Many Rangers fans have been critical of coach Tortorella in the past. We've complained of his constant line changes, his demeanor towards some of the young talent and the way in which the team always seems to start games off slowly. I would argue though that Torts has been spot on since the beginning.
Yes, I would admit he has made mistakes, like any coach will. But when Torts first took over as coach he was adamant this team would conform to his beliefs. He believed this team needed to get younger and play an aggressive, fast-paced style. The way the club is playing now, I would say he was right the whole time.
When he first took over he was saddled with players who didn't fit into the style he wanted to play. He knew that. Wade Redden and Scott Gomez are just two of the high-priced players Glen Sather imported that didn't mesh well with the coach.
It became readily apparent this off-season where Torts stood on personnel issues. He recognized the youth that had already made it's way onto the MSG ice or would soon get there. He wanted Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto to be the present and future of the Rangers.
This season has shown Torts to be true to his word. We now have a young club breaking in a number of kids and rookies but is still hanging tough in the Eastern Conference playoff race. You want proof the kids are playing a key role? Well, check this out then.
Here's a list of the top Rangers forwards in Average Time On Ice (ATOI) per game with the age of the player in parentheses:
Brandon Dubinsky (24) - 20:12
Ryan Callahan (25) - 19:09
Marian Gaborik (28) - 19:03
Derek Stepan (20) - 16:21
Ruslan Fedotenko (31) - 15:56
Artem Anisimov (22) - 15:35
Brian Boyle (26) - 15:15
Mats Zuccarello (23) - 14:37
That's 1 - 8 among Ranger forwards. Dubi and Cally are in their 4th years. Boyle and Anisimov are in their 2nd full seasons in the NHL. Stepan and Zuc are rookies. That shows a commitment to the youth and the future.
Derek Stepan's is an especially interesting case. Torts has increased his responsibilities of late and Step now sees time in all situations. Over the last 5 games Step has played an average of 19:03 per. He also averages the 6th most time on the PP per game at 2:38; some of that on the point. Torts also trusts Step on the PK giving the kid :29 of time killing opposing man-advantages on average. That's not bad for a 20 year-old rookie.
The defense plays the same way too. The only defender who has skated for the Rangers this season above 27 is Michal Rozsival at 32. Here's a breakdown of the ATOI of the 8 men to have played defense for the Blue Shirts this year:
Marc Staal (23) - 25:29
Dan Girardi (26) - 24:36
Michal Rozsival (32) - 22:02
Michael Del Zotto (20) - 21:07
Steve Eminger (27) - 16:31
Michael Sauer (23) - 14:22
Matt Gilroy (26) - 13:38
Ryan McDonagh (21) - 11:51
The key to me is MDZ (as we like to call him). Of course he was recently sent down to Connecticut to refine his game and regain his confidence. Still, Torts trusted him enough as a 20 year-old to play the kid more than 21:00 per game in all situations.
The great thing about this team isn't just the success of the young guys already at this level but it's the success of many of the kids on the path to NYC. Chris Kreider and Ryan Bourque each won a bronze with the US Under 20 team. Christian Thomas is on fire in Junior and maybe should have made the Candian U-20 team. Jesper Fasth starred for the Swedish team at the same tournament though the Swedes didn't perform as they usually do.
We also have 2010 1st round pick Dylan McIlrath, C Ethan Werek, Connecticut defenseman Pavel Valentenko among others climbing the ladder in the Rangers system.
To say it is an exciting time to be a Rangers fan is an understatement. The team works hard, is young and competes with the best in the league consistently. Additionally, the club has many more young prospects quickly ascending the ranks. No doubt the Rangers will be a team to watch over the next several years and hopefully coach Tortorella is still behind the bench guiding this squad.