We’re wrapping up the wrap-up, here, folks! We ended our second section on the playoffs with a nod towards the future, and that’s just where we’ve arrived. The tone carrying through these interviews, despite the disappointment coming with the end to their playoff run, was one of optimism--they’re confident in their abilities and in what’s coming. It was the kids and the core and we’ve got a lot to talk about with them. Let’s get into it.
Claude Giroux started in talking about the growth the core underwent this season. Their career years were no secret, their upticks in production, but personal growth also worked in their favor:
Every year you become more mature as a hockey player on and off the ice. We’ve been together for a while, the core. A guy like Coots who took his game to another level. Jake had a great year, Wayne did what Wayne does. Now we have young players coming up and making a difference. You look at our team and we have a good balance of older and younger guys. I’m not sure what the plan is coming September, but if we have the same team in the locker room we’re going to be pretty happy about that. Our guys want to play for each other, we’ll see what happens though.
And it’s this belief in what they can do that’s driving them. There’s a connection between these veterans in the room, and a trust. Shayne Gostisbehere echoed Giroux’s thoughts, and he was clear:
I think we could win with our core. We have a great core, just not only age wise, but guys in general, not only on the ice but leaders in our room and you want the core to stay together I mean I know I do I know we could do stuff, we can make a splash when we get to the playoffs, not just be one and done, but I think for us as a core we’re starting to realize I’m already 25, some guys are getting older too, but I think we’re starting to realize we need to do something, and I think that’s the biggest thing we’ve seen and realized so far.
So it’s a feeling of “we can absolutely do this,” but also an acknowledgement that this core is on the clock. They’re producing at career highs, but the question remains on how long they can keep this up. They’re approaching their best window to make some noise in the playoffs, and they have full confidence that this is the core that can lead the team to their next big push.
But the core can’t do it all on their own--we saw them producing generously this season, but they can’t make the whole push without the support from their teammates. And that support’s coming.
Enter: The Kids.
That growth we talked about above wasn’t limited to just members of the core, it also extended to the rookies and second year players filling out the lineup. On the totality of this growth, and the potential it offers, Sean Couturier noted:
I think we grew as a group this year. We took some strides. All these young guys, they got a lot of talent, lot of potential, bright futures. It’s definitely exciting to be a part of this group. Hopefully we can have great success for a long time.
So the young players are producing on their own, taking steps forward and developing, and helping to generate some secondary scoring for the team. But their impact isn’t just seen on the scoresheet, it’s also being felt by the core. Giroux talked a bit about this, the nudge that they give them to step up and be their best versions of themselves. He explained:
I think it is good competition. Look at Nolan Patrick and TK, they really took a step forward. They’re going to deserve more ice time, more situations. For guys like us you gotta keep going. At the end of the day this game’s a business, the best at the job will get the job. You have to be able to push yourself. We want those kids to do great. If we all are on the same page at the end of the day, everybody does what they’re best at, that’s how we’re going to be the best team we can be. I know it’s early right now, but I’m excited for next season.
But the influence doesn’t stop with the young players currently on the roster--Jakub Voracek took it a step further, noting how the kids present as well as those knocking on the door serve as motivators for the veterans on the team:
I think that’s the best thing you can have to be honest with you because obviously we all know what’s going on in juniors. We know what’s going on in AHL, the farm team, how many players are there, who is there, who’s gonna be probably here next year or who will be here in a couple years. For us, the older players — which is weird for me to say — for the older players it’s obviously a good thing. Maybe you don’t admit it, but you need to get pushed sometimes to be better.
You read that right, everybody’s excited about the prospects! And for the core, it’s not an issue of looking behind them and sweating about what they still need, or how they might be pushed out or down, but rather of that extra nudge, and an excitement about how they can make the team better.
And, for the coming season, these kids are going to have a big chance to work their way into the lineup. Ron Hextall, in his own exit interview, seemed more than open to the idea of the team going even younger for next year, and he’s not ruling anybody out just yet. He noted:
Everyone will be given that opportunity [to make the team out of camp]. We don’t pre-determine decisions. We have a lot of the information before training camp. How things have gone, maturity level, type of kid, can he handle this emotionally. We have a lot of information before training camp and then training camp happens. That’s the next piece. I’m not going to sit here right now and say ‘Any young player’s not going to play for our team.’ There’s young players more apt to get a longer look because of what they’ve done, they have more of a foundation. We’re not going to sit here and say who will or who won’t. That’s not fair. We will have ideas in September, but those things change. Travis Konecny, did I expect him to be on our team two years ago? Absolutely not. Credit to the kid.
So spots are opening up, and things are getting exciting, and we’re just about wrapped up here. And at the risk of getting too bogged down in the logistics of the upcoming camp and season, let’s shift our focus over to the team’s mentality, as we close this out.
We talked about the team we’ve seen--one that has struggled and gets frustrated, but it’s also one that strives to own up to all that. They know what they need to do, need to improve, and they’re all in on doing just that. There’s more to be done, and they’re ready to do what needs to be done in order to give themselves that push over the edge. It’s all on them now. Gostisbehere gave us a look into this, explaining:
That’s our leaders, I wasn’t just taught like that when I got to the NHL. I’ve learned it through those older guys. I see them taking accountability and it makes me want to take accountability. There’s no selfishness on this team we’re very hard on ourselves and I think for us as a team to do that, you can ask any of these older guys who come in, they’re not going to be satisfied with making the playoffs. We want to do something when they make the playoffs and I think the biggest thing for us as a team and through our leaders and our older guys if we create that sort of brand that we have this attitude where nothing’s good enough, I think that helps us as younger guys coming up. We create that brand that we want to be the best team and we’re not going to just settle for making the playoffs, we want to be the best.
And the signs are promising--the best is not too far away, at all.