Rangers Roster Shakes Up Organizational Depth

As in prior seasons, the New York Rangers’ front office has chosen to place their eggs in the baskets of a veteran depth presence rather than the incoming youth movement. Following training camp and a 2-4-0 preseason record, the Rangers have made their final cuts. Among those who, most notably, will not begin the season with the Rangers is Filip Chytil and Vitali Kravtsov. Instead, Micheal Haley and Greg McKegg will begin their tenure as Rangers.

Ryan Lindgren was a fringe player heading into camp and should be the first name to be called up if there’s an injury on defense. Boo Nieves has proven he can play the NHL, but with Lias Andersson’s development, his spot was jeopardized. Both Vinni Lettieri and Igor Shesterkin were AHL bound no matter their play in the preseason. Joe Morrow and Tarmo Reunanen were longshots to make the roster. That leaves Kravtsov and Chytil as the odd men out on the Rangers’ tight roster. The decision shakes up the depth but, letting both develop in the AHL for the time being is the correct choice as the 2018-19 season begins.

Fourth Line Minutes Is Not the Place to Develop

Despite playing 84 games in his career, Chytil still has plenty of room to grow. He’s his moments of offensive prowess; he’s able to slip his way through the defense and pull off dazzling moves. He’s got every tool in the kit to become a full-time top-six forward. Yet, the 20-year-old still struggles in his own end, which was especially evident during the preseason. His 41.77 Corsi percentage at 5-v-5 strength was the lowest among Rangers with 35 or more minutes during the preseason.

New York Rangers center Filip Chytil
New York Rangers center Filip Chytil (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

Head coach David Quinn is an advocate for earning your spot. Chytil was outplayed and outworked by the top-nine players in the lineup, and was sent down. Putting a player of his play style on the fourth line with McKegg, Haley, or Brendan Smith does nothing but detach his offensive impact. He’d be logging well below his 13:47 average TOI from last year, further denting his development.

Like it or not, the Rangers preach a fourth line with players like Brendan Lemieux, McKegg, Haley, Andersson or Smith. That’s far from Chytil’s place and until he can earn himself a spot in the top-nine, he’ll remain in the AHL to play 20 minutes a night and refine his toolkit. He’ll be the first name to be called up should a roster spot become available.

Beginning Schedule Gives the Rangers Flexibility

The Rangers have perhaps the most intriguing schedule in the NHL. They only play three games through the first 14 days of the season. Following their second regular season game in Ottawa against the Senators, they play just one game in the next 11 days. In comparison, the Hartford Wolf Pack suit up in four games, both back-to-back and at home.

Vitali Kravtsov New York Rangers Draft
Vitali Kravtsov, New York Rangers, 2018 NHL Draft, Dallas, TX, June 22, 2018. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The first month of the season sees both the Wolf Pack and the Rangers play ten games. Three games in the first 14 days then seven in the next 13 is a grueling schedule, especially for the inexperienced players. Kravtsov never played a schedule like that in the KHL and paired with the learning curve of North American ice, management would be setting him up for a disappointing and difficult start to his NHL career.

Patience Is Virtue in Player Development

Rushing a player’s development is how the Daniel Sprong or Josh Ho-
Sang scenario
came about. Both were inexperienced top prospects thrusted into roles that set them up for disappointment. It’s a slippery slope and the Rangers must tread carefully. Andersson wasn’t quite ready for the NHL last year, hence he was sent down to the AHL following his 42-game trial period. There were aspects of his game that needed work, and Quinn sent him to the minors to build and refine those skills. Now he’s on his way to Madison Square Garden to open up the season against the Winnipeg Jets.

Lias Andersson New York Rangers
Lias Andersson, New York Rangers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Chytil has to work on in his game even if he played in 74 last season. His 11 goals and 10 assists can be misleading, as he struggled to find offensive consistency. He scored the first five of his goals on a five-game streak, then the next six were spread over a 53-game span. That’s hardly the production a team wants from their supposed second-line center, especially one that’s offensive-minded. The Rangers could give Chytil fourth-line minutes, just as they did last season with Andersson, but instead they’ll force him to earn a top-nine spot by dominating in the AHL. By no means will this be detrimental to his development or confidence as his career moves forward.

As of now, the Rangers will put Smith on the fourth line while McKegg and Haley stay in the press box. If the Rangers gave Kravtsov or Chytil any of those spots, they’d also be sitting in the press box or riding the bench. Keeping them in the AHL is the right move for now, even if it comes at the expense of the overall lineup. Let the kids develop and their roster will become a formidable offense in due time.