Latest posts by Phil Kocher (see all)
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As the old idiom goes, it’s only a matter of time. For Filip Chytil—the standout rookie center who forced his way onto the New York Rangers’ through a series of powerful preseason performances—this is especially true today.
After putting in their first waiver claim of the season earlier this afternoon, picking up veteran forward Adam Cracknell from the Dallas Stars, the Rangers have now set the stage for an early curtain call for Chytil.
Through no real fault of his own, Chytil’s potential nine-game audition at sticking with the Rangers has quickly evaporated, though perhaps ahead of schedule. Under the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), the Rangers could play him in as many as nine contests without burning a year off his Entry-Level Contract (ELC) where the tenth game would count as a full first season, even if they opted to reassign him at any other point this season.
Chytil was sparsely used in both the Rangers first two games of the season, averaging fewer than ten minutes of total time on ice in both. In fact, he actually played fewer than five against the Leafs on Saturday night. He was also a healthy scratch for Sunday night’s 2-0 victory over the Montréal Canadiens. Now, with the addition of Cracknell, he’s facing a logjam at forward. All the while, J.T. Miller, who was originally slated to start the season at center, had an impressive showing of competency in the middle of the ice Sunday evening.
Suffice it to say, the hurdles ahead of Chytil are simply too great in number to afford potentially damaging his development by keeping him around in New York much longer to watch games from the press box. Especially when he can be playing major minutes in his native Czech Republic once the Rangers pull the trigger and formally reassign him. It’s a similar scenario to the one the Rangers just went through with Lias Andersson, the team’s seventh overall pick from this past NHL Entry Draft, who was also sent back to Sweden after failing to secure a roster spot through training camp and preseason.
Alain Vigneault probably shoulders some of the blame for not allowing Chytil to play through the early jitters of his first game during the Rangers losing effort to the Colorado Avalanche, but it’s difficult to scapegoat Vigneault entirely for not implicitly trusting the 18-year-old rookie center to find his game this early in his career development. Not only was a significant portion of that Avalanche game played on special teams, where Chytil wasn’t deployed, but he was tasked with a significant role to begin with by playing pivot to Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello. A role, as we now know, he’s just not ready for yet.
While Chytil clearly has the offensive instincts to keep pace with either man, Nash and Zuccarello are two of the Rangers’ most steadfast defensive players who tend to have a far less disparate zone start percentage differential than we saw with Chytil through the first two games of the year. Trying to match a center who received an 88.9% Offensive Zone Start percentage (oZS%) through his first two games with two wingers that have averaged a mid-50’s oZS% the last few seasons is difficult, to say the least. It’s part of the same reason AV opted to break up the Ryan McDonagh-Kevin Shattenkirk pairing on defense just three games into the season.
“We know we have a real young, talented prospect there. We need to do the right thing with him.” – Alain Vigneault
Whether Miller is the long-term answer to the Rangers’ center depth issues remains to be seen, but he’s certainly the solution today.
An interesting wrinkle could be Vadim Shipachyov, the 30-year old Russian center who the Vegas Golden Knights signed to a two-year/$9M contract this past summer, but who has now been assigned to the AHL. It’s been rumored that Shipachyov is working with the Knights to return to the KHL instead, while Aivis Kalnins suggests they are also listening to any potential trade offers. According to CapFriendly.com, the Rangers currently have an estimated $900K in available cap, so any deal for Shipachyov and his $4.5M Annual Average Value (AAV) would prove difficult. Even a three-way trade in which defenseman Nick Holden—who carries a $1.65M AAV—were included would prove cumbersome without Vegas eating a significant portion of Shipachyov’s salary in the process. None of this seems a likely outcome.
The most likely solution is the status quo, with Miller continuing to center the Rangers’ third line for the immediate future. After all, there are still 79 games left to play in a season where more feasible options can open for the Blueshirts down the line.
For Chytil, not being a part of that this year may feel unfair or cut short, but his value to the franchise in the long-run is simply too important to put his development at risk in the short. The Rangers need to do the right thing with him, even if it feels wrong.