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2021 Report Card: Brett Howden

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Playing out the final year of his entry level contract, Howden had one final opportunity to prove himself as a legitimate NHL player

New York Rangers v Boston Bruins Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

For the third year in a row, I’ve been given the task of grading Brett Howden’s play during a season. I highlighted the negatives of his rookie season, but also made note of some positive aspects for him to build on moving forward in order to become a more complete player. His sophomore year featured the same negatives without any of the positive notes, and I discussed that performance last year. Needing a strong performance in the final season of his entry level contract, Howden wasn’t quite able to do that.

Boxcar Stats: 42 GP, 1 G, 6 A, 33 SOG, 46.64 FO%, 12:33 TOI/GP, 11 PIM, +5 Minor Penalty Differential

5-on-5 Analytical Metrics: 0.70 Points/60, -2.17 Relative CF%, -0.93 Relative SF%, -10.17 Relative GF%, -3.94 Relative xGF%, -4.59 Relative SCF%, 98.9 On-Ice PDO, -0.80 GAR

Howden has never been a strong play driver throughout his time in the NHL, but the one bright spot he displayed as a rookie was his point scoring. The shine on that bright spot has all but disappeared, as Howden finished dead last among the team’s forwards in rate scoring. Including defenseman paints Howden in an even worse light, as he was also outscored by six of the nine blueliners that drew into New York’s lineup this season.

When you juxtapose his production with that of his peers around the league, things only get uglier. Out of 381 forward to skate 300+ minutes at 5-on-5, Howden ranked 370th in rate scoring. For skaters that aren’t able to provide offense, they need to bring something else to the table. Whether it be an exceptional play driving ability in the offensive zone, shutdown defense in their own end, or literally any other positive attribute,

Howden failed to provide anything this season aside from ineptitude. His one goal was an empty net tally, as he joined the likes of Ville Leino, Tobias Rieder, and others as players to skate full seasons without scoring against a goaltender. A series of healthy scratches and a broken foot ended his truncated 2020-21 campaign after 42 games, but even a goalless drought of that magnitude is inexcusable for an everyday NHLer.

Data via Evolving Hockey
Evolving Hockey

While his numbers in the shot and scoring chance departments weren’t as laughably bad as they were last season, Howden was still a major negative every time he hopped over the boards for his shifts. It took that broken foot at the end of the season for the team to let other young players get a chance to shine. New York’s forward depth was a major issue this past season, and Howden being a regular presence in the bottom six was a big reason why.

Much digital ink has been spilled over whether or not a stint in the AHL would’ve been beneficial for Howden’s development at some point. Seeing as how Howden has spent three years in the NHL and displayed nothing but poor results, it’s fair to say the 23 year old forward has been over matched throughout his young career. It takes a lot for a player coming off an entry level contract to not be worth even tendering a qualifying offer, but Howden may be at that point.

Larry Brooks addressed the team’s status with the Seattle Expansion draft looming, and Howden is one of several players in consideration to be the seventh and final forward protected from selection. Alongside fellow struggling young gun Julien Gauthier, as well as last offseason’s signings turned pleasant surprises Kevin Rooney and Colin Blackwell, Howden is a player the Kraken might look to add to their roster if left unprotected. Not that he’s done anything to merit selection, but with 30 picks and a maximum of 23 roster spots, Seattle can afford to take low percentage shots on players in need of a change of scenery.

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Rangers
Here’s a picture Howden getting punched in the face, similar to how the Rangers would get metaphorically punched in the face every time Howden skated a shift
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Final Thoughts:

As one of the centerpieces of the ill-fated Ryan McDonagh/J.T. Miller trade, Howden symbolizes the difference between a Lightning franchise that has been a top tier Stanley Cup contender (and now back-to-back Cup champions) for the last several years, and a Rangers franchise spending that same time frame spinning their organizational wheels and playing mediocre hockey in the name of “rebuilding”.

Having been displaced as the team’s fourth line center by Kevin Rooney, Howden’s intended role with the team is no longer his. With the likes of Morgan Barron, Justin Richards, and Tim Gettinger knocking on the NHL’s door after strong performances in AHL Hartford this past season, the Rangers could opt to phase Howden out at this point.

Whether that phasing out comes via trading his RFA rights, being selected by Seattle in the expansion draft, or not tendering him a qualifying offer and letting him walk into unrestricted free agency, Howden hasn’t done enough to justify any further presence on the Rangers’ NHL roster. Maybe a fresh start with a new organization allows him to turn things around, but Howden has run his course on Broadway.

If the 2020-21 season turns out to be his final one in New York, it was one to forget.

Author Grade: F

Masthead Average: D- (6 D’s, 2 F’s)

*Data via Evolving Hockey and Natural Stat Trick