Taking a look at Brett Howden’s first year with the Rangers so far

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Brett Howden, one of the pieces acquired at last year’s trade deadline at the last possible second in the blockbuster that sent former Rangers captain, Ryan McDonagh, and JT Miller to Tampa Bay, is unfortunately hurt. In Tuesday’s 1-0 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, Howden suffered a knee sprain and initially was able to come back onto the ice for a short shift before departing prior to the end of the first period. Coach David Quinn said after the loss that Howden will be reevaluated in the following days, which revealed that the forward is set to miss at least a three to four weeks with an MCL sprain. Now, as a Rangers fan, I would want him to come back and contribute as much as he can just to develop and experience this season as a whole. But, on the other hand, this may be a blessing in disguise for the Blueshirts.

Brett Howden surprised everyone by making the team straight out of camp, leapfrogging over 2017 seventh overall pick, Lias Andersson. A surprise to be sure, but a welcome one at that because this shows that Jeff Gorton made a successful final push at the deadline last year. Currently, the Rangers are log jammed at the center position with Mika Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes, Boo Nieves, Ryan Strome, Vlad Namestnikov, and Filip Chytil all able to play the position, as well as Lias Andersson. This injury doesn’t give any additional opportunities for the centers, except maybe Andersson, but it does benefit the player who is hurt.

Howden, prior to his injury, had only 15 points in 48 games this season. After a great start to his rookie season, it looked like this kid was poised to take over a top-six role. In his first 23 games of the season, Howden was able to pull together 13 points (4G, 9A) all while playing inconsistent minutes. Playing only 8:02 against Buffalo, and then, the very next game, playing a whopping 19:38 shows how inconsistent his coach was being with him at first. In the following 25 games, however, Howden only posted three assists to match up with a dreadful -13. In his final four games – not including his last against Philadelphia – Howden saw his ice time drop from averaging 16 minutes a game to not even cracking 10 a game, the lowest being 6:40 against the equally depressing Chicago Blackhawks on the January 17.

Now to sidestep from the article for a second, a significant debate regarding Pavel Buchnevich’s recent healthy scratch was ongoing prior to the loss to the Flyers. Buchnevich has already been scratched numerous times this season but, somehow, Howden has avoided the press box. Howden has not been scratched once this season and many fans thought that each player was to be held accountable for the poor play on the ice. I actually agreed with the idea that Howden should have been scratched prior to this game just as a form of good faith to all the other Rangers on the team. The only thing keeping Brett Howden afloat was his faceoff percentage, which is barely positive with a 50.3% winning for the season, but hey, with a team this bad, you have to take something good out of it.

This injury is now forcing him to be scratched, and although he will be focusing on rehab and coming back 100%, his mind will have to drift to his play over the course of the season. I love the idea David Quinn has with accountability, especially if that extended over to his better players. We have seen multiple defensemen on the team be scratched and their play coming back shows that it has been effective, to a certain extent. Howden is no exception, he’s still learning how to play at this high level and that’s okay. Turning 21 in March doesn’t mean he has to have everything figured out, especially on a team that already knows they’re going to sell at this year’s deadline. Howden has the size and skill to be a dominant center in this league, maybe not a 1C but definitely a 2C.

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The young center from Manitoba may be sidelined for a significant amount of time, depending on his rehab and just how fast the Rangers want to bring him back. I believe, especially since his play has been very poor lately, that the Blueshirts should not rush him back. This team is lottery bound and looking to sell off their assets to the highest bidders come February, so why make your team better by bringing him back sooner and potentially risk injury again? For now, have Andersson slot into the third, or heck, even the second line, to get him more experience if and when he is called up. We all want our prospects to do well, but until we trade the players that aren’t in the future of the Rangers plans – I’m looking at you Kevin Hayes – there will be too many people jamming up the top minutes. This goes double for Brett Howden, since there is a huge climb to the top of the center position.

I like Brett Howden. I like his play and I firmly believe that he’s a part of the Rangers future. That being said, he has to play better than he has been. I know it’s hard for a rookie to come onto a team that’s rebuilding, and it doesn’t help your confidence when the team is constantly losing. The truth is that he made this team out of camp because he was better than those that didn’t, it’s as simple as that, and he’ll need to prove to the Rangers he deserves to stay. I believe that after he comes back, we’ll see a change in his play and maybe he’ll score some more goals. But, if that’s not the case, it doesn’t hurt to send him back to the AHL for a portion of the season. We see that Andersson is a victim of this and if either of them wants to be live up to the expectations as the first-round picks we think they can be, their play needs to step up. Brett Howden has a bright future with the New York Rangers, it just may take some more time than we’d like to fully see his potential.