It has been a long time since the New York Rangers had a quality stable of NHL prospects such as this group. The local media and fans are eagerly waiting for the Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil era to officially begin. Others are paying close attention to the development of Libor Hajek and Ryan Lindgren, who are expected to anchor the rebuild of the blue line. That leaves very little pomp and circumstance for Brett Howden, who might be considered a forgotten Ranger prospect at this point.
What Obstacles Lie Ahead for Howden
Howden was the 27th overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning and was one of the main pieces acquired in the Ryan McDonagh and JT Miller deadline deal. After his acquisition, Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton admitted to coveting Howden for quite some time and who wouldn’t, he’s an imposing figure in front of the net that has the skill-set to become a solid two-way center.
At the moment, the Rangers have an abundance of (Mika Zabanejad, Kevin Hayes, Ryan Spooner, Vladislav Namestnikov, Andersson and Chytil) centers on the roster which could force Howden to play another position. Luckily, he’s versatile and has shown the ability to play on either wing.
After watching him in game action, it’s hard not to love the passion he exhibits on each shift as he fights for the loose puck along the boards. He can skate and is willing to get involved with physical play in the offensive zone. His on-ice vision is off the charts as he can turn a subtle pass into a quality scoring chance for a linemate in a blink of an eye.
This season could be a learning experience for Howden, especially if the Rangers ask him to switch positions and become a power forward. They’re desperate to have some form of consistency from a player like Howden because Chris Kreider failed to produce in that role last season. It will be important for the Rangers to show some patience with Howden’s development because it will take time for him to learn his new role, but he has all the tools to succeed.
Rangers Are Searching for a Team Leader
The Rangers are expecting several of their top prospects to become leaders and carry influence inside the locker room. Howden’s temperament brings out the best in others, creating a winning culture that gets teammates ready to compete each night. The fans will applaud how Howden takes great pride in having a strong work ethic that his teammates will come to respect.
“I think getting cut my first year really helped me become the player I am right now. It made me really open my eyes that nothing’s given to you and you gotta work for what you get.”
This came after Howden was cut from Team Canada prior to the 2017 World Juniors Championships. He explained to the New York Post that this disappointment opened his eyes and he learned how important it is to make yourself stand out against quality competition. Since then, Howden’s main focus has been on becoming a difference-maker on and off the ice.
Howden’s Expectations for 2018-19
Participating in his first training camp is going to be surreal for Howden, especially if he catches the eye of the Madison Square Garden faithful and his name is chanted loudly inside the building. He is looking forward to the challenge, as the 20-year-old has the longest of long shots to make the roster.
To do so, Howden must show that he can play with the confidence and discipline needed to secure quality NHL minutes. The bigger question is if the Rangers can remain committed to keeping Howden on the roster for an entire season, especially during the growing pains of his development.
Gorton hopes to maximize on the value of the assets he gained at last year’s trade deadline. The Rangers have the prospects to get the rebuilding process moving in the right direction. Some might be more NHL-ready than others at this moment, but Howden might have the highest ceiling of them all.
His statistical numbers (108 goals in 243 games played in the WHL) accumulated in juniors might not stand out and he may not have the flashy offensive moves but Howden feels hard work will pay off for him in the long run. If he adapts his game to the fast pace of the NHL, then it’s easy to say that the Rangers may have found a diamond in the rough with the Winnipeg native.
Thomas Conroy covers the Vegas Golden Knights for The Hockey Writers Network He has been writing about sports since 2007, first as a contributor for Bleacher Report and Football Nation. Recently, Conroy was a co-editor for the Bolts Beat website on Fansided. To read more his work, please him on Twitter @tsconroy