Hartnett: Early Season Struggles Show Rangers Coach David Quinn Also Has A Lot To Prove

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Maybe we all gave David Quinn too much credit for being a youth-progressing authority based on a five-year stint coaching the likes of Clayton Keller, Jack Eichel and Charlie McAvoy at Boston University.

Perhaps, this trio of former Terriers would have been destined for NHL stardom regardless of which coach was fortunate enough to work with them at the collegiate level.

Right now – at this very moment – Quinn’s No. 1 responsibility is accelerating the development of Kaapo Kakko, Lias Andersson, Pavel Buchnevich and other youngsters currently on the Rangers’ roster, as well as the prospects who make the jump to the NHL.

The Rangers can’t afford to swing and miss on transitioning a promising youth movement into a core that Stanley Cup dreams are built upon. This organization spent several seasons rebuilding, restocking the youth pipeline and chasing the chance at a franchise-changing draft selection.

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That game-changing talent came in the form of Kakko. Through his first nine NHL games, the Finnish wing has a goal and an assist to his name. Though Kakko will need to learn the lessons that all rookies do and raise his performances, it appears that Quinn is constantly demanding his players to raise their battle level and efforts.

Do teams require intensity, competitiveness and hard-skating efforts to win on a nightly basis? Of course they do. But in 2019, the NHL is a league where skill triumphs out over grit, battle level and toughness.

The following quote is worrying because Quinn continues to point to effort as the main issue of why the 3-5-1 Rangers are struggling.

DQ challenged his team's toughness:"Skill certainly is a huge component of this game, but if you have no battle in you, I don’t care how skilled you are – you’re not going to be productive. This game is all about what can you do when someone’s trying to stop you from doing it."

— Vince Z. Mercogliano (@vzmercogliano) October 28, 2019

It sounds like Quinn has it backward. His focus should be on squeezing every bit of skill and creativity out of his players. It sounds almost as if he’s trying to reprogram the way his players think. Any coach runs the risk of over-coaching when so much of the messaging is about being grittier and competing harder than the opposition.

The Rangers must prioritize skill by putting their young players in positions to succeed and by allowing their creativity to naturally flow.

A young center with upside in Lias Andersson isn’t going to improve with Micheal Haley and Brendan Smith as his most frequent linemates. Andersson has zero goals and one assist through nine games. It’s hard to imagine any young center shining without skilled players to feed the puck.

Kakko isn’t going to be consistent if his linemates are constantly changing. He’s not going to play the natural game that made him the No. 2 overall pick if the messaging is often about altering his playing style and approach.

There may come a point where Quinn’s messaging becomes repetitive, tiresome and begins to get tuned out. You can’t just go through an 82-game season kicking professionals in their rears and telling them their efforts aren’t good enough. That approach might work in a dressing room full of college kids of a certain skill level. Quinn may need to adjust his messaging to appeal to NHL pros and internationals.

The Rangers drafted Kakko because of his talent, not because of how well he fits Quinn’s mold. I’ve said this before – but coaches are replaceable. There are plenty of coaches with deeper resumés than Quinn’s and proven track records of developing first-round picks into superstars. These coaches surely have different ideas on how to best accelerate the development of Kakko and other highly-touted youngsters.

Because let’s face it… at this point in his coaching career, Quinn has just as much to prove as the young players he’s coaching. Sooner or later, the Rangers and their fans are going to demand real, tangible results that are more than coach-speak and clichés about effort and compete level.

Follow Sean on Twitter -- @HartnettHockey