Could Filip Chytil make the team?
Friends, I’m going to be honest. When I heard that the Rangers would be taking Filip Chytil at 21st overall my first reaction was “Who?” I’d imagine I wasn’t alone in this, as the Rangers seemingly went against the conventional wisdom circulating around draft time (with both of their picks actually) and maybe disappointed some of us when they didn’t go for a Liljegren or a Yamamoto. The hype began to build however around Chytil as broadcasters compared him favorably to players like Auston Matthews (actually Chytil’s own comparison) and Ondrej Palat (Bob McKenzie’s comparison) and news began to trickle out that if he had declared for the draft the following year he would have likely been taken in the top 5 in what is by all accounts a stacked draft. Team Chytil began to coalesce quickly, and he has not disappointed thus far in the preseason.
His creative vision and strong play on the puck has been easily noticeable in the preseason games he’s played thus far, and he uses his size (200 pounds at age 18!) and skating effectively. He scored a nice game-winning goal the other night after playing catch with Mats Zuccarello all up and down the ice that evening against the Devils, and against the Islanders in Bridgeport he played a crucial role in the Rangers’ dazzling (but unfortunately unproductive) powerplay in the second period. He’s making quick, effective decisions with the puck, and even saw time on the penalty kill alongside Pavel Buchnevich (imagine if those two turn into two-way threats?). To put it succinctly, he’s impressed so far in the preseason, and would be making a strong case for himself regardless of the Rangers’ roster situation.
But let’s talk about that roster situation. The Rangers’ bottom six is uh, messy. The departure of Oscar Lindberg to Vegas, the injury to Jesper Fast, and the bumping up of Kevin Hayes in the wake of the Derek Stepan trade has left some sizable holes in the lower reaches of the Rangers’ lineup, leaving ripe opportunity for young players to carve out a place for themselves, if only temporarily. Filip Chytil could hypothetically make the opening night roster and play out the nine game grace period before burning a year off his entry level contract.
It’s a scenario the Rangers’ coaching staff should at least consider, with Chytil slotting into the third line center spot (or playing wing with Lias Andersson playing the center position, providing he continues his strong showing in the preseason as well) and seeing sheltered shifts that would maximize his offensive potential and do damage control on the inevitable defensive slip ups that happen to rookies in the NHL (see, for example, Nikolai Kulemin taking Chytil for a ride on the Islanders’ second goal in Bridgeport). If AV does give Chytil that chance, and he proceeds to kill it during his 9-game tryout, then the Rangers’ depleted bottom six could actually be looking pretty solid. Chytil would play third line center, Desharnais would play the same position on the fourth line, and some combination of Grabner/Fast/Vesey and whichever other youngster gives Matt Puempel a run for his money would be formidable, assuaging concerns that the Rangers improved defensive corp would prove to be stymied by their allegedly diminished forward depth. That rebuild on the fly could begin paying dividends sooner rather than later.
Some other preseason thoughts:
DeAngelo is an interesting player to me on the blueline. He looks so confident in his movements in the offensive zone, walking the line and probing the slot with ease, especially on the powerplay, but defensively looks unsure of himself. The juxtaposition is striking, and has me somewhat concerned if he ends up paired with Nick Holden or Marc Staal. Growing into a defensive role in the NHL is tough enough for most young blueliners, and certainly would be made more difficult by being paired with a partner who can’t really exactly 100 percent cover for themselves. If AV is smart he’ll handle this with care, but we could be in for a rough ride with Tony D on the third pair. Maybe there’ll be a lot of PP assists in the books for him by the end of the year, but we might also see some concerning plays. Major caveat: it’s only been a few preseason games, so I don’t mean to pass judgement on the guy just quite yet. He could very well turn out to be a great player, and I’d be happy to eat my words on this.
It feels weird to say, but the Rangers’ veterans have been looking good. I’m speaking of course of Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, and Mats Zuccarello. All three of them have impressed thus far, with Hayes’ vision and hands being on full display, Kreider routinely blowing by defensemen, and Zucc working his usual magic. Even if there are legitimate concerns about the Rangers’ bottom six, their top two lines should be fun to watch this season.
I’m pretty alright with Pavelec’s performance so far, and honestly feel like Allaire can turn him into a serviceable backup who gives the team a chance to win every time he’s on the ice. He may not end up being traded as a starter to a Western Conference team by the end of his contract (going three for three on that front would be kind of ridiculous, no?) but I’m certainly pessimistic. He could very well wind up being all we need out of a backup goalie.