Howden, Chytil Stand Out in Rangers Traverse City Loss

The Rangers opened the Traverse City Prospects Tournament last night with a 7-5 loss to Dallas.

The standout performance for the Rangers, in my eyes, was 2018 trading deadline acquisition Brett Howden. Collectively, his line with Ty Ronning and Tim Gettinger worked very well, moving the puck as a unit. Here’s one example of a rush combination play between him (#48) and Ty Ronning (#59).

But while the three worked well together, Howden was clearly the driver of the line. This great setup off the rush to Tim Gettinger (#97) perfectly encapsulates that theme.

When the Rangers acquired Howden from Tampa Bay, I wrote about how he is a deceiving player. Based on his size and strength, it’s easy to misjudge him initially as a power forward when in reality he’s more of a finesse playmaker. He played along the half boards on the power play in junior hockey, and he showed why last night, generating the assist on Ville Meskanen’s opening goal.

Filip Chytil reaffirmed that he is a serious threat, though the scoresheet (one secondary assist) doesn’t show it. Chytil drew two power plays while carrying the puck, and it’s worth noting that the second infraction was from Miro Heiskanen; arguably the second-best defensive prospect in the world.

Chytil had three or four carries through the neutral zone like this in the first period alone, and it’s a good reminder that this ability is one of his calling cards. He is such an incredible threat on the transition because of how quickly he puts defensemen on their heels and how shifty he can be with the puck.

For good measure, here is a nice play in the offensive zone off the puck to force a turnover.

Lias Andersson had a solid game, registering a goal and assist. The goal was extremely cheap, as a Dallas defenseman literally gifted him a puck in the slot with the goaltender out of the net. The assist was a rebound chance he created with a nice, low shot through traffic from the point, which free agent tryout Jakub Stukel put into the gaping net. He also played well away from the puck, shutting down a few rushes in the neutral zone with tight coverage.

Defensive performance can be somewhat hard to analyze because these games are always sloppy. It’s the first time these guys are playing competitive games in months, and they’re doing so with virtually no structure and unfamiliar teammates. The scoreboard reflects that, as does the fact that each team earned five separate minor penalties.

That being said, it is worth noting Libor Hajek’s performance, both for good and bad reasons. Hajek scored a power play goal (from another Brett Howden assist).

Hajek had some strong defensive shifts and others shifts where his judgments were questionable. Two of his best skills are one-on-one defending and winning puck battles along the boards. Here is one example where he (#43) displayed both skills.

Though he did have some defensive breakdowns, it’s not worth reading into given the circumstances. However, arguably his biggest weakness is passing the puck from within the defensive zone. It’s something he’s going to have to work on in Hartford this year. Here’s a glaring example.

I would say that Joey Keane (2018 third-round pick) had a similar game; some strong moments, and some strange ones. As I’ve familiarized myself with Keane the last few weeks, I’ve noticed that one of his best traits is that he can be trusted move low in the offensive zone because he has the awareness and skating ability to get back in case of a turnover. He  (#82) shows that here, as well as exemplary one-on-one defending.

He did have a few missteps, including one pretty ugly shift here.

First, when Niklas Hansson (#49 on Dallas) has the puck at the point, Keane keeps his stick on the outside lane to defend a low percentage shot rather than defending the more dangerous inside lane, where an immediate passing option is present for a slot opportunity. He’s fortunate that the pass was off the mark. Soon after, he leaves his skates, which gives the puck carrier down low a ton of room to skate the puck to the other side of the net and forces the remaining Rangers to scramble and cover for him.

But again, this kind of sloppiness is to be expected. I highlight this as a notable moment from last night’s game but not as a meaningful scouting note with which to judge Keane. Typically, he is a strong defender.

As previously mentioned, Meskanen scored the opening goal and had a few other chances. Michael Lindqvist scored on a deflection and added a secondary assist. Though neither stood out shift-by-shift, they definitely made their marks in the offensive zone. One would hope they will get more involved as their comfort level increases.

The Rangers play again tonight, facing Minnesota at 6:30 pm EST.