From the start of the preseason, there wasn’t much doubt that Filip Chytil was good enough for the NHL. That held true through the first month of the season as well. Sure, there were some problems. Head coach David Quinn struggled to find him ice time in certain games. He wasn’t getting on the scoresheet very often and he was making mistakes in coverages. In the grand scheme, though, he did not look out of place, and the Rangers weren’t hurting when he was on the ice.
It’s a positive that Chytil was able to hold his own for the first stretch of the season. Even better is that he has moved on from surviving and turned to thriving. Yes, Chytil has an active four-game goal streak, but in some ways that’s simply a result of him getting the puck luck that was escaping him earlier in the season. As both Tom and I pointed out some time back, Chytil did not deserve the ‘0’ that sat in his goal column, whereas Luongo would probably want back Chytil’s third of the season. It all evens out.
It’s the manner in which Chytil scored against Dallas - his fourth of the season - which truly highlights his progression.
Brendan Smith made a great play to force a turnover in the neutral zone, and here is where Chytil initially picks up the puck. He’s skating 1v2 with the puck on his backhand. Kevin Hayes is at center ice, while Kreider and Vesey are completing a line change near the bench. It would have been an easy, maybe even smart, play for Chytil to gain the zone and then pull up, delaying until he could get help. Or, he could have chipped in into the corner and attempted to start a forecheck and cycle.
Instead, Chytil drags the puck wide and quickly pivots to his forehand before releasing immediately. The result is an off-wing shot from the inner circle with the defenseman in no position to defend it and the goaltender screened by his own player.
While I don’t have exact numbers at my disposal right now, I do know that shots off of 1v2 rushes rarely result in goals, and that’s largely because it’s difficult to create a meaningful shot in that situation. With one quick, confident move, Chytil turned a mundane rush into a legitimate scoring chance.
It was perfect timing for the Rangers, too. They struggled to generate anything of substance offensively against Dallas, which was partially due to their own shortcomings and partially the result of a low-event game for both teams. That’s inevitably going to happen, and so sometimes a team needs a special play from one individual to end the gridlock. Chytil showed quite clearly on the game-winner against Dallas that he has that kind of ability to singlehandedly create offense from nothing. This is maybe not a move Chytil makes 10 games ago simply because he wasn’t scoring. The scoring streak perhaps gave him the confidence to make a bold play.
Chytil has also impressed in the way he has engaged on the defensive side of the puck. I strongly hesitate to use a word like “soft” because there are a lot of ignorant connotations that come with it. For sure, though, Chytil showed last season and even during parts of the preseason that he needed to not only get stronger but also learn how to engage physically in puck battles. Too often he would try to win pucks with his stick alone.
Contrast that with this shift of his (#72 in blue) against Dallas.
Kevin Hayes and Chris Kreider do their jobs as well, but Chytil is the main driver in keeping this shift alive from start to finish. He not only follows his checks, but uses his body as leverage in so many different instances. The Rangers are able to create a cycle of sorts before eventually moving the puck to DeAngelo for a decent scoring opportunity. This is extra impressive because he was facing Dallas’ checking line of Radek Faksa, Blake Comeau, and Tyler Pitlick; three players who battle hard.
By the time Dallas is able to clear the zone, they are too exhausted to do anything except dump and change. The Rangers’ next line was able to easily get the puck back in Dallas’ end and start their own forecheck. It’s a good example of the compounding effect of concurrent shifts; something that might sometimes get colloquially get described as “momentum.” Chytil not only catalyzed a great shift for his line, but also put the next line in a favorable position.
In fact, here is every shot on goal that Dallas had in 12:32 of even strength icetime when Filip Chytil was on the ice.
Of course, this is not all Chytil’s doing; there are four other players on the ice and the team’s tactics that play into this level of suppression. But Chytil did his part against Dallas, and in fact has during the Rangers’ recent winning streak. Over the last six games, Chytil’s lines have done a phenomenal job of shutting down the opposition and controlling play (data via Evolving-Hockey).
It creates a tricky situation for Head Coach David Quinn, and for all of the right reasons. His move to wing along with the injuries to Mats Zuccarello and Pavel Buchnevich have created this opportunity for Chytil, and he has played his best hockey of the season in response. Zuccarello figures to be back in the lineup soon, and eventually Buchnevich will join him. Quinn will need to continue to find playing time for Chytil in important minutes; not just for the sake of Chytil’s development, but also because he is becoming a difference maker for the team.