Filip Chytil has been the most noticeable and consistent forward for the Rangers through the early portion of 2020-21. The Czech-native has scored twice and added one helper through four games, finishing off a set of dazzling moves in Friday night’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Penguins.
The 21-year-old seems to be having his coming out party right in front of our eyes, producing high-quality chances every night. He has an Individual Expected Goals (ixG) percentage of 0.98 per 60 minutes, putting his confidence and talent on display each night.
Chytil has already seen his role increase on the second power-play unit and could be climbing up the center depth chart if his play continues.
Rangers Still Looking For Center Help
The Winnipeg Jets and Columbus Blue Jackets rattled the hockey world by pulling the trigger on a trade that sent center Pierre-Luc Dubois and a third-round pick to Winnipeg for star-winger Patrik Laine and young center Jack Roslovic. Despite the plethora of prospects in the Rangers’ arsenal, the team failed to add the young center who would have significantly bolstered their center depth.
The Rangers had inquired about Dubois, checking on the former Blue Jackets’ asking price, per TSN’s Pierre LeBrun. Nothing came to fruition, and he was ultimately swapped in a deal that would see the second and third selections from the 2016 Draft switch franchises.
With a team faceoff percentage of 42.4, the Rangers should be looking at other center help options after missing out on Dubois, who had won 54.1% of his draws thus far in 2020-21. The aforementioned Chytil can hopefully improve his faceoff statistics and emerge as a true 2C, but for now, expect Jeff Gorton to survey the league for center help.
Rimouski Stars Meet For First Time
Alexis Lafreniere was three when Sidney Crosby debuted for the Pittsburgh Penguins back in 2005. The Rangers’ first-overall selection grew up idolizing Crosby, eventually following in his footsteps and playing for the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic.
As Colin Stephenson of Newsday points out, Crosby was the first player to be named the CHL’s Player of the Year twice. Lafreniere was the second, mimicking Crosby’s path to the NHL in an eerily similar fashion. In Stephenson’s article, Lafreniere addressed the moment that lay ahead of him Friday night in Pittsburgh:
“Obviously, he was one of my idols growing up, a big role model for me,’’ Lafreniere said before the game. “So for sure, it’s really special and I’m really excited for this game. I will just try to enjoy it and try to play as well as I can.”(from ‘Rangers’ Alexis Lafreniere gets to play against idol Sidney Crosby’, Newsday – 01/23/21)
Both players were held off the scoresheet in the 4-3 Penguins win, but the two get to go at it again on Sunday, with the two first selections hungry for spots on the stat sheet. Lafreniere has yet to record his first NHL point, but the 19-year-old has started to see chances come his way. It would be an amazing moment if he could tally his first point against the Crosby-led Penguins.
Line Shuffling Continues
The Rangers’ line shuffle on defense continued Friday, as Brendan Smith saw himself on the outside looking in after Tony DeAngelo re-entered the lineup. The Rangers appear to have four defensemen who will be penciled in on a nightly basis, with three of them being 22 years old or younger (K’Andre Miller, Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren). Jacob Trouba is the fourth of the group, leaving DeAngelo, Smith, and Jack Johnson to shuffle in and out of the lineup.
A minus-four on the season, Johnson saw himself paired with DeAngelo Friday night on the Rangers’ third pairing. The two were on the ice for two goals against and did not look particularly sharp defensively. Despite playing Friday, Johnson will be sidelined Sunday, as Smith draws back into the lineup.
Up front, a surprising move was made as Julien Gauthier was scratched for Kevin Rooney, who returned after an injury suffered in Game 1. Gauthier, who has looked good at times, has yet to score an NHL goal in his 20 career NHL games. The coaching staff wants to see more from the young forward, allowing him to recoup in the press box while Rooney gets his minutes.
Rooney has looked good this season, but it will be hard to keep Gauthier out of the lineup for long.
Brendan Azoff is a THW contributor and podcast host dedicated to covering the New York Rangers. His passion for hockey started when he first laced up the skates at three, growing into his love for writing and talking about the greatest sport in the world. His podcast, The Backcheck, breaks down the Rangers, Islanders, and NHL news and can be found on The Hockey Writers Podcast Network and Belly Up Sports. Brendan has been writing about the Rangers and the NHL for over two years, with his content also found on Puck Prose, Blue Line Station, and E2G Sports. If you want to connect with Brendan and stay up-to-date on his posts, follow him on Twitter. He is always available for content ideas and interviews, don’t be afraid to ask!