New York Rangers rookie forward Brett Howden has not scored a goal since November 12 against the Vancouver Canucks. Howden also has just one assist in his last 16 games. Clearly, the 20 year-old center’s production has hit a wall.
At the end of November, Howden was fifth among all rookies in scoring with 13 points in his first 25 games — only two of which were earned on the power play. The 11 5v5 points he had through November 30 placed him third among all rookies, behind Elias Pettersson (13) and Colin White (12). It was undoubtedly an impressive start, but Howden’s numbers were buoyed by a 21.05 shooting percentage at 5v5 and a 102.8 PDO before December arrived.
So, it was not a complete surprise to see his rate of production come crashing back down to earth.
Brett Howden (NYR), Mathieu Joseph (TBL), and Dennis Cholowski (DET) lead all Canadian NHL rookies with 13 points each. Combined, they have only 7 more points than Elias Pettersson (VAN) who leads all rookies this year with 32 points in 27 GP because he's absolutely unreal.— Mike Murphy (@DigDeepBSB) December 12, 2018
In that same two-month period Howden had the second-lowest Corsi (42.39 percent) among all rookies who played at least 300 minutes of 5v5 hockey. His -4.44 relative CF% was also the seventh-lowest in that same group. According to Corsica.Hockey, Howden has the lowest expected goals percentage (39.81) and the fourth-highest PDO (101.8) among Rangers forwards.
So, what are we to make of Howden’s sudden drop in production given the context of his possession numbers and high PDO? The short answer is that he’s a rookie center who is still adjusting to the NHL game. Howden has areas he needs to improve on just like Neal Pionk, Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson, and Tony DeAngelo do.
It’s important to remember that Howden had only five games of AHL experience in 2016-17 before he made the Rangers roster this season. It’s even more important to remember that he’s just 39 games into his NHL career. No skaters are immune to scoring droughts, especially 20 year-old rookies who were in the WHL last season.
In Jimmy Vesey’s rookie season he had 14 points in his first 24 games, which made him the sixth-highest scoring rookie two months into the season. As we all know, Vesey hit a wall of his own and finished his rookie campaign with 27 points in 79 games. It happens.
It is concerning that Howden has struggled so much in the shot share this season, but he certainly isn’t the only Rangers skater operating in the red. It’s also worth noting that in Chris Kreider had a 40.64 CF% and a -13.12 Rel CF% in his first 23 games of regular season NHL hockey. In other words, there is a lot of room for improvement. A closer look at the numbers behind the Rangers’ lines makes it pretty clear that Howden misses playing with Jesper Fast in a big, bad way.
Before Fast’s injury on Dec. 16, the line of Vesey-Howden-Fast had a 50.0 CF% in 61:51 of 5v5 hockey (30 games). Howden and Vesey have a 38.95 CF% together without Fast on their line — which is an alarming percentage considering that Howden has spent more time with Vesey (266:25) than any other Rangers forward.
Since Fast’s return to the lineup on Dec. 29, he has played with Howden and Vesey for just 19 seconds of 5v5 hockey. Recently, Howden has been playing primarily with Vesey and Vladislav Namestnikov. That line has a 41.51 CF% since Fast left the Rangers’ lineup. Perhaps its time we got to see Howden play some hockey away from Vesey.
Howden may be ice cold right now, but that shouldn’t change how we view him and his value to this franchise. He has the skill set to be a valuable middle-six center for New York moving forward, but he’s not there yet — and that’s okay.
There have been some unexpected and encouraging signs from his this season, and his coach and teammates have taken notice. “He’s kind of like [Derek Stepan] a little bit — really smart and a good player,” Mats Zuccarello told Allan Kreda of the New York Times back in October. “He has a bright future. He makes purpose plays, smart passes. He’s humble too. I like that.”
Maybe the best thing for Howden right now is sitting out a game so that he can focus on getting back to basics. Or maybe he should be separated from Vesey like they’re two kids who have a lengthy history of experimenting with pyrotechnics together. Regardless of what David Quinn does next, Howden will score again. He’s taken 22 shots since the last game where he scored a goal. If Lias Andersson’s backside can score, so too can Howden. It’s just a matter of time.