Analysis

Brett Howden or Colin Blackwell as a replacement for Filip Chytil?

With Filip Chytil out for 4-6 weeks, the Rangers will have to find a replacement on the third line. There are only two realistic options, with one being more realistic than the other. Both Brett Howden and Colin Blackwell (albeit in one game) have played well this season. Both, in theory, should survive with Phil Di Giuseppe and Kaapo Kakko.

A direct comparison of the two doesn’t really show us many differences. It also doesn’t necessarily mean much this early in the season. Blackwell played one game, and Howden is dragged down by two atrocious games, but was great in the other three. But we get what we expect. Howden is a little worse on defense. Blackwell is more well rounded. The question is – who is better for the 3C role in the interim?

The case for Howden

Let’s be real, Howden will get the 3C nod for now. However this isn’t like last year, where Howden was a black hole. He’s been significantly better this season, and has found a home on the fourth line. That line has worked very well to start the season.

Howden’s numbers are dragged down by two very poor games against the Devils and Penguins. Granted, that is 40% of the season so far, so take that with a grain of salt. But still, it’s hard to argue that Howden hasn’t looked significantly better this season. It could be that it’s his third full year, thus he’s getting a grip on things. It could also be that he’s found a good place for himself in the lineup.

Either way, when kids play well and a chance to move up is presented, then it sends the right message moving him up in the lineup.

The case for Blackwell

Blackwell has a history of being a play driver wherever he goes. He was excellent in that role, in a limited capacity, with the Nashville Predators. The numbers suggest that he’d do well with more ice time. The only way to know for sure is to give him that opportunity.

The primary case for using Blackwell in this role is to ensure the Rangers don’t break up something that is working. The fourth line of Howden, Brendan Lemieux, and Julien Gauthier/Kevin Rooney is working. Given David Quinn’s habits of rolling all four lines evenly at even strength, having that comfort of a line you know works means something.

It is worth noting that the Howden/Kakko duo was downright awful last year. This is a different season and both look better. But another case for going to Blackwell is just that – why go back to something if it didn’t work before? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. By that definition, putting Howden in the 3C role with Kakko would be insane. Thus, Blackwell becomes the only option.

Expect line shuffling

In the end, we should expect Quinn to shuffle the lines a bit. Howden will likely get the first look. Expect him to get a long look. Only in the face of overwhelming evidence will Quinn put someone else in that role. But, I’d expect that to happen at some point. In that case, expect the lines to be shuffled.

If there’s one thing we know for certain, it’s that finding a replacement for Filip Chytil really exacerbates the center depth issue for the Rangers. The only two options are a guy who didn’t work there for two years (Howden), or an offseason flier who happens to have good underlying numbers. Not exactly the best case scenario.

Chart per Evolving-Hockey.

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    • Short term, I think this would be a huge mistake. Kakko is a talented kid who is just learning the game. He seemed to be making great strides playing with Chityl and diGuiseppe, two players more experienced than he, in a role with limited pressure. Putting him on a line with a kid with zero professional experience would not be good for his development.

    • Bobby I think you have stumbled upon the secret plan! I knew there had to be a reason they got JJ. It definitely wasn’t for his defense!

  • Man this is tough. Chytil was playing well and I was hoping for this to be a bit of a break out season for him.

    It probably will be Howden at center on the line. On the bright side, we at least will get to see what he can do there.

  • If Chytil is out the full 6 weeks, that translates to roughly 20 games, or a bit under 40% of the season. Add back in a few more games to get up to speed, and we are approaching 1/2 the season.

    Not good.

    At least he would then be fresh for the playoffs, should this team get there.

  • It’s only been a few games but I haven’t seen why Laf’s game can’t translate to being a Center. The adjustment to the NHL is hard enough and you don’t want to place too many new responsibilities on him but I think he looks like he can handle it. Hell, they moved him to RW after just 2 games.

    • Not a farfetched idea at all. He has the skills (both mental and physical) to handle that position.

    • I agree. Nice to have a strong kid up the middle. He’s got the young lungs. Not worried about him.

  • So Matt Vaniers or Kent Johnson would look good as a new center prospect for the Rangers. Not 1C guys but certainly high end 2C. LOL!!

    Now I can just watch the games without getting all worked up after a loss. Another year for development. Sigh

  • A shame for the kid and his development, he was just scratching the surface of how well he can play. That said, we have more depth this year and every team will suffer through these types of losses — so no excuses. I would try Blackwell as long as the 4th line remains “intact” … if not, time to see how much Howden has improved over the course of the last offseason. Might make sense to replace Chytil on the roster with Barron — not suggesting he steps in for Chytil on the 3rd line.

    • We have seen Howden at Center already, albeit I do think he looks better this year even if the metrics don’t show it. I would like to see how Blackwell does in that role for the next 5-10 games.

    • The Rangers actually have plenty of centers (5) even without Chityl. They don’t need another body in this regard. The question is whether they have three top nine centers. Adding a player who did not make the opening day roster won’t help here.

  • Howden flanked by PDG and Kakko should be okay. The 4th line will be a bit of a work in progress with Blackwell centering Gauthier and (possibly) Lemieux. This is where we see who can step up.

  • The last time Blackwell showed a high scoring rate was his senior year of high school. Never showed it at Harvard, only showed something was last year in the minors.

    You might not know what Howden will provide due to aging curves, but you definitely know what you’re not getting in Blackwell.

    • We have all previously identified the lack of depth at the center position. Our top 2 lines should be unaffected, but the bottom 6 really need a veteran 2-way center. That player is not currently on the roster. Look for a move in the next week to get an aging veteran to act as a stop gap. Someone at the end of their career who comes relatively cheap.

  • nhl.com has Rooney and Blackwell playing. Could be a good idea, if starter falters, bring in the other center.

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