Will John Tortorella Help to Develop the Young Players?

Ryan Callahan – Wikicommons

According to Mike Gillis, the Canucks will be utilizing more young players in the lineup for this season – partly out of necessity (salary cap), and partly because the team has some young players who are primed for NHL duty.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Will Tortorella be able to integrate young players into the lineup better than Alain Vigneault did in his tenure in Vancouver? Was Vigneault “good” or “bad” at coaching young players? He wasn’t a coach who communicated a lot with his players, but there have been numerous head coaches who rely on their assistants for building player relationships.

Let’s take a look at Tortorella’s tenure in New York as a means of comparison.


In his first year behind the bench (2008-09), Tortorella’s Rangers were led in scoring by a 23-year-old Nikolai Zherdev. The team featured a few high-priced free agent veterans, including Markus Naslund, Chris Drury, and Scott Gomez. But it was the young guys who came together to form the identity Tortorella wanted his team to have. This included Ryan Callahan (23), Brandon Dubinsky (22), Dan Girardi (24), and Marc Staal (21).

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

In his next year behind the bench, that young core was joined by a teenager defenseman (Michael Del Zotto, who was 19). Artem Anisimov (21) played in all 82 games that season for the Rangers. Gone were Naslund and Gomez, while Drury played a diminished role with the team.

In year three (2010-11, Dubinsky and Callahan (now 24 and 25) were 1-2 in scoring for the Rangers. Derek Stepan played in all 82 games at the age of 20. As did 25-year-old Brian Boyle. In fact, New York’s top 10 point-producers in 2010-11 were all under the age of 30.

The Rangers brought in Brad Richards for year four of Tortorella’s tenure. The two had a lot of previous success in Tampa Bay, but Richards didn’t really fit the identity that Tortorella had built on Broadway (and it was pretty apparent). The heart and soul of the team was Callahan and the young core. Joining the team in 2011-12 was 23-year-old Carl Hagelin and 22-year-old Ryan McDonagh. Tortorella continued to rely on young players to play important minutes for his team. Only two players over the age of 30 – Richards (31) and Fedotenko (32) – finished in the top 12 for team scoring.

Obviously you can’t just insert young players into the lineup and expect success. They have to be talented and ready for the rigors of the NHL game. But Tortorella showed in New York that he was able to bring along a young core of players. He was unafraid to give big minutes to young forwards and defensemen.


Vigneault was heavily criticised for the short leash he gave to his young players over the years in Vancouver, including Cody Hodgson and Jordan Schroeder. But what does reality say?

Vigneault took over a veteran team in 2006-07. The Sedins, Bieksa, and Burrows were all 25 years old. Kesler was 22. The rest of the core players were close to or over the age of 30. A 20-year-old Alex Edler played in 22 games that season. The prospect cupboard was pretty bare at the time. (Where art thou, Jesse Schultz?)

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Kesler and Burrows each had breakout campaigns in Vigneault’s second season behind the bench. 21-year-old Mason Raymond played in 49 games, and Edler became a mainstay on the back end. No other young players played significant roles with the team that year.

22-year-old Jannik Hansen joined the team in year three – 2008-09. Raymond and Edler continued to be regulars in the lineup. 23-year-old Steve Bernier played a lot too, and somehow found the back of the net 15 times (the Sedin effect).

21-year-old Michael Grabner played 20 games the next season, finishing with 11 points. Some in the market were hoping that he would have had a bigger role, as his speed was a real asset up front. The core was forming, and it included the Sedins, Burrows, Bieksa (all 28), Kesler (25), and Edler (23).

Vigneault, for the most part, had a more veteran roster in his Vancouver tenure than Tortorella did while with the Rangers. But he also didn’t bring in as many young players onto the roster. How much of that is on him, and how much of it is because the Canucks didn’t have as many talented young players in the system?

Closing Thoughts

Is Tortorella better at developing young talent than Vigneault? I’m not sure.

He definitely gave more ice time to young players in New York, but the Rangers were a team with a lot of good young talent when he took over. How much credit goes to the coach for helping talented young hockey players improve? Vigneault took over a veteran team and did help the development of the core players we see today in Vancouver. How much credit should he take? And should he take blame for not giving Schroeder, Grabner, or Hodgson more minutes? Edler has developed into a really good defenseman.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The argument could be made that Vigneault didn’t have the luxury of a stocked prospect cupboard like Tortorella did in New York. But credit does have to go to Tortorella – he turned the Rangers into one of the best teams in the East while getting a lot younger (and cheaper). Year after year he seamlessly integrated very young forwards and defensemen into the lineup. And the Rangers will reap the rewards of this for a few years (provided Glen Sather doesn’t continue to spend his dollars on the open market as if there isn’t a salary cap).

