Another season came and went for the New York Rangers, who failed to make the playoffs. While every offseason is important, this one could have huge implications for the future of the team. The Rangers already went and made a big shakeup in their front office, firing John Davidson as team president and Jeff Gorton as general manager. Former Rangers captain Chris Drury will fill both seats after his promotion from assistant general manager.
It will be a busy summer for the rookie GM as he will have to handle contracts with a few important restricted free agents. The Rangers already inked defenseman Ryan Lindgren to a three-year deal but that’s only the beginning for the Blueshirts. Other key free agents include Igor Shesterkin and Pavel Buchnevich, who are due raises. There is also the matter of Filip Chytil, who is in an awkward spot as he comes to the end of his entry-level contract.
Option 1: Trade Chytil
Drury will also have to make a decision about the trade rumors circling his club and Buffalo Sabres star centerman Jack Eichel. A player of that caliber is going to demand a hefty return, which would include at least one roster player, top picks, and high-level prospects. Although the Sabres said they would prefer not to trade Eichel to the big city, it is still a possibility.
One player who the Rangers could use as part of a package for Eichel is Chytil, a former first-round pick and fellow center. Due to his youth and status as a restricted free agent, the 21-year-old has a decent amount of value on the trade market, especially since there is still plenty of growing room.
The main issue is that even though Chytil is at the end of his ELC, he is still a fairly unknown commodity. He has the potential to turn into a top-six centerman but we have yet to see him in that role for any meaningful time. He caught a quick look during the 2019-20 season while Mika Zibanejad was hurt, but he played well.
Still, a centerman as young as Chytil with as much NHL experience as he has, who hasn’t yet hit his ceiling makes for a hot commodity and would be a big piece of any trade he’s involved in. That being said, the Rangers would be better off keeping him around. An Eichel trade would serve to address the Rangers’ depth at center. The current lineup of Zibanejad-Strome-Chytil is fine but the top two are in for some big paydays. Both will be UFAs at the end of next season. They likely will be unable to retain both.
Adding Eichel adds some cost security as he is under contract for another five seasons, right when the Rangers should be at the height of their contention. This move then creates another problem – they make an upgrade at No. 1 center but then lose significant depth if Chytil is part of the trade. The Rangers would then have to go out and find someone in free agency. Their depth at center is fairly weak outside of the NHL as they did not address it much in the 2020 draft.
Option 2: Stay the Course
This is where losing Chytil hurts, he has already shown flashes of being dominant offensively and could be ready to take the next step in his development. Would the Rangers really want to part ways with a young, cost-controlled center who is just about to take the next step in his career? He has the potential to become a top-six player for them down the road.
In 2020-21, Chytil was the third-line centerman for the entire season, aside from when he was injured. During the opening stretch, Chytil was, by and large, the best centerman on the team – his injury slowed him down a bit during the middle stretches of the season, but he looked to find his game again later in the season.
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Chytil finished the season with 8 goals and a career-high 14 assists in 42 games this season. His 22 points were just one shy of his career-high 23 that he did in 75 games as a rookie and 60 games as a sophomore. According to Quant Hockey, Chytil was also 47th in the entire NHL in even-strength points per 60 minutes with 2.50, while averaging a mere 13:13 per game, the lowest of his career.
For reference, here is a list of a few players he ranks higher than in even-strength points per 60 minutes – Mat Barzal, Sidney Crosby, Elias Pettersson, Mika Zibanejad, Evgeni Malkin, Brayden Point, Ryan Strome, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alexander Ovechkin. That is some impressive company, not to mention the two guys above him on the depth chart.
Chytil has all of the offensive tools to be dangerous and has already shown to be dangerous at even strength. We still do not know where he is in terms of special teams because he does not get much of a look in those situations. He saw a total of 29:30 on the power play this season, down from the 76:48 he had last year and the 110:00 he had as a rookie. He also saw a negligible 2:07 on the penalty kill.
The low ice time totals on special teams suggest that former coach David Quinn did not trust the youngster. Chytil’s PP time was sixth-lowest among forwards who played at least 20 games. With Quinn gone, a new coach might give him more of a fresh start and an actual opportunity to earn trust in these situations.
Until then, Chytil’s abilities are still fairly unknown, and trading him is a risky move. It might be smarter to stay the course and continue to let him develop. Keeping both Strome and Zibanejad beyond next season seems highly unlikely – keeping Chytil could mitigate the loss since by end of next season he should be ready for a bigger role. From there the Rangers would have an easier time signing a depth center. Luckily for Drury, he has plenty of time to figure out what to do with his roster.
Currently a writer for the New York Rangers, University of New Hampshire alumn