Hayes and Miller thriving under Coach Vigneault
The coach of any team, in any sport, is a polarizing figure. Almost every coach and their staff have a shelf life. The notable exceptions are the basketball coach in San Antonio, and the football coach in New England (though cheating has occurred twice on his watch). Since 2015 turned into 2016, Rangers coach Alain Vineault has been under fire if you check social media, NY Rangers blogs, or casual conversation among fans. Many have different gripes with him; some legitimate and others way off. But coaches must be viewed in a big picture scope.
The Role of a Coach
The head coach has to wear many hats. Strategy, in game adjustments, dealing with players, dealing with media (John Torterella failed miserably in this department) and player development, to name several. Most coaches failed before ever succeeding. Coaches need to fit the strengths of the team, not vice versa. Torterella was fired in 2013 for several reasons, primarily because the Rangers skilled young prospects were very fast skaters and Torts system was built for grinders.
Vigneault’s system fits the Ranger personnel much better. With many talented young players in their system ready to graduate into the NHL, player development was going to be a vital trait. AV’s detractors have to keep that in mind before writing him off, how he has developed prospects when judging him.
Developing and Getting the Most out of Players
Mats Zuccarello has become a top 6 forward under Vigneault after barely getting a sniff over 3 seasons with the organization under Torts. Derek Stepan and Derrick Brassard got better every year under AV. But perhaps the biggest feather in his cap may be J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes.
Miller, last season, took a big step forward in his production. Starting to fulfill his promise, he scored 22 goals and 21 assists. Kevin Hayes had a very solid and at times dominant rookie year. But, last year there was a drop off in on ice production and his overall game.
Last December Hayes found himself scratched a few times, with AV famously questioning his effort. To an athlete there are no more harsh words to be heard. But Miller and Hayes had other issues, both were horrible defensive players. Miller had big time turnover problems and Hayes was one of the worst face off centers in the league.
Hayes and Miller Thriving
Tough love and many in season / end of season conversations got thru to Hayes in a big way. Besides helping the Rangers land Jimmy Vesey this past summer, he worked out like an animal. Following an off season regimen designed by the Rangers staff, Hayes came into camp in unreal shape. Lighter, Hayes is noticeably faster on the ice.
Assistant coach Scott Arniel gave all of the Rangers centers a summer homework assignment of viewing video of the leagues best faceoff centers and their technique. Hayes has gone from 36% to 46% on faceoff winning percentage. Even after Hayes got off to a slow start, AV stuck with him. Rewarding his very hard work, AV has used him in all situations with confidence.
The same goes for Miller. The two have become a dynamic pair on the penalty kill. Miller has become a more consistent force on the ice. Imposing his will with speed and strength on the forecheck. Forcing turnovers, making smart hockey plays, and, by the way leading the team in scoring. Both players have gone from offensive guys with large holes in their game to complete players that crave to be counted on. For sure the players themselves deserve the most credit. But, don’t overlook the coaches contributions.
On the Right Path
There is now a clear and very successful track record in developing players with this current coaching staff. About one third of the league does a poor job developing their draft picks. Look no further than Brooklyn as a team that is inept at drafting and developing. Add to that, how high that team drafts on a yearly basis and where the Rangers are drafting by comparison.
Young players with big upside like Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei, and Jimmy Vesey seem to be in very good hands going forward. Coaching at the NHL level has many different facets. There are some things that AV is strong at and some areas where he can use work. But at the end of the day, what’s important to me is player development for the long term success of any franchise.
It doesn’t hurt that players want to come here and want to stay here. When fellow fans say to me “they gotta fire this guy..” , I always reply “with who?” I mean, are you sure someone else WILL be better? Will the next staff develop players like the Rangers of 2001 or the current Islanders? Or will they be as good or better than this group? That last one will be tough.
Yes, AV frustrates me with his line combinations. I cant stand any shift J.T. Miller plays at center, but I don’t want the guy fired over that. Mike Keenan did not win anything in Philly or Chicago before being hired by the Rangers. Maybe AV, after tours in Montreal and Vancouver, will find his holy grail here. Either way, the Rangers young talented nucleus can thank him and his staff for contributing to what they’ve become.