Chytil & Howden: The Rangers’ Rookie Duo

Glen Sather and Jeff Gorton told New York Rangers fans that, going forward, the focus of the organization was to add “young, competitive players that combine speed, skill and character” and “building the foundation for our next Stanley Cup contender.” A little less than a year since that message, and the internal makeup of the team consists of a handful of players 29 and above and another handful that are 23 and younger – an all-over-the-place mix.

On one end there’s Henrik Lundqvist and Cody McLeod, who together have 32 years experience (1,604 games) in the NHL, and then there’s Filip Chytil and Brett Howden, who combine for 101 individual games at the professional level.

The Rangers are the only NHL team with two of the nine NHL rookies, that are 20 years old or younger, who have tallied 15 or more points this season. Chytil (19) and Howden (20) are the youngest guys on the squad but have proven themselves as NHL-caliber competitors, which is definitely a success in any rookie season.

‘Chytilmania’ is Real and in the Rangers Future

The center has tallied a point in four of the last five games (two goals, two assists), as well as a point in 14 of his last 29 games (eight goals, six assists).  In the Rangers most recent 4-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks, Chytil notched a goal, registered four shots on net, and posted a plus-one rating on the night.

In his 55 games with New York, Chytil has gathered 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists). November saw Chytil ride a five-game goal/point streak and now he is currently tied for third among NHL rookies in goals (eight) as well as tied for fifth in points (14) amongst players who are either 18 or 19 years old this season.

The Czech joins Mike Allison, Alexei Kovalev, Michael Del Zotto, and Don Murdoch on the list of teenagers who have recorded nine or more goals for the Rangers. He ties Del Zotto and Murdoch for the third-most goals by a teenager in franchise history.

Chytil said he was feeling great after Thursday’s game and that there’s “good chemistry” between himself, Jesper Fast and Ryan Strome. There’s a strong dynamic between Chytil and coach David Quinn as well, the former collegiate coach has managed the rookie well and gotten a positive response out of him.

“It’s a big jump from where he was two years ago,” coach David Quinn said. “This is a guy who’s not going to be 20 until September. I think sometimes people lose sight of that.

“But he’s a special talent, boy. He’s a guy that can create offense on his own, he’s got great stick skills. The thing I like about him is he’s been hounding the puck more lately, he’s been stopping on pucks, doing all the things that guys learn to do when they get to this level — because the game forces you to do it. No matter how much a coach says something you have to really suffer before you learn a lesson. And he’s learning lessons, for sure.”

I think Quinn really likes Chytil’s style of play and sees an opportunity to mold him. Despite being one of the youngest skaters on the ice, he somehow manages to be incredibly noticeable.

Brett Howden Still Navigating Rookie Season

In 46 games this season, Howden has accumulated 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) and currently sits at minus-12. Although he did edge out Lias Andersson for the roster spot, it wasn’t because he was that much better, just a little more consistent.

The six-foot center has had a rough last couple of games, finishing the last three games at a minus-two and with his lowest amount of ice time: 8:29 against Columbus Blue Jackets on Jan. 13, 9:51 against Carolina Hurricanes on Jan. 15, and most recently 6:40 against Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 17.

Rangers center Brett Howden
Rangers center Brett Howden (James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

In the last five games, Howden registered just two shots, going without a single shot in the last three. He only saw the ice for two shifts in the third period on the fourth line against the Blackhawks, collecting the least amount of playing time next to Cody McLeod (4:37).

Howden, a 2016 first-round pick (27th overall) by the Tampa Bay Lightning, has handled himself on lines with Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider, between Jimmy Vesey and Vladislav Namesnikov, as well as Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich. Although he hasn’t been as much of a playmaker like Chytil has, for his first NHL season, Howden has been decent.

In his first 10 games as a Ranger, Howden won 54 percent of face-offs. He scored his first NHL goal against the Buffalo Sabres in his second game on Oct. 6, before an impressive between-the-legs tally in overtime against San Jose on Oct. 11.

“He’s kind of like Step a little bit — really smart and a good player,” Zuccarello said. “He has a bright future. He makes purpose plays, smart passes. He’s humble too. I like that.”