Figuring out that center depth – the future bodes well
While the blue line is going to take most of the focus as the rebuild enters its second full year, there will also be a focus on the center position. The Blueshirts have a pair of potential elite level wingers in Vitali Kravtsov and Pavel Buchnevich, although the latter is more than likely going to fall into the “good to very good” category. They have their 1C –for now– in Mika Zibanejad. But the question remains about who will be that elusive 2C.
Don’t think it’s that important? Think about the 2017-2018 season, and how much better it would have gone had the Rangers not misfired on Lias Andersson’s timeline to the NHL. Center depth is the common denominator in almost all post-lockout Cup winners. The good news is that the Rangers have figured out the hardest part: Finding the 1C. The rest, while difficult, is easier.
Skipping the 2C spot for a second, the 3C/4C spots can be held by any combination of Ryan Strome, Lias Andersson, Brett Howden, or Boo Nieves. If you assume that the kids hit their potential, then the Rangers will really be cooking with Andersson as the 3C and Howden as the 4C. Remember when Brian Boyle was the 3C? The Blueshirts fell just short. When the Rangers acquired Derick Brassard and made Boyle the 4C, the Rangers went to the Cup Final. Same concept, different players. If Anderson is your 2C, you’re likely not deep enough. If he’s your 3C, then you’re deep enough.
Which brings me to the wild card, and that is Filip Chytil. Drafted as a center but moved to wing this year, Chytil has shown flashes of brilliance while adjusting to the NHL game both during games and at practice. It is significantly easier to adjust to the NHL at wing than at center, which makes sense for a kid you want to ease into the lineup. With Chytil getting Tuesday’s game at center, transitioning him back to that position would fill that 2C hole.
In a perfect world, Chytil develops into the 2C sometime next season, and eventually develops into a 1A/1B situation like the Rangers had with Brassard and Derek Stepan. As Zibanejad gets older, Chytil would be able to take up that mantle as the 1C, and the center rotation would be complete.
A lot of this is dependent on proper development, but it also depends on Jeff Gorton and company recognizing that they may have that 2C in their midst already. Giving Chytil that chance should be priority numero uno next season. After that, bottom-six centers are easy to identify. As long as they aren’t David Desharnais.
The blue line is going to be an arduous task to rebuild, but the center depth is almost there. When you consider that Zibanejad is the elder statesman here by half a decade at the ripe old age of 25, then the future does bode well. Imagine, for a second, Chytil and Andersson hit their potential over the next two seasons. The Rangers trot out Zibanejad-Chytil-Andersson as their 1-2-3 centers. Not many teams will be able to match that.
The future bodes well for this group down the middle.