Youth Gone Wild... Or Youth Gone?
How the Wings approach their young rookies and up and comers this summer will have a big impact on the team's future.
What we've got on our hands, is a youth movement. It started last year when the Wings were beaten down by injuries , and the floodgates were blown open this year as the injury bug overdosed on steroids, hulked out, and started rampaging around the Joe, maiming everyone it could find. This season the Wings had 8 rookies make their NHL debuts, and Alexey Marchenko was the oldest, at 23 years old. That's a lot of young rookies, regardless of what team they're playing for.
Today was locker clean out day at the Joe and there were interviews and quotes galore There was plenty of the typical generic answers given, as well as some interesting comments that are a little more insightful. The general consensus from both Ken Holland and Mike Babcock today was that they're planning to rely heavily on their returning players as well as the kids, both those who played for the Wings this year and some others in Grand Rapids, to continue to improve the team. Since the dawn of time (apparently), the Red Wings have been a team that didn't lack for experience... Old, some called them. But this isn't your Grandpa's Red Wings team anymore. If not for the young rookies this season and last, we'd have been sunk... Up chocolate creek without a Popsicle stick, up shi... well, you get the point. The Wings stand on the verge of a threshold. Will the willingly embrace the youth movement and continue on the path we were forced upon? Or will management retreat into their comfort zone of more age advanced and experienced players? There are some tough decisions to be made, so when Jeff Riger tweeted the following statement from Ken Holland, my brain juices started bubbling.
Holland says he's hasn't changed his philosophy of letting prospects get overripe— Jeff Riger (@riger1984) April 29, 2014
Well that's... disconcerting. That statement isn't encouraging and gives me uncomfortable twitches.
In general, I don't have a problem with letting the players get nice and ripe in Grand Rapids, there are a lot of benefits to letting players mature and be really ready before bringing them up to the big club. Stephen Weiss lamented the fact that he was never given the opportunity to play in the minors in Florida and wished he had the option to over ripen before being thrust into the NHL. But what if we're operating under a false assumption of what "over ripe" means? What if the definition of over ripe has changed in the Red Wings organization? This is something I've been thinking about a lot, and it's something I hope Ken Holland and Company realize as well.
The Red Wings used to trade away 1st round picks like they were sticks of fruity stripe gum on the playground, but those days are long gone, and the Wings now focus on drafting and player development. The Wings have, for years, made the best of their draft picks and worked to develop their players into well rounded NHL'ers. In the last few years however, the Wings have noticeably increased the quality of their player development. The addition of Jeff Blashill and his coaching staff, the increased Wings involvement in the Griffins organization, and some high quality prospects in the pipeline all contribute to the fact that many of the prospects we currently have in the system will be "ripe" sooner than past prospects. Of course, everyone is different, but speaking in general terms, the timeline for ripe and over ripe have changed.
Thanks to great coaching, developing, and teaching by Blashill and his staff in Grand Rapids, guys like Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco, Xavier Ouellet, and many others are far better prepared not only for the NHL, but specifically for the Wings system of hockey. Just look at how well the rookies in the last two seasons have been able to jump in and play! Four or more years ago, I don't think that would be the case. I think most players are going to over ripen sooner than they have in the past, and I pray to the hockey gods that Holland and company realize that and embrace it.
Holland said the right things today when he talked about most of our building coming from within, and in a radio interview he talked about Mantha coming into training camp and potentially earning a top 6 spot. But if the Wings don't anticipate and embrace the fact that some of these kids are ready, and others will be ready sooner rather than later, I'm afraid we'll end up with too many veterans or players who contribute little or can't stay healthy and we'll end up with a Nyquist situation all over again. There's a fine line between paying your dues and having the patience to take the time to develop into an NHL player, and being kept in development too long. That line is changing for the Wings organization and how the Wings handle the youth movement this summer is going to say a lot about their plans for the future... I just hope it says good things.