nothing else, supplemental guidance is a no-brainer given the investment already made.
How the Rangers plan to utilize these new hires specifically is unknown. Generally speaking, though, the job of a player development specialist is essentially two-fold. First, they do on-ice work with prospects. Teams are typically happy to let prospects get one-on-one time with NHL development coaches (though NCAA rules in particular do restrict this some). Second, they are available for moral guidance. Sometimes a player is struggling and needs a pep talk, or a kick in the ass, or simply someone with whom to talk through problems. Sometimes it’s useful to have that discussion with someone else besides the same two coaches he typically has in his ear every day.
Of course, hiring people for the job is one thing, and hiring qualified people for the job is another.
Let’s focus on Tanner Glass because, as ever, he is a lightning rod for misguided opinions; both positive and negative. No, Tanner Glass being a nice guy and going to Dartmouth does not automatically qualify him for the job. Being a good person is helpful but does not teach a 19-year-old how to improve his crossovers. And, generally speaking, the requirements for admission at an Ivy League via athletic scholarship aren’t quite on par with the rest of the student body (though Glass specifically does come off as an intelligent guy).
On the other hand, though, Glass’ limited abilities as a player is not disqualifying. In fact, it offers him a lot of credibility. A look around the league will reveal that most people in coaching and development roles are former depth players. There are many reasons for this, but a key one is that former superstars have a difficult time getting into the head of the average player. Take this anecdote regarding soccer legend Thierry Henry, who lasted just three months as the manager of Monaco:
Golovin also revealed that when things weren’t going his way, Henry would jump in and perform training drills himself in an effort to show his players how things should be done.
He added: “He would try to go out onto the field and show us how to practice and yell...
“He would scream ‘try to get the ball away from me.’”
Their abilities often came naturally to them; instinctively or physically. They’ve never had to really think about how to do it. That creates a bad foundation for educating others for whom those skills are not innate.
Which is why, at least in theory, grinders like Glass (as well as Ortmeyer and Ruutu to varying degrees) can be more appropriate in these roles. Glass and Ortmeyer in particular had to work their asses off to develop the requisite skills just to even get a look.
Those experiences can translate to the psychological side as well. Wayne Gretzky would never in a million years be able to understand the frustration of a 5th-round pick who hasn’t scored in nine games or can’t get a promotion off the third defensive pairing, but those guys certainly can. NHL careers did not happen passively for them. They, more than anybody, know what a long and sometimes demoralizing journey it can be to the NHL, and how to best combat that. Ruutu is a former ninth-overall pick who had his share of ups-and-downs in the NHL. He too offers an interesting perspective and can impress upon prospects the idea that getting drafted high does not mean he will coast to success.
That Glass is very good at establishing interpersonal relations and trust will certainly go a long way as well in this particular role.
Sergei Zubov, of course, would not fit into this category. The recent Hall of Fame inductee was a superstar with plenty of natural ability. But great players can be great educators in certain instances. Larry Robinson was a great player and coach. So too is Steve Kerr in basketball. Zubov has a track record and has worked his way up, first as an assistant coach for the two-best KHL teams and most recently as head coach for HC Sochi, where Rangers’ prospect Yegor Rykov developed quite nicely last season. His potential hiring would be more than a pure legacy addition.
We can not definitively say that all, or even any, of these additions to the organization are deserving. But there are certainly a lot of reasons to believe they could be capable. Ultimately, the development of prospects over the next few years will determine their levels of success. For now, taking action to create a more hands-on approach to prospect development with help from players with fascinating backgrounds is a major acknowledgment of modern hockey and task ahead of the organization as it attempts to build a Stanley Cup winner from scratch. Drafting alone does not get the job done, and now the Rangers are better equipped to deal with the developing of their young talent.