In a little under two months, the puck will drop at Madison Square Garden to open up another season of New York Rangers hockey. Until then, let’s look back on the season that passed and grade each player’s performance.
We’ll start with center Brett Howden, who burst onto the scene last season with his Blueshirt debut. On a team that was disappointing, the Calgary native stood out and made an impact. For a 21-year-old starting in the NHL, last season can be viewed positively.
The Rangers haveaccelerated themselves through a rebuild and seem to be at the end of it. This season will show whether or not the moves made over the past two seasons have paid off, and if the younger players with high expectations have developed properly. Howden is one of those young players with a high ceiling.
Last season was Howden’s first at the NHL level after a very impressive career in the Western Hockey League with the Moose Jaw Warriors. During his 248 games in the WHL, he contributed 267 points, just over a point-per-game average.
He was acquired by the Rangersin the trade that sent Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Howden, Vladislav Namestnikov, Libor Hajek and a conditional first-round pick in 2019. The first-round selection became void when the Lightning were swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
In 66 games with the Rangers, Howden had six goals and 17 assists. The former first-round selection got off to a fiery start, but once that flame was out, it did not reignite.
His first 21 games were as good as it gets for a newcomer. He netted four goals on 23 shots and dished out eight assists. One of those goals was unexpected, against the San Jose Sharks on Oct. 11. After now-former Rangers left winger Mats Zuccarello fanned on his shot, Howden gathered the puck in his skates near the crease and used an unusual between-the-legs shot on his backhand. The slow-moving puck redirected off of Sharks defenseman Brent Burns, fooled goaltender Martin Jones and slid right through his five-hole.
The following 45 games painted a different picture. Howden only tallied 11 points, with two goals. Included in this disappointing stretch was an 11-game pointless streak between Dec. 22 and Jan. 12. This damaged his credibility as a consistent player.
In terms of ice time, Howden did receive a good amount in 2018-19. He played 18-plus minutes nine times in 66 games and averaged 14:56 per game for the season. The greatest thing he gained from his first season in the NHL is experience.
Throughout the season, Howden was excellent on the draw. At 48.4% at the faceoff dot, he ranked second on the Rangers with at least 250 wins, behind Mika Zibanejad who won 49.6% of his draws. The Rangers ranked 30th in the NHL in faceoff win percentage last season at 46.9%, which makes Howden that much more important.
Final Grade: C+
At the end of it all, Howden’s final grade for his rookie season is a C+. He could have done a lot more in the final 45 games of the season but the season wasn’t a bust. The growing pains were expected, but it wasn’t as severe as some of the other young Rangers.
Howden was adequate at the faceoff dot, showed creativity on the ice and contributed outside of the offense. With 64 hits and 47 blocked shots, he was doing a little bit of everything to help the Rangers. He showed his willingness to be a team player who can play in any role on the ice.
Heading into his second season, there will be a lot of fresh faces surrounding him. He is projected to be on the fourth line with Brendan Lemieux, pending a new contract, and Jesper Fast. Sure, the fourth line will hinder his ice time, but there is room for him to be promoted. Injuries, poor performance from those above him and his success should earn him that promotion.
In the upcoming season, the Rangers shouldn’t have the same up-and-down performances that they did in 2018-19. If anything, the team has another young player with ample time at the highest level to teach the recent influx of new talent. Howden did well in his first season but will need to pick it up going further.