Tortorella has some options this year in Vancouver. Could Bo Horvat become the Callahan of Vancouver? Is 20-year-old Frank Corrado ready for big minutes? How about 22-year-old Zack Kassian? Vigneault gave him time on the top unit, but he didn’t show enough consistency to stay there. I think Tortorella did a really good job of creating "roles" for his young guys in New York. 

The Sedins are going to continue to be very good players for a while.  But for the Canucks to get back to Stanley Cup contention, they need their young players (Jensen, Horvat, Shinkaruk, Lain, Kassian, Schroeder, Tanev, Corrado) to develop under Tortorella in Vancouver as well as Callahan, Dubinsky, Hagelin, Stepan, McDonagh, Staal, Anisimov, Del Zotto, and Girardi did in New York. A tall task? Most definitely. But Tortorella has shown that he is more than willing to put his trust in inexperienced players.

  • BrudnySeaby

    It’s too bad the Penguins didn’t fire Bylsma.

    After all, he “developed” Crosby and Malkin.

    Surely he could throw fairy dust on Kassian and Schroeder and the Canucks’ scoring issues would be solved.

    • Mantastic

      You’re giving Bylsma too much credit. Crosby won one cup and by one goal in the 7th game against Detroit. Ever since then he has become more and more like a Sedin punching bag over in that division and Bylsma is like the AV of the east…stands there and does nothing but get outcoached. The results from the last few years speak for themselves.

  • Fred-65

    There’s a significant age difference between the player the Rangers used ( mainly 22-23-24 ) to the prospects Vcr has 18-19-20. Big difference You also have to wonder if MG has the Kahoolies to do this while he stocks up with Richardson, Santorelli, Ferriero, DeFazio. Looks to me like MG has an expensive plan B or he has reservations about his youth movement. Schroeder and Lain both unsigned which I thought would have been short negotiations is there interest elsewhere for these players

  • Fred:

    Del Zotto – 19
    Callahan – 23
    Dubinsky – 22
    Anisimov – 21
    McDonagh – 22
    Staal – 21

    Corrado – 20
    Tanev – 23
    Kassian – 22
    Schroeder – 22
    Lain – 23
    Gaunce – 19
    Jensen – 20

    Don’t see a huge difference in age. Now talent… that may be a point of debate.

    • Fred-65

      I see Kassin/ Tanev as a fixtures already, they’ve had the opportunity They both got reasonable ice and used it in different manners…one good one not so much. I was thinking of Horvat, Gaunce Shinkaruk and Jensen.as the future of the team

      Schroeder has had considerable time. Both Kassian and Schroeder were given the opportunity and haven’t done a lot with it and maybe they just don’t have it….that’s a lot different to not given a chance. Maybe Tortorella will find them poor to. You can’t shove a round peg into a square hole.

      The prospect who are worth a gamble is Gaunce, Horvat, Jensen, Shinkaruk and maybe Corrado ( I think he makes the team under AV or JT )

      The rest B grade and that includes Kassian. he just doesn’t seem to get it, a blockage between the ears. It’s either he can’t handle his own end, too much time in a local watering hole most 22 year olds have shown their worth by now. Buffalo read the writing between the lines, we are going to need force feeding to accept that. Weather it’s AV or JT he’s doomed at best to tough guy role.

      Lets hope the “A” grade prospects get it before they reach 22

  • I’m a Rangers fan, and I will say flat out that torts isn’t very good with young players. Dubinsky, Anisimov, and Del Zotto, were constantly in the dog house under torts reign, the former two for little reason at all. This even led the the fanbase under appreciating what Dubinsky and Anisimov brought to the team. Dubinsky’s case is slightly more complicated due to contract status, but torts did hold a grudge against him and it for sure had an impact on his play.

    He has a very hard time managing his players and allowing them to succeed, look at Chris Kreider last season.

    I think he will do better with a more veteran team, but don’t expect much out of your young players under torts. How Stepan thrived is really amazing, and McDonagh is basically a gift from the hockey gods. I wouldn’t expect similar results.

  • Fred-65

    Can’t see the Sedins adapting to Torts’ style. I read comments that Naslund seemed OK with Torts but didn’t Naslund retire after his first year or two in NY?

    Would not shock me if there was a big cultural shift coming in Van culminating in the twins hanging them up at season’s end.

  • Fred-65

    How much value have the Canucks received from Mike Gillis’ draft picks so far?

    To help answer this question, I conducted a simple study to look at NHL games played from 2008 – 2012 draft picks.

    Full credit is given to the team that drafted the player.

