How times can quickly change in the NHL. Just a few weeks ago, the New York Rangers were a true definition of a rebuilding team — young, inexperienced players trying to find a way to gel together while suffering growing pains in their play and heartbreaks when it came to the win-loss column.
One of these young players is a 19-year-old prospect from the Czech Republic, Filip Chytil. Chytil, at the time, was struggling to produce in the Rangers’ lineup, waiting on the pine for more ice time and he seemed unable to find his place on the team. Around the hockey community, calls were made for him to be sent back to the minors for one more year.
But now, Chytil is here to stay, seems to be Blueshirt focused and has answered critics with his on-ice performances. In a Nov. 21 win against the New York Islanders, he became the first teenager in Rangers history — and 20th in NHL history — to post a five-game scoring streak. And in a sudden surge, the Rangers have picked up wins in nine of the 12 games they have played since Oct. 30, picking up points in all but two games.
While Chytil, and the team as a whole, can still be considered in development, it’s safe to say the tides have turned and eyes have been opened in a season with few expectations.
Avoiding Another Trip Back to Hartford
If Chytil had been sent down at the end of last month, it would have been a familiar feeling for the young man. Last year, after being drafted 21st overall by New York, Chytil was considered one of, if not the top, prospect coming out of training camp, earning a place on the 2017-18 roster and playing on a line with fan favorites Mats Zuccarello and Rick Nash.
However, the run would not last for long, as he was demoted back to the Hartford Wolfpack after just two games. He was called up for the final couple of weeks of the season.
As October rolled to an end, and with no goals and just two assists to show on the stat sheet after a couple of different lineup placements, it looked like Chytil could have been on the path to another minors stint. After all, the thought was, he’d still be kept under development and it’d allow for another year of Chytil under the entry-level contract.
But the team and head coach David Quinn had other ideas, opting to keep him up and move him down to the fourth line, but back at his normal center position after a stint on the upper lines, part of which came playing wing.
“I think part of the issue for Filip is that he’s been playing against everybody’s top two lines and that’s not easy to do for a 19-year-old even though he is comfortable on the wing,” Quinn said via Newsday prior to an Oct. 28 game with the Los Angeles Kings.
Things Start to Click for Chytil & Team
What was in Chytil’s defense at the time, however, was that he wasn’t exactly bringing the team down single-handedly. The team struggled with getting the puck in the back of the net early on, and there have been a number of prospects on the main roster this season — from Vladislav Namestnikov to Tony DeAngelo — who haven’t lived up to their expectations.
But in this past month, fortunes have seemed to change for all.
Chytil, in part due to his recent five-game goal streak, has become a vital part to the Rangers’ offense, and fans can see an increase in confidence — as it’s led to him getting more and more play time, culminating in 20.5 minutes against the Islanders on Nov. 21. And more importantly, he’s now playing on the team’s top line.
“With his play, I think he’s earned this opportunity…It’s the ebbs and flows of a 19-year-old in the National Hockey League, the confidence kind of comes and goes,” Quinn told the New York Post. “He’s a dynamic player for sure, and he had an awful lot of jump in his game…he’s been building towards that.”
Of course, there’s still plenty of play left, and with such a young team, there’s a chance the hot streak runs out and maybe Chytil goes on another cold spell. But at the very least, the Rangers and their fans are happy to see someone the team has put a lot of faith in trending in an upwards direction.
My name is Tom Albano and I cover the New York Rangers. I covered the team back in the 2015-16 season for a blog called Black and Blueshirts before the site network closed down. In addition, I’m a combat sports (i.e. MMA, boxing, etc) contributor for FIGHT SPORTS and host a weekly sports talk podcast called The Unspoken Podcast.