Coming into the 2018-19 season one of the biggest storylines for the New York Rangers was the development of the 19 year old center, Filip Chytil. After getting drafted 21st overall in 2017, Chytil opened up everyone’s eyes during training camp and then went on to play two games for the Rangers in 2017 before spending most of the season in the AHL. He then put up one of the best 18 year old seasons that the AHL ever saw and finally was promoted for seven more games as the Rangers played out the end of the 2017-18 season, where he picked up his first career goal.
One letter, trade deadline, new coach, and season later, Filip Chytil found himself as one of the cornerstones of the Rangers rebuild and was expected to get thrust into the spotlight from puck drop. On opening night, rookie head coach David Quinn had Chytil on the third line, centering Jesper Fast and Ryan Spooner. In the second period against the Nashville Predators, Chytil did this:
Holy smokes that pass by Chytil— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) October 5, 2018
Watch more: https://t.co/6nKOECyObW pic.twitter.com/O5EAsN9Vv4
It was a hell of a start for the young center and he ended the night with that assist, 15 shifts, and 12:41 of ice time. All in all, not a bad start, and the next game in Buffalo was even better. Filip didn’t put up any points in the 3-1 loss to the Sabres, but he did have three shots on goal, 18 shifts, and a whopping 17:18 TOI. Then, things get a bit weird because the next night, which saw the Rangers and Hurricanes trade goals for a while before the Canes pulled away with an 8-5 win, only had 11 dressed forwards. In that game, Chytil was centering Ryan Spooner and Mats Zuccarello and since then, Chytil has been between Vinni Lettieri and Vladislav Namestnikov, essentially on the 4th line getting 10-11 minutes a night.
If this season is truly one of development, and it is, surely getting younger players like Chytil more ice time should be a priority and it is... kind of. See, while Chytil saw his ice time get shaved, another rookie center has been making a case to see more minutes.
Over the first week of the season Brett Howden has emerged as one of the bigger, positive surprises for the Rangers and has seen his ice time steadily improve as the games have gone on, playing between 15-17 minutes the last three games. It’s hard to say that Howden hasn’t earned the promotion, because he has, and it isn’t a knock on Chytil either. The problem, though, is that both of these young players need to see more ice time and there is just so much to go around between the two, and the Rangers’ top two centers Mika Zibanejad and Kevin Hayes.
It’s the job of the head coach David Quinn to manage this, and somewhat refreshingly, he understands this.
"I think we need to do a better job of finding that balance of being aggressive and pressuring the puck without making bad decisions."#NYR Coach Quinn after the loss to Edmonton pic.twitter.com/uLWDd1RRSp— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) October 13, 2018
Quinn understands that he needs to get Chytil more ice time and he even addresses an idea that might seem a tad out there — he might put Chytil on the wing to get him that ice time. Is that a good idea though?
Chytil was drafted as a center and the best teams in the league are built with strong center depth, so going forward the Rangers hope to have that center depth in place and build around it. Moving him from the middle to wing and back again could hurt his development long term (see Miller, J.T. and Hayes, Kevin as more recent examples of this). While it is very, very early in both this season and the young Czech forward’s career, I do think the Rangers need to really think through this move. Whichever course they take, the Blueshirts need to stick with it and let Chytil learn through his mistakes.
On the positive side, moving Chytil to the wing gives him the opportunity to play up in the lineup and with more talented and skilled players. Chytil’s skill set and play style is such that he can find success playing off of players like Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello. Also, playing Chytil with Hayes and Zuccarello can hopefully jumpstart the slow seasons that both veteran forwards have had playing with guys like Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Vesey.
All in all, moving Chytil to the wing for a few games isn’t the end of the world for either the Rangers or Chytil himself, and if it works out it gives the Rangers more options for offense both now and in the future.