“Pressure’s gonna drop on you.” Whether it’s Toots and the Maytals or the Clash, there’s a clear message for guys like Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson, and Brett Howden given the additions of Kaapo Kakko and Vitali Kravtsov to the New York Rangers lineup. It’s a nice feeling to have, and helps settle down some of the misgivings about the early stages (remember 2017? such strange times) of this rapidly fading rebuild. Even on defense, Jacob Trouba’s fresh face on the depth chart makes things much easier on guys like Tony DeAngelo or the assorted youngsters coming up through the system this coming season and certainly the following. Whatever your thoughts are on the quality of the Rangers’s prospects up and down, they’re certainly a bit less under scrutiny, at least in the foreground, than they were before.
It’s understandable why some had issues with the Blueshirt’s selection of Lias Andersson. He was exceptionally safe as a high-first-round draft pick, with the big reason for taking him being that he was more NHL-ready than others. Although the Casey Mittelstadt comparisons have subsided, it’s still not phenomenal that he … wasn’t NHL ready. Same thing goes for Brett Howden, part of the blockbuster trade with Tampa Bay – he’ll need some time to adjust for sure, but luckily he’ll have the room to do so under less of a spotlight than he would’ve had on him otherwise. The only player from that crop who hasn’t garnered much criticism, although his numbers might spur some light skepticism, is Filip Chytil.
Chytil will most probably blossom into a top-six forward at some point either this season or the next, while Andersson and Howden take a bit more time. One way or another though, it’s less critical that they come through to the height of their potential. It’s obviously ideal if they do, but if those guys don’t quite hit their ceilings in every facet of their game, well, we’ve still got Kaapo Kakko, among several other (!) high-quality scoring threats. I
t’s a nice position to be in, and as much as this shifts pressure off some of the youngsters, it’s not a ton of scrutiny for Kakko, Kravtsov, and Panarin either. The former two players will get the benefit of the doubt in their rookie seasons, and Panarin is a proven superstar. All is quiet in Rangerstown, suddenly.
Even on defense, things are looking much more placid. Jacob Trouba is your new number one, and the defensive prospects behind Tony DeAngelo and Adam Fox (Rykov, Hajek, Lundkvist, and Miller) can develop slow and steady as the Rangers figure out some addition by subtraction on the blueline. That’s a big relief as well, and it can’t be overstated how much that’s going to help the kids’ development.
As far as the season goes next year, whatever happens, happens. If the Rangers somehow sneak into a playoff spot (I still think they will, and will do some damage) then great, springtime hockey! If not, they’re in the lottery zone at the most stacked draft in a short/medium-sized generation. The tense atmosphere and heavy apprehension that fills the air at the onset of a rebuild has dissipated rapidly, and now we get to have some no-pressure fun. A pressure drop indeed.