This season is expected to be a learning curve year for the Rangers, and so far that is holding true. While the Rangers may be 1-3-1 through the first five games, five players in particular have stood out.
While it is still very early in the season, Filip Chytili, K’Andre Miller, Phil DiGiuseppe, Pavel Buchnevich, and Adam Fox are already having notable success. If they can keep their play consistent throughout this season, the team will certainly be headed in the right direction.
Filip Chytil showing growth in third NHL season
Through five games so far, Chytil has arguably been the Rangers’ best center. He has 2 goals and 1 assist for 3 points, more than Mika Zibanejad, Ryan Strome, or Brett Howden. He exhibited excellent patience and awareness on his goal against the Penguins Friday night which prompted Joe Micheletti to comment “that’s growth” on the broadcast. These numbers don’t even tell the whole story. Chytil is skating with more confidence to get in position in the offensive zone, setting himself and his linemates up for success.
Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko began playing together towards the end of last season. At the time, they were not very effective. According to Larry Brooks at the New York Post, they were on for five goals for and 18 against in 290:45 of five-on-five ice time. So far this season, however, they have shown some real chemistry. Kaapo Kakko has two goals, the first of which was scored off of a pass from Phil DiGiuseppe. Chytil was able to make this happen as he muscled through Noah Dobson’s defensive play and get the pass back to DiGiuseppe to begin with.
Unfortunately, Filip Chytil will now be lost for the next 4-6 weeks due to an injury suffered in the Rangers last game. Hopefully when he comes back, he can pick up where he left off.
K’Andre Miller impressing early in rookie season
The thing that has stood out most about K’Andre Miller is how quickly he’s adjusted to the pace of the NHL game. Though he seemed reluctant in the first game, it did not last. Miller is always composed, poised, and in control. A rookie in his fifth NHL game won’t always be seen shutting down plays by Sidney Crosby. That’s exactly what Miller did on Sunday night, most notably behind the Rangers’ net late in the first period. It was a show of tenacity that succeeded as he managed to win the puck from Crosby. Miller currently leads the Rangers in plus-minus at +4.
Miller’s size can only be helpful to him. At 6’5″ 210lbs, he has an incredibly long reach that helps to take away the opponent’s time and space. If Miller were to add more physicality to his game, his size would help him in that area as well. With that size, many would be surprised at just how good his skating is. K’Andre Miller has a smooth stride and is certainly fast and agile enough to get in position quickly in the defensive zone.
Phil DiGiuseppe has been a pleasant surprise through five games
Phil DiGiuseppe is proving to be more than most expected. Last season, he spent some time on the top line with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, so the potential to do more in all three zones was always there. Now he’s starting to deliver. He has four assists on the season. On Friday night against the Penguins, DiGiuseppe was skating with good awareness, driving to the net, and shooting. One those shots resulted in a rebound that was then netted by Kaapo Kakko. On Sunday, he continued to skate well and brought a physical element. He was relentless in puck battles along the boards as well.
With the offseason departures of Jesper Fast and Marc Staal, this young Rangers team required a veteran presence with a strong work ethic on the ice. DiGiuseppe is proving to be that presence. At 27 years of age, he is stepping up and providing a good example for Chytil and Kakko as younger players on his line.
Pavel Buchnevich playing with more confidence
During training camp, David Quinn said that is was Buchnevich’s best showing since Quinn was hired. Buchnevich’s skating has been somewhat shaky in the past, though with noticeable improvement each year.
This season, Buchnevich seems more comfortable and more aware. He is able to use his skating to get to open areas of ice and create scoring opportunities. He has capitalized on some as he is tied for first on the team in goals with two. On Friday night, Buchnevich had about four chances that were just barely missed. Overall, his willingess to skate, go to the net, and shoot will only be beneficial going forward. When pucks get thrown on net, favorable things happen.
Buchnevich has spent time on both the first and second lines already this season. He seems to have good chemistry with both sets of linemates. In a season with so many unknowns and no set Rangers lineup yet, this will be very helpful to the team. If someone were to test positive for COVID-19 or wind up with a long term injury, Buchnevich could easily fill a spot on either of the top two lines.
Adam Fox avoiding sophomore curse
In Adam Fox’s rookie season last year, the most common observation was that he never looked like a rookie. Fox had no trouble adjusting to the NHL pace and was always very composed. On a Rangers defense with quite a bit of offensive upside, Fox was arguably the most effective defenseman in the Rangers’ end of the ice. Though we have only seen him through five games so far this season, he seems to be picking up right where he left off.
On Sunday night, Steve Valiquette described Adam Fox’s zone exits as “quiet.” These seamless transitions are a helpful tool for a defenseman to have in order to begin a possible breakout. Fox is currently riding a four-game point streak scoring one goal and picking up four assists for five points, second on the team. It should be interesting to see if his streak continues Tuesday night against the Buffalo Sabres. Fox needs to continue to be consistent. If he can avoid the sophomore curse altogether, the Rangers defense will receive a significant boost.