Filip Chytil’s Rangers potential skyrockets after ending drama

Part III in a series analyzing the New York Rangers

Perhaps the most notable aspect of Filip Chytil’s season is how drama-free it went for the 20-year-old third-line center following his Oct. 28 recall from the Wolf Pack.

Remember, as a teenaged rookie the previous season, he’d been a healthy scratch a handful of times because of declining work habits.

Remember, after coming into training camp as a quasi-incumbent certain to make the roster, he was dispatched to the AHL following lackluster work, at best.

But when Chytil returned for the Rangers’ 10th game of the season immediately after Mika Zibanejad suffered that neck injury on Patrice Bergeron’s reverse hit, he brought a positive attitude, strong work habits and a more comprehensive game with him to New York.

He had become a pro.

And so he played, essentially all season on the third line after an initial stretch on the second unit filling in for No. 93 between Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich. He played every game, got an average ice time of 14:50 and recorded 14 goals and nine assists for 23 points.

That, by the way, represented the third-highest number of goals scored in the NHL this year by a player under the age of 21, with Andrei Svechnikov and Brady Tkachuk notching 24. Not too bad for a third-liner with limited power-play opportunity. Not too bad at all.

But after 144 games in the league that included a cameo as an 18-year-old following his first-round, 21st-overall selection in 2017, Chytil has yet to define his game. Listed at 6-foot-2, 208 pounds, he is becoming a big body out there whose ability to skate should turn him into at least a quasi-power center who can back in opposing defenseman, open the ice for himself and his linemates, and take it to net.

Of course he has to improve his play away from the puck, but he was notably more diligent in the battles, in getting to the dirty areas, in being a presence in front and in getting back on transition. What he isn’t, at least, at this point, is a developed playmaker.

Only two players from the 2017 draft have scored more goals than the 26 Chytil has recorded in 144 NHL games. Elias Pettersson, who has scored 55 for Vancouver, was selected fifth overall. Nico Hischier, who has recorded 51 goals for the Devils, was drafted first overall. Nolan Patrick, who also has scored 26 career goals for the Flyers, was drafted second overall.

What’s interesting, though, is no matter how well Chytil may have played — and, look, there were a lot of offensive dry spells, No. 72 in fact scoring just twice over the final 17 games — the lines he centered most of the time rarely came out on the positive side of the ledger. And the one on which he skated between Brett Howden and Kaapo Kakko put up disastrous numbers, accounting for two goals scored and 10 against in 133:31 of five-on-five play, per Naturalstattrick.com.

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Chytil himself was on for 31 for and 36 against throughout the season, but … but, when divorced from both Howden and Kakko, the 20-year-old was on for 24 for and 16 against. Of course that includes the 12/4 breakdown while on with Artemi Panarin in 136:30. I might have a 12/4 breakdown playing with Panarin; well, OK, I wouldn’t, but 8-year-old mite Scott Brooks might.

The Rangers appear to be set up for Ryan Strome to continue as Panarin’s center, though a word of caution here to remind you that no one knows what the salary cap will be next season and how much space with which management will have to work in order to sign the arbitration-eligible Strome, whose number almost certainly will begin with a “5.”

Actually, though the club’s surge into playoff contention represented a most welcome, if unanticipated, development, it also denied David Quinn with a post-deadline opportunity to experiment. I’d have liked to see how Chytil would have handled the responsibility of centering Panarin on a regular basis. Maybe it would have been too much for him, maybe Chytil would have felt under pressure to force the puck to the Bread Winner. Maybe it wouldn’t have worked. But maybe the combo would have flourished.

Now, let’s change tenses. Maybe it will work next year. Maybe it will flourish. Maybe, after a season in which David Quinn allowed the 20-year-old sophomore to develop in understated fashion, maybe the coach will add more to the center’s plate.

But of the myriad maybes, here’s one that isn’t: This was a good year for Chytil, a good one whose work could one day completely change the narrative of the ’17 first round.

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