    For example, 100% of Cody Hodgson’s games are attributed to Vancouver and 100% of Zack Kassian’s games are attributed to Buffalo.

    Now, to be clear, I personally value quality a lot more than I do quantity. Quantity can be found easily enough on the free agent market. Quality…not so much.

    But quality is a lot more subjective and would take a hell of a lot more work.

    Here are the total games played by draft picks from 2008 – 2012:

    1. NYI (1,392)
    2. LAK (972)
    3. TBL (876)
    4. COL (873)
    5. EDM (801)
    6. WPG (793)
    7. NYR (775)
    8. BUF (731)
    9. OTT (728)
    10. NAS (656)
    11. WAS (631)
    12. ANA (624)
    13. PHI (571)
    14. PHO (555)
    15. FLA (556)
    16. CBJ (515)
    17. TOR (500)
    18. NJD (487)
    19. CAR (429)
    20. STL (384)
    21. BOS (369)
    22. MIN (349)
    23. SJ (322)
    24. CHI (314)
    25. CAL (247)
    26. DAL (247)
    27. VAN (180)
    28. MTL (161)
    29. PIT (83)
    30. DET (72)

    On its own, this doesn’t tell us much. It’s not surprising that the Islanders are on top considering where they have been selecting on draft day.

    To put this into better context, I have weighted the average draft position based on the number of potential games each draft selection has had the opportunity to play.

    For example, a 2012 draft selection has had the opportunity to play 48 games. A 2008 draft selection has had the opportunity to play 376 games.

    2008 – 2012 has been weighted at 35/28/20/12/5.

    I have also used a +/- score to show the difference from the expected total based on weighted average draft position and the actual total:

    1. NYI (5, 1, 5, 5, 4) = 3.83 (0)
    2. WPG (3, 4, 8, 7, 9) = 5.02 (-4)
    3. TOR (7, 7, 2, 9, 5) = 6.14 (-14)
    4. EDM (12, 10, 1, 1, 1) = 7.37 (-1)
    5. CBJ (6, 16, 4, 8, 2) = 8.44 (-11)
    6. FLA (9, 14, 3, 3, 23) = 9.18 (-9)
    7. LAK (2, 5, 19, 19, 30) = 9.68 (+5)
    8. TBL (1, 2, 6, 27, 10) = 10.35 (+5)
    9. STL (4, 17, 14, 11, 25) = 11.53 (-11)
    10. COL (19, 3, 17, 2, 11) = 11.64 (+6)
    11. PHO (8, 6, 22, 20, 27) = 12.63 (-3)
    12. OTT (18, 9, 16, 6, 15) = 13.49 (+3)
    13. MIN (24, 12, 9, 10, 7) = 15.11 (-9)
    14. BUF (13, 13, 23, 16, 12) = 15.31 (+6)
    15. NAS (15, 11, 18, 21, 21) = 15.5 (+5)
    16. CAR (14, 27, 7, 12, 8) = 15.7 (-3)
    17. CAL (17, 20, 13, 13, 14) = 16.41 (-8)
    18. DAL (28, 8, 11, 14, 13) = 16.57 (-8)
    19. ANA (22, 15, 12, 22, 6) = 17.24 (+7)
    20. NYR (20, 19, 10, 15, 28) = 17.52 (+13)
    21. VAN (10, 22, 25, 29, 26) = 19.44 (-6)
    22. BOS (16, 25, 15, 30, 24) = 20.4 (+1)
    23. NJD (21, 23, 24, 4, 29) = 20.52 (+5)
    24. CHI (11, 28, 30, 18, 18) = 20.75 (0)
    25. MTL (25, 18, 27, 17, 3) = 21.38 (-3)
    26. WAS (23, 24, 26, 26, 16) = 23.89 (+15)
    27. SJ (26, 26, 28, 28, 17) = 26.19 (+4)
    28. PIT (29, 30, 20, 23, 22) = 26.41 (-1)
    29. PHI (27, 21, 29, 25, 20) = 26.6 (+16)
    30. DET (30, 29, 21, 24, 19) = 26.65 (0)

    At -6, the Canucks have the worst +/- score amongst the bottom 10 teams in terms of weighted average draft position.

    Now, some context needs to be added. Teams that draft late are typically in contention. It stands to reason that these teams have been more willing to sacrifice draft picks.

    Here are 1st round picks yielded in trade excluding 1st rounders traded for multiple later round draft picks:

    SJ (2008, 2009, 2011), PHI (2009, 2010, 2011), BOS (2010, 2011), MTL (2008), PIT (2008), VAN (2010), NJ (2010), WAS (2011), DET (2012), CHI (N/A).

