Rangers laser focus on prospect development really paying dividends

Kakko (Google Images)
Kaapo Kakko (Howard Simmons)

For years the New York Rangers were a team focusing on the now, trying to sign big free agents and be a contender every year. It didn’t always work out that way and it has frustrated some fans, me included, that they never tried a different approach. Well, we see signs every week that this is no longer the case.

When Jeff Gorton took over in July of 2015, his goal was to “retool” the Rangers as he said and that started with the Brassard-Zibanejad trade a year later. A year later, Derek Stepan was traded together with backup goalie Antti Raanta for a top-10 pick and Anthony DeAngelo. The last 16 months however, the Rangers are in full rebuild mode and the latest moves suggest they are focusing on more than just drafting. 2 weeks ago, Tanner Glass was added to the organization in a role where he will serve as a “prospect chaperone” so to speak where he will help prospects off the ice. As a Dartmouth graduate, Tanner Glass has the paperwork to land a job like this and fans need to see this separate from Tanner Glass as a player. Glass will work closely with another former Ranger Jed Ortmeyer who is the Director of Player Development for the Blueshirts.

Today, Larry Brooks (New York Post) reported the Rangers have added Tuomo Ruutu to do the same job in Europe. The 36-year old Finn who played for the Blackhawks, Hurricanes and Devils in the NHL, and represented Jokerit and HIFK in his home-country Finland, retired in 2017 and served as Jukka Jalonen’s assistant coach on the u20 Finland national team. Ruutu worked closely with Kaapo Kakko in that capacity.

2 weeks ago, I had a former New York Rangers employee on as guest on my own podcast Under Review and we had a lengthy discussion about this transition. How the Rangers have changed their attitude towards prospect development by having coaches fly over to individually assist these prospects.

Another change in management was the way they want to make sure the prospects feel that they are part of the franchise. “Whether you play in Finland, Russia, Sweden, Hartford, Maine. YOU are a Ranger” is what he said. When Lias Andersson was sent to Frölunda on loan after the 2017 draft, the Rangers were closely involved in his development and they sent a skating coach to Göteborg to work with Lias Andersson individually. All those little nuances help in players feeling they are part of the organization.

Lias Andersson (Hockeysverige.se)

The appointment of Tanner Glass and Tuomo Ruutu points to the Rangers organization fully embracing the development of prospects. One aspect that cannot be understated is that Jeff Gorton brought in Nickolai Bobrov in 2016 to serve as the head of European scouting. Gorton and Bobrov worked together in Boston and the current Rangers GM felt he was the right man for the job.

It is no surprise to me that since then, we have seen the addition of highly touted European prospects like Filip Chytil, Vitali Kravtsov, Yegor Rykov and Nils Lundkvist. With the focus shifting to European based prospects in recent years, Gorton acknowledged that the organization needs to be involved in the development of those prospects. With the addition of Tuomo Ruutu we have another piece to the puzzle.

Leevi Aaltonen (Leijonat.fi)

The New York Rangers currently have 9 prospects in Europe, with Tarmo Reunanen potentially returning to Finland if he doesn’t make the team. Ruutu will spend his time in Sweden and Finland helping Olof Lindbom, Calle Själin, Jakob Ragnarsson, Nils Lundkvist, Adam Edström and Karl Henriksson in Sweden, and Leevi Aaltonen, Lauri Pajuniemi and potentially Tarmo Reunanen in Finland.