In the Rangers’ Roster Shuffle, a Teenager Emerges

In the Rangers’ Roster Shuffle, a Teenager Emerges

Only Chytil (pronounced HEET-el) earned a