    There are also 2 significant trades that have helped these bottom 10 teams gain man games from high draft picks.

    The Kessel trade netted Boston Seguin (203 games) and Hamilton (42 games).

    The Carter trade netted Philly Couturier (123 games.

    Vancouver is pretty much in the middle. They haven’t traded three 1st round picks like SJ. They also haven’t pulled off what Boston did to get Seguin & Hamilton.

    I am also looking at the 5 years that preceded Gillis (2003 – 2008). The Canucks are 24th in man games and it appears they are around -1 in terms of expected man games based on average draft position. I have not yet weighted the data…

    And that includes a gigantic asterisk next to Luc Bourdon (RIP).

    Hence, the Canucks appeared to be around where they should have been prior to Gillis purely in terms of man games.

    The Canucks have not been the only team to draft late in the Mike Gillis era.

    In terms of man games to date, they are doing very poorly relative to their contending cohorts.

    • JCDavies

      The comments section really could use some formatting options – aside from that, really good post.

      I’m suffering from lack of sleep and my comprehension is not great at the moment, can you elaborate on this?:

      “the expected total based on weighted average draft position”

      • JCDavies

        I was pretty much certain the formatting would be screwy and posted anyway haha.

        I should have also taken some of my math out to make it look cleaner. I’ll try to fix that when I add the data from 2003 – 2008.

        By expected total I mean that a 2008 1/1 pick has had more opportunities than a 2012 1/1 pick to play games.

        Also, in theory, a 1/1 pick should have a better chance of playing games over a 1/30 pick because he is the best player in the draft. At least in the mind of the GM making the selection…

        I weighted based on the potential number of games a draftee could play:

        2012: 48
        2011: 130
        2010: 212
        2009: 294
        2008: 376

        That totals 1,060 and then it is just percentages of that pie.

  • Fred-65

    Torts main job will be defining roles on D and getting Kassian to be the Power forward that many including myself believe he can be. Playing Tanev and Edler together should lift Edlers game to beyond pretty good. Kassian and Edler have the talent to become dominant at their positions and AV wasn’t the coach to push them. Torts structure will be good for this team and pushing the Twins to kill penalties and go into shoot outs will show other players that you have to be all around players. Edler can’t look back at playing with Sami or Mattias as the good old days, he is the guy now and he needs to make players better. Expectations as individual players and as a team will be the biggest difference. No more hot house flowers to protect.

  • JCDavies

    Vigneault seemed to develop defensemen just fine, but forwards seem to be a different story as he liked to bury them quickly if they made 1 mistake! This in turn destroyed their confidence.

  • JCDavies

    I think Tootsarella will make efforts to give some young guys an opportunity. The big question will be: are they NHL ready? Tough to say. I’d hate to see Gillis push these guys and, possibly, ruin their confidence and maybe their careers.

    Maybe the older players should get a shot. I would send the new picks to the junior clubs and Gaunce and Jensen to Utica (among others in that age group).

    If someone dominates camp then maybe you look at keeping them in the NHL. I don’t think we have any prospects ready to do well in the NHL. I say we let them simmer and develop!

    Kassian is another guy that should’ve started at the farm when we acquired him. It may have looked bad because of the trade but it may have been better for his overall development.

    • JCDavies

      I think the point about Kassian is interesting.

      He was traded for what had become and is a regular roster player in the NHL. Whether he belonged on the roster or not, there was definitely some possible pressure to keep him in the lineup just for optic’s sake.

      Of course, I do remember the year he was traded for, he did not end up in the last games of the playoffs, I think being in the AHL would’ve been better for his development too.

    • Mantastic

      pretty sure the canucks will have no other option but to start their rookies in the NHL because they have not filled in any gaps via free agency. it’s better for their development to start them at lower tiers but Canucks just don’ have that luxury due to their cap.

  • JCDavies

    I’m just not convinced Torts did some mythical job with the young guys in NY. In fact, you could make the argument he did the opposite.

    Del Zotto is overrated IMO. He doesn’t play tough minutes and is a negative possession player. He plays a borderline top 4 role – he’s nothing to write home about.

    Dubinsky was very inconsistent in NY. He played some tough mins, but his underlying numbers and point totals slipped every yr under Torts until he was shipped out to CBJ.

    Anisimov struggled under Torts while eating tougher mins. His underlying #’s slipped as he was entrusted with tougher mins each yr suggesting he was thrust into this role when he wasn’t ready. They he was shipped out.

    Staal hit a massive brick wall in 11/12 before he was injured. In 9/10-10/11, he was entrusted with the toughest mins – yet was a negative possesion player. In 11/12, he was entrusted with borderline top 4 mins (much easier mins) and had poor undelyers. It suggest he was struggling/regressing.

