By Sean Hartnett
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So this is how it must have felt to watch Rome crumble and burn.

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For the last five years, the Rangers have stood as an Eastern Conference powerhouse. In the background of this sustained success, the price of win-now has always been whispering in the wind.

The cracks had shown throughout the regular season. Questions about their compete level, puck management and defensive zone frailty lingered into the playoffs. Then it all came crashing down. The Penguins torched the Rangers with faster legs, eliminating the Blueshirts in five games. They outworked and outskilled the Rangers. No question about it.

Sidney Crosby, Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary, Carl Hagelin, Patric Hornqvist – the list goes on. These guys compete. How many Rangers can you point to and say these guys gave absolutely everything? Not many. The pushback wasn’t there.

Speed kills and speed wins in the NHL. The Rangers have always seen themselves as a piece away from getting back to the Stanley Cup Final. Acquiring the experience of Eric Staal was the right idea for a team that was on the periphery. The Rangers saw themselves as very close to another deep run.

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It didn’t work out. Now it’s time for a rethink. Going forward, the Rangers need to focus on handing key roles to Brady Skjei, J.T. Miller and Chris Kreider – and the Hartford to New York pipeline needs to take priority. This means keeping hold of draft picks as the trade deadline approaches and ensuring the AHL cupboard remains stockpiled.

Dan Boyle, Dominic Moore and Tanner Glass were veteran pieces whom head coach Alain Vigneault trusted. Typically dependable blue liners Dan Girardi and Marc Staal showed their rust, with years of punishment taking a toll on their bodies. Despite Vigneault’s tendency to lean on the established, what the Rangers need is fresh blood. They need more kids ready to make the jump from Hartford and push the veterans. In all likelihood, Boyle will step aside and retire after an up-and-down season at age 39.

The youth movement needs to kick into full gear. For the Rangers to stay among the contenders, they need to get younger and faster. To their credit, Jeff Gorton and the Rangers’ scouting staff have done an excellent job mining the later rounds of recent drafts. Selecting Jesper Fast in the sixth round in 2010 draft is proof of this, as is taking Adam Tambellini, Pavel Buchnevich and Anthony Duclair (traded to Arizona to help land Keith Yandle) in the third round in the 2013 draft.

Buchnevich, a highly skilled Russian prospect, is going to be key for the Rangers’ future. The 21-year-old forward’s game oozes with offensive ability. He’s a rapidly fast skater blessed with tremendous instincts and a powerful shot. Buchnevich is expected to sign an entry-level contract and join the Rangers’ fall training camp. He’ll then have a chance to impress in the preseason, and if all goes well, he could crack the Rangers’ opening night roster.

Ancient Rome burned to the ground — but it was eventually rebuilt and flourished again as a thriving capital. The Rangers may have crumbled against the Pens, but their standing as an Eastern Conference heavyweight can be restored through the youth movement.

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Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey