The New York Rangers have plenty of depth at center but, can both Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil make the opening night roster?
The importance of depth is something that cannot be stressed enough in sports, even if it might hurt the development of younger players. But, the situation that the Rangers find themselves in is a little bit different.
Andersson and Chytil are two extremely young centers with plenty of upside. Both impressed in their preseason debuts, begging the question, where is there a fit for them on the Blueshirts’ roster come opening night?
The fact of the matter is that for both Chytil and Andersson to start the year in the NHL, head coach David Quinn will have some shuffling to do.
First off, Quinn has to determine if he can give both the proper amount of playing time to further their development effectively. Now determining ice-time is usually a game-by-game decision, but how do you expect two 19-year-olds to handle the NHL if they are going to be sheltered? It is practically impossible.
If Quinn can find a way for both players to get quality ice-time, then there should not be any excuses if one of them do not crack the lineup come Oct. 4. If not, it is only right that one of them starts the season in Hartford so their development is not hindered at all.
Finding a position for both players at center is also going to play a major factor in the decision surrounding them. Everything the Rangers have told us throughout the Traverse City tournament, training camp, and now the preseason is that Andersson and Chytil will have to make the team as a center. This takes away the option of them seeing time on the wing, making things a bit more complicated.
With the option of moving them to the wing completely off the table, that means one of Vladislav Namestnikov, Ryan Spooner, Mika Zibanejad, and Kevin Hayes will have to move to the wing. Zibanejad as emerged as one of the games top centers, so that option right away is off the table. Hayes is looking to build off of a strong 2017-18 campaign that saw him score a career-high 25 goals, he too will not be moving to the wing.
That leaves Quinn with Namestnikov and Spooner as candidates to move to the wing to make room for Andersson and Chytil.
The case for moving Spooner is arguably the easiest one to make. Since his acquisition at the 2018 NHL trade deadline, Spooner primarily saw time on the wing with the Blueshirts and performed well. He scored 16 points (4-12-16) in 20 games on Broadway last year while on the wing, so placing him back there should not be a problem to open a spot at center.
After coming over in the Ryan McDonagh/J.T. Miller trade, Namestnikov saw time at both the center ice and wing position. The difference between him and Spooner is that he struggled mightily in his 19 game audition. Now, that does not mean Namestnikov will not crack the opening night roster. The team invested $4 million over two years to the 25-year-old last summer and should be given every opportunity to succeed. But, like Spooner, his flexibility should open another spot at center.
The room for Chytil and Andersson is there and is something that Quinn and his staff can maneuver to make it work. Both players have already shown that they have taken great strides in their development, and it would be foolish if they started out in Hartford.
Whether or not the Rangers go that route is another story.