    All of the above guys regressed under Torts. Of course, they were young and it happens. But all of them did. Not sure how he can get credit for their development when they struggled over time under him.

    McDonagh is a beast. Plain and simple, I’ll give Torts credit for him.

    But I’m curious why no one at Canucks Army isn’t concerned about Torts poor puck possession teams. In 4 full seasons as a coach there, he only produced one top 10 fenwick close/Corsi tied team ranking. And that ‘one time’ was this season in a very small sample size. That’s very concerning given what he know about puck possession and SC winning teams now. Also, NY plays in the freekin east which is a lot weaker than the west. He also had the best goalie in the entire league in NY. Yet, he’s never had a PP which ranked in the leagues top 10. His PKs only had a top 5 ranking once in those 4 years (with the BEST goalie in the entire league!!!!). Never produced a top 10 team in scoring. In 3 of 4 yrs, his team was top 10 in blocked shots. We know what that says about his teams possesion ability when they’re blocking so many shots.

    You go through all the stats, and his teams were crap in a weak eastern concerned. Poor puck possession, horrific special teams, poor offense, average defense despite best goaltender in league, and overrated player development. Gillis has truly lost his mind when he hired this turd.

  • Mantastic

    It’s not only a question of whether a team has a talented stable of youngsters who can make the lineup. It’s also a question of whether they are needed on the roster. In Vigneault’s case, there simply weren’t a lot of spaces to fill with newcomers, since the intact core was, at the beginning of his tenure especially, still quite young and really the only openings with any regularity were in the bottom six, especially the fourth line. This was the challenge in integrating Hodgson into a lineup with a pretty set top six.

    So it’s tough to compare for that reason alone. The Rangers haven’t had a star-studded group of veteran forwards in recent years, so it has been much easier to find a place for young talent.

  • Mantastic

    As a Rangers fan, I feel Torts did a lot to push a youth movement in New York. Before Torts got here Renney was relying on Gomez, Drury, Redden, Rozi, etc. while guys like Cally, Dubi, Girardi were used sparingly. That changed greatly when Torts took over. He gave the young guys mins. They paid him back with strong efforts and the rest is history.

    Those in NY who were anti-Torts only use Kreider as an example of why Torts was bad with youth, but the reality is Kreider didn’t play well in the AHL during the lockout either.

    Overall, your youth is in good hands with Torts.

  • Mantastic


    I don’t think you really have to use any of the rookies. Schroeder looks like the #3 centre and then we have Richardson at the 4th spot.

    Personally, I think that stinks but I don’t want our top prospects rushed through the system. We have a handful of top end prospects so if we screw them up then we’re hooped!

    I see this next season as a write off. We’re not good enough to compete for a Cup. This core will not do it. I’m hoping a couple of the no trade clause guys ask Gillis for a trade. Ideally it would be some of the older guys that have value. Still have to get younger!

    Also, keep in mind, next season the cap goes up so we can pick up a solid player.

    I think we have a good future. I see Horvat as our line 2 centre (maybe line 1). Gaunce should be a shoe in for line 3 but has a realistic shot at line 2. Jensen, Shinkaruk and Kassian need to be in our top 6.

    • Mantastic

      you’re asking too much of prospects. more than 50% of your top end prospects just won’t pan out. that’s just how it goes. hoping a prospect that doesn’t score a point per game at junior level to be a 2nd line center in the NHL in the future?! c’mon now.

  • Mantastic


    2nd line centres don’t have to score a point per game in junior…or NHL. I think it is possible and there is no way you can tell what they turn into?

    • Mantastic

      scoring a ppg in junior means you might score less .4 ppg in the NHL by most NHLE matrices and all 2nd line centers should be scoring at at least a .5 ppg in the NHL. and if you look at his WOWY’s with Domi, you know he isn’t the straw that stirs the drink.

  • Mantastic

    I think AV had a very short rope for young players if they weren’t his type. He has messed with Edler’s head way too much. Kassian got 8 games on the top line and was doing fine and then boom, they have a minor slump and Burrows is back on the top line. Give the kid time and by the way, the Sedins want him to be with them, they have even been teaching him. AV really messed up with Hodgson even calling him out which turned out to be bs. I think given the talent AV had he did a mediocre job. That said, the Canucks ought to fire all the North American scouting staff, because they suck. Put Gradin in charge, he has found 50% of the talent on the team. He found Lack, Edler, the Sedins, Hansen. Let him loose in North America and watch what you get in a few years. He was a smart, great player who is a true talent scout.