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Rangers impressing Richter, Graves, Duguay with rebuild

Former players like direction featuring young talent from recent trades, drafts

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

NEW YORK -- The rebuild the New York Rangers are in the middle of has led to curiosity and excitement from some of their most prominent former players.

"There is a sense of newness," former goalie Mike Richter said Tuesday from Madison Square Garden, where he was attending an event announcing a partnership between Madison Square Garden Company and PepsiCo. along with fellow 1994 Stanley Cup champion Adam Graves and former Rangers forward Ron Duguay.

"What no fan wants to see is more of the same if it's not quite working."

The Rangers went to the Stanley Cup Playoffs 11 times in 12 seasons from 2005-17, reaching the Eastern Conference Final three times (2012, 2014 and 2015) and the Stanley Cup Final once (2014) with many of the same players.

They never won the Stanley Cup, though, and after the 2016-17 season they began to build a next-generation core with high draft picks and top prospects acquired in trades involving familiar faces and leaders, including former captain Ryan McDonagh, and former alternate captains Derek Stepan and Rick Nash.

They selected five players in the first round in the past two NHL Drafts -- center Lias Andersson (No. 7 in 2017), center Filip Chytil (No. 21 in 2017), forward Vitali Kravtsov (No. 9 in 2018), and defensemen K'Andre Miller (No. 22 in 2018) and Nils Lundkvist (No. 28 in 2018) -- after not having a first-round pick between 2013 and 2016.

Video: Looking at the Rangers as their rebuild continues

In addition, they hired first-time NHL coach David Quinn out of Boston University, where he coached the previous five seasons, to replace Alain Vigneault, who in five seasons vaulted to third in Rangers history with 226 wins.

Richter called all the changes "courageous" and credited the Rangers for owning their rebuild this offseason by generally steering clear of the trade and free-agent markets.

He also indicated the process would feel different if the Rangers were starting from scratch, but they have plenty of veterans returning, including 36-year-old goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who is eighth all-time in the NHL with 413 wins and could be as high as fifth all-time by the end of the season.

"They have one of the best goalies in the world and they have what I think is a great infrastructure and the capacity to build well, but I think it's very difficult in this league with 31 teams to keep going," Richter said. "They felt their window closed with the veterans they had and they had to start anew, but if you do it piecemeal it'll be more of the same for a decade. It's a young league and getting good young talent, and it's got to be good young talent, that plays the system can be a phenomenal thing."

Graves, a special adviser to the Rangers' hockey and business operations departments, likened what the Rangers are doing now to what they did coming out of the lockout 13 years ago, when Lundqvist was a rookie.

The Rangers began one of the most successful stretches in their history by building around Lundqvist and many prospects they either drafted, acquired in trades or signed.

Many of them became key members of the Rangers' core, including McDonagh (trade in 2009), Stepan (No. 51 pick in 2008), Dan Girardi (signed in 2006), Marc Staal (No. 12 pick in 2005), Chris Kreider (No. 19 pick in 2009) and Mats Zuccarello (signed in 2010).

Video: TBL@NYR: Kreider beats Domingue off the rush

"It's difficult unless you have the draft picks to acquire those types of talents," Graves said. "I think you've seen it over time that that type of talent is what wins."

Lundqvist, Staal, Kreider and Zuccarello are still with the Rangers. Part of their jobs this season will be to mentor the young players.

"Mark Messier, Adam Graves, Brian Leetch, they all had to learn that at some point too," Richter said. "When you have good leadership, you can."

Duguay, a studio analyst for the Rangers on the MSG Network, said the key to creating that environment will be Lundqvist, who last season explicitly expressed his desire to stay in New York and to go through this rebuilding process with the Rangers.

"I think he's going to come in with a different mindset," Duguay said.

Duguay said he didn't think Lundqvist was enjoying the game last season. He said he could see Lundqvist's frustration with misplays or defensive lapses in front of him. He felt it created tension that was a deterrent to success.

"You've decided you want to stay here with a young team and it may require you being a little more patient, being a little better," Duguay said. "You may get more shots. Just know that coming in and what happens, happens.

"He's just got to pat the guys on the back regardless of what happens. That's the kind of stuff I want to see out of him. Different mindset. I believe he's made that decision too because he wants to come back. He could have asked to leave. He loves it here."

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