Rangers season rides on 3 sophomore centers in Chytil, Andersson, and Howden
As Rangers training camp continues to roll along, it’s important to focus on some of the Blueshirts young players and their development in the National Hockey League. When thinking about how the Rangers will perform in 2019-2020, it’s clear that their future success will directly depend on the play of their younger players who got their first full “cup of coffee” playing in the NHL in 2018-2019.
While there is a tremendous “air of excitement” surrounding the Rangers due to the acquisitions and signings of Jacob Trouba, Artemi Panarin, Adam Fox, as well as drafting Kaapo Kakko at #2 overall and Vitali Kravtsov #9 overall in 2018, much of the Rangers success will depend upon the development and maturation of 3 players in particular: Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson, and Brett Howden.
Set them up for success
While the Rangers have been able to help #1 center Mika Zibanejad in realizing his potential in the NHL, the responsibility will now lie on David Quinn and the Rangers coaching staff shoulders to ensure that all three of these players will take steps in their development when the puck drops on 2019-2020. Quinn stated on the first day of camp that his intention was to move Ryan Strome to the wing and use the three youngsters down the middle, behind Zibanejad of course.
Quinn also stated that all three of the aforementioned youngsters arrived at training camp in phenomenal shape and appear to be highly motivated as well as more comfortable heading into a pivotal season with heightened expectations in the Big Apple. Team President John Davidson even went as far as saying “Lias Andersson completely changed his body this summer.” However, it’s not unfathomable to believe that these players may be doomed for a sophomore slump due to larger roles on the team and their lack of experience in those roles at the professional level. That being said, I only foresee a sophomore slump for one of these three players.
In the case of Andersson, its boom or bust this season for the 20-year-old Swede. The former #7 overall draft pick has yet to make a substantial impact at the NHL level and has to prove to Rangers coaching staff and management that he can perform admirably in a 3C role in 2019-2020. Andersson has impressed thus far at training camp and is certainly aware of the pressure and expectations that will be placed upon him come October. Filip Chytil also looks primed to improve upon his subpar 2018-2019 season and will likely start as the Rangers 2nd line center with Chris Kreider to his left and Kaapo Kakko on his right wing. Chytil showed flashes of his natural talent last season and arrived in New York feeling more confident about the direction of his career.
However, Brett Howden may be the player that experiences a sophomore slump this season. Howden was quite productive at the start of last season and helped jumpstart his career as a productive NHLer, but injuries and inconsistency derailed an inspiring start to the season for the 21-year-old Canadian center. It’s important to note that Howden appears to have a close-knit relationship with Coach David Quinn, as Quinn occasionally would scratch Andersson or Chytil in favor of Howden, sometimes to the ire of the Rangers fanbase.
It’s the inconsistency that makes Howden the most likely of the three to experience a sophomore slump. Howden did not play well for stretches at either end of the ice in 2018-2019 but was often let off the hook by Coach David Quinn, whereas Andersson and Chytil were typically held accountable for their actions. One of the main reasons for that could be that Howden had missed so much time with injury that more time on the bench may have been counterproductive to his development.
In addition to this, Howden is likely to slot in as the Rangers 4th line center. Unlike Chytil, who is getting a chance to center Kaapo Kakko, or Andersson who will play with Kravtsov, Howden is most likely going to play with 4th liners like Jesper Fast and Brendan Lemieux. That could also be a blessing as expectations will be lower from an offensive production standpoint.
A lot riding on these young centers
This season the Rangers will be putting a lot on the shoulders of these sophomore centers. Of course, they have some flexibility with veterans, Ryan Strome and Vlad Namestnikov to jump in the middle should any of them struggle for an extended period of time. Still the expectation is that these 3 and Mika Zibanejad will give the Rangers strength and depth down the middle for years to come.