Rangers are loaded on the wings, but who is the 2nd line center?
With the signing of superstar free agent Artemi Panarin, the Rangers now bolster what could be one of the best top-six forward corps in a season or two. They have a plethora of options on the wings including Panarin, Vitali Kravtsov, Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil, and Pavel Buchnevich if they re-sign him.
Yet, there is still a glaring hole and that is at second line center. The Rangers don’t have a shortage of guys who can play the center position, but they may not be the best option in that spot.
Given the young wingers they have, a common belief is that Filip Chytil will be penciled in as the second line center. While I think there are worse ideas, I feel strongly that this would be a mistake. Chytil’s style of play, north-south ability, and ability to skate around defenders makes his skill set as a winger much more dangerous.
Chytil played center while he was younger, but grew more on the wing and played that position at a higher level. He may be successful there, but it is not the best option.
Vladislav Namestnikov has experience as a center, but he is most likely going to be on the move soon to create cap space following the Panarin signing. He could be okay in that spot, but again, he likely won’t even be around.
Vitali Kravtsov also has played center. Several scouting websites list him as a natural center but that is incorrect. He has played the wing more often and has had success in that spot too. I could see them testing that for a game or two, but with his ability with the puck and cross ice passing skills, I doubt that’ll be a permanent option.
Another option is Brett Howden. I personally love Howden’s game. Ever since his fantastic centering pass during the first week of last season that resulted in a goal, I knew that this kid has skill. I think a second line center position is Howden’s ceiling, but I’m not sure he’ll ever get to that point.
I have no doubt that Howden is going to become one of the best bottom-six forwards in the game. His passing is good and he is a smart player if he can limit his turnovers. But for next season, I don’t see him succeeding in that role of second line center. I would love to be proven wrong.
Lias Andersson is a conflicting option. On the one hand, he has struggled mightily during his time in New York. But on the other much more valid and more correct hand, he’s not even 21 years old yet. Lias was drafted to be that 2nd or 3rd line center, so I could see the Rangers trying to put him there. But he has had little to no experience with that much ice time at the NHL level.
That leaves one more option, which is Ryan Strome.
Last week, as you can see above, I laid out some predictions prior to the start of free agency. Despite having predicted a Strome trade, I’m going to backup on that one. I think the Rangers are going to want a more experienced centerman in that spot. Strome isn’t old but he has the most time in the league. And, not for nothing, he was a top-five pick in the draft years ago. He may just be a late bloomer in the NHL.
I believe Strome showed us towards the end of last season that he’s been given a bad rap in the league. He really picked it up, and I think he can score 40 points next season. So, I would expect Strome in that spot as opposed to him being traded.
But if there is one key takeaway from what I have written, it is that Chytil should not play center on that second line. He is not as effective as a centerman as a winger. Put experience in between young wingers and the team will be better off.