After spending the entirety of the 2018-2019 season in the NHL, Filip Chytil was the favorite to win a wide-open preseason competition for the New York Rangers’ second-line center position. However, not only did he not win the job, he also stunningly failed to make the team — though that was not necessarily uncalled for. Chytil’s preseason appearances were underwhelming and while he held his own in his rookie season, he didn’t play so well as to earn the benefit of the doubt.
While the Rangers still search the current roster for a passable second-line center (among other things), Chytil has taken the demotion to the AHL in stride. He’s been arguably the team’s best player so far through six games as the Wolf Pack sit amongst top teams with a 5-0-1 record. Chytil leads the team in points with three goals and five assists, though it should be noted that one goal was an empty-netter.
It’s not just about the points, the way he and his line have played has led to all of that production production. Chytil’s line, in which he has typically been flanked by Phil Di Giuseppe and Vinni Lettieri, has been outright dominant. They spend extended shifts in the offensive zone, cycling the puck at a nauseating pace and tiring out the opposition to the point that they are forced to limit their movements and shifts, become pseudo-power plays. They’ve generated a number of offensive opportunities. What Rangers’ management might be most happy about is that, when the opposition obtains the puck, Chytil (and his linemates) don’t give up on the play and work to force turnovers in both the offensive and neutral zones and recycle possession.
Here’s an example of one of his goals this season.
A cynic could look at this play and see Chytil get blown up before scoring a tap-in he couldn’t possibly miss. But here is what I’d bet Head Coach David Quinn sees when he watches this play. He sees a teammate putting Chytil in an awkward position, where Chytil chooses to sacrifice his body and take a massive hit in order to advance the puck and prevent a neutral zone giveaway. Then, he sees Chytil immediately finding his feet and hustling up to ice in order to get in a scoring position on the far post. Chytil didn’t create much offensively in the preseason, but I’d bet it’s that kind of decision making and effort that the coaching staff wanted to see more of from him.
One popular interpretation of Chytil’s success in Hartford, while the NHL team is on life support with lesser players, is that his demotion was unwarranted and he never belonged in Hartford. I’m not here to claim that this analysis is necessarily wrong. However, while there are some justified complaints about how certain youngsters have been used so far this season, it doesn’t mean that every sanction handed out by the coaching staff or management is uncalled for. It’s easy to see how a 20-year-old who treaded water in the NHL for an entire season might become complacent, and third-party observers don’t even get to account for what happened in practice. It’s quite possible, if not likely, that the Rangers see Chytil as one of the nine-best forwards in the organization, but felt that a harsh wake-up call might do him more good in the long-term. Not only for this season, but in his development as a hockey player.
If the goal was to send a message, then that message has been received. Chytil has done everything in Hartford that the Rangers could have hoped for. He’s a catalyst for offense. He’s engaging physically and working to be first to pucks. He’s diligent in the defensive zone to close off passing lanes and throttling space for the puck carrier. Overall, he’s a big reason why the opposing team can’t sustain pressure while his team can. Unless the Rangers have a miraculous 12-forward turnaround tonight against Buffalo, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be recalled to the Rangers and centering the team’s second line. He’s without a doubt the team’s most talented option for the role, and he’s proven to the coaching staff that he understands where he went wrong in training camp and that he’s now ready show the effort and tactical awareness necessary to contribute to the team in a way they desperately need from him right now.