As the New York Rangers continue through their rebuild and development of their youth, the time for seeing some of the younger players taking big steps is very close at hand. Some players take longer than others to hit their full stride as the development curve is far from linear. One player the Rangers are looking towards to take another step is former first round pick, Filip Chytil. He was the Rangers second pick of the 2017 Entry Draft, taken 21st overall, and has all of the makings to be an offensive threat in the top six. Chytil is entering his third full season in the NHL and could very well have his breakout season.
His Career So Far
The young center has only been getting better since making his NHL debut as an 18-year-old. Despite a pedestrian preseason that resulted in him starting the 2019-20 season in the AHL, Chytil showed he was coming back to the NHL with the intention of staying upon being recalled. Last season, Chytil tied his rookie year total of 23 points but did so in 15 fewer games. He also increased his goals from 11 to 14. Of his nine assists, six were primaries, showing his involvement in creating plays. He has also displayed superb puck handling, making dekes on defensemen look easy.
His offensive production has been modest, considering he has been seeing most of his ice time in a bottom-six role. Chytil did get a good look in a big role when Mika Zibanejad was hurt – he slid in perfectly with Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich. The line did a very good job of controlling play and looking dangerous in how they moved the puck. They only had 12 games with over five minutes of ice time together which is noteworthy since it is a small sample. As a line, they out-chanced opponents by a margin of 53-39 according to Natural Stat Trick.
After the return of Zibanejad, Chytil was demoted to the third line and saw most of his ice time with Kaapo Kakko and Brendan Lemieux. He struggled defensively along with the two wingers as his goals-for percent with Lemieux was 38.89% and 34.48% with Kakko. Despite this, Chytil managed to improve his own defensive play going from a pitiful minus-22 as a rookie to a minus-7 this season. Chytil’s biggest struggle, however, was in the faceoff dot. He won a mere 38.45% of draws, which was second-lowest in the league among centers who took at least 200 faceoffs.
In addition to his box score stats, Chytil has shown much more confidence with the puck. With his skating ability, flying up the wing looks almost effortless for the 21-year-old. He was at his strongest when he had the puck on his stick. He was strong driving the net with the puck using his size, strength and speed. The more ice Chytil receives, the more confident he looks and it earned him more ice time this season. He saw his average time on ice jump up to 14:50, a full minute from the 13:47 he averaged his first season.
Reasons For His Breakout
Chytil has all of the tools necessary to be an offensive weapon – he has a good shot, excellent skating ability, good size at 6-foot-2 and 206 pounds, and reasonable strength to fight off attackers. He has shown that he wants the puck on his stick and takes no issue holding onto it in order to be the one making plays. Chytil has been getting better at not only finding his teammates but using them more effectively. He has continued to round out his game and should see continued improvement going forward.
Another reason for his production to increase is a higher quality of linemates. Chytil showed he can succeed with both Kreider and Buchnevich on his wing if need be. Should Chytil take over Ryan Strome’s spot in the top six, playing with superstar wing Artemi Panarin would be a fantastic experience for the young pivot. There could be an argument that he might already be ready to take over the role.
More than likely, Chytil will team up with Alexis Lafreniere. There is also the possibility that Julien Gauthier rounds out the third line, and given his similar skillset to Kreider, it could make for an interesting dynamic.
If Chytil can find chemistry with another winger on the roster, he can easily see big improvements to his box score stats. He still has a very high ceiling and is still closing in on that potential. Chytil has shown flashes of brilliance in the early days of his career but he is not quite there yet. This is the last year of his entry-level contract, and he is expected to take another step in his development soon. This could be the season where he shows a great deal of growth and consistency. Since being drafted, Chytil has shown the Rangers that they made a smart pick, and the full payoff is still to come.