A change is coming.
It may sound like a catchy summer movie motto, but that phrase best describes the New York Rangers’ offseason plans this July. General manger Jeff Gorton wants to revamp the roster by instilling younger, faster players into the lineup, and it seems that all systems are ready to go with the Rangers top two prospects, Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil, who are poised to make a significant contribution next season.
Once team management decided to deal away franchise mainstays for valuable assets prior to the league’s trade deadline, it became more apparent that it was when and not if Andersson and Chytil would debut in New York. The Rangers struggled to cross the finish line by going 2-7-1 in their final 10 games, but the call-ups of the youngsters did provide a bit of an adrenaline rush to an utterly disappointing season.
If you’re skeptical of this notion, then you didn’t witness the crowd reaction when Andersson and Chytil stepped onto home ice in the final week of the regular season. The Madison Square Garden faithful are excited about their arrival to New York because both are essential to the success of the franchise’s rebuild. The Rangers are confident Andersson and Chytil can handle the pressure, and it’s a guarantee that both will be tested next season.
Andersson is NHL Ready
After reading Andersson’s 2017 NHL Draft profile, you come away believing that once he finds his comfort zone in the lineup, Andersson has enough talent to become more than a solid contributor each night. The Rangers are continually looking to strengthen their center position by acquiring younger, faster and more efficient two-way players, so it came as no surprise when the organization selected Andersson with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. The hope is for him to be on the fast-track to New York because the Rangers desperately need reinforcements on the roster as they trail the field in the area of speed and youth in the lineup.
His journey to the NHL began with Frolunda HC of the Swedish Hockey League, but Andersson’s stock began to rise after his performance in the 2018 World Juniors. Yes, he drew unwanted attention for his actions (tossing silver medal into the crowd) at the awards ceremony, but the Rangers came away quite impress with his key defensive zone face-off wins, which has been a catalyst for their early playoff exits. His on-ice intensity was the determining factor in promoting him to conclude the season with the Rangers’ AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack, and Andersson diidn’t disappoint as he scored 14 points in 24 games played.
No question that Andersson has a bright future in New York, but he may begin learning his trade as a third line center. This would afford him the opportunity to gain more ice time and possibly second-team action on the power play and penalty-killing units because he’s already a terrific two-way player. And within time, Andersson should be challenging for a top-six forward position as he’s an outstanding playmaker when touching the puck, especially around the crease.
Chytil Could Become the “Steal” of the 2017 Draft
Unless a trade occurs, the Rangers will have a logjam at the center position heading into next training camp. Pencil in Mika Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes, Vladislav Namestnikov and Ryan Spooner all battling the youngsters for valuable playing time, but Chytil’s versatility may gain the Rangers a little more time to evaluate and determine which players will remain in New York long-term.
After watching Chytil in limited minutes during his brief stay in the NHL, there’s no denying that his talent level doesn’t equate to where he was chosen (No. 21 overall) in last summer’s draft. The Ranger may have found themselves a sleeper as Chytil excelled in his first season with the Wolf Pack. His final numbers (11 goals and 31 points in 46 games) were quite impressive for a 18-year old rookie.
What stands out about Chytil is his puck-handling skills, which should increase the amount of scoring chances for his line mates between the face-off circles in the offensive zone. Ranger fans will marvel at Chytil’s ability to skate with relative ease as he will challenge the defense to stay at home or run the risk of giving up a number of breakaway goal-scoring opportunities next season. As the roster is currently configured, Chytil’s advanced offensive skills is better utilized as a winger because it’s what the Rangers anemic offensive attack needs at the moment.
Expectations Are High for Next Season
The expectations are high for Andersson and Chytil as the pressure to win in New York is quite different from other NHL cities. Mostly, because the front office has little patience for growing pains associated with developing young players. Neither Andersson or Chytil are ready to handle the pressures of being the face of the franchise, but right now, it’s more important to find out if either can handle the pace and grind of an NHL season.
It’s going to be a very busy summer for the Rangers as they’re looking to add reinforcements to the depth of the roster, but the front office cannot go off course with the rebuild. It’s a guarantee that the Rangers will chase free agents, but they cannot go on a spending spree that negates the growth of Andersson and Chytil. Gorton won’t be judge on the quality of free agents brought into the fold or the talent acquired via trades, instead, his final grade will be decided upon the development of Andersson and Chytil.
Together, they have a one-way ticket that reads, “Destination: New York.”
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