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An Incredible Year For An Incredible 18-Year Old

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

by John Davidson

When Mike Richter was sidelined, I didn't give Dan Blackburn any advice and he's proved that he didn't need any.

Over his last seven starts, he went 5-2 and became just the second goaltender in NHL history under the age of 19 to post a five-game winning streak (Tom Barrasso posted five and six-game streaks in 1983-84).

One reason for Blackburn's confidence on the ice is his relationship with goaltending coach Sammy St. Laurent. They get along really well, and Dan has learned a lot from the former NHLer. Sammy has been able to make some improvements in Dan's game, and that's made a big difference. Blackburn is out of the net more, he's up on his feet more and he's handling the puck a little bit better. There are a lot of things that have improved, and he's growing up a ton in one year.

What you do with Dan is just kind of watch him, and if he's struggling in certain areas, you bring it up and try to fix it. But he hasn't struggled, so there's no sense in trying to fix something that's not broken.

It's rare that you see an 18-year old fare so well in the NHL. But Dan has a combination of natural God-given talent and a great attitude. He has a good understanding of the game, and he's not phased by anything. He's got the mindset and mentality of a starting goaltender, and that's important. He likes to play and the more he does, the better he gets.

I think he's probably more at ease with himself right now than he has been all year because he's had some success. Plus, he's learned a lot regarding the NHL game, about the travel, the pressure and the grind.

Seeing so much ice time has allowed Dan to show the organization that he can play and to prove to himself that he can play multiple games in a row. His success has showed the Rangers that it was worth keeping him for the year.

Putting a teenager under the spotlight may have seemed like a risky move to some, but the Rangers knew what they were getting into. Teams always do their homework. They analyze players and have them go through interviews to get an understanding of where their head is at, how strong they are mentally and whether or not they let things bother them. The Rangers knew Blackburn could handle the starting role.

People have to understand that while it may sound glamorous to be an 18-year old traveling around North America, playing in the NHL, and chartering around with the likes of Mark Messier, it's been tough. He's just 18! People his age don't hang out with people twice as old on a normal everyday basis, but he's dealt with it in a very positive way.

Regarding the home life, living with my family has given him a little bit of normalcy. It helped him to be able to go home at the end of the day where he could have some down time. He also got the chance to hang out with people his own age in my daughters, ages 15 and 17.

He may have missed out on normal teenage experiences, but that's the price of being who he is and what he wants to be. That's something you deal with, and I think he's very grounded about it all.

This kid's future is unlimited. He'll take both the good and bad experiences of this year and be prepared for next season.

John Davidson has served as the Rangers color commentator on MSG Network since 1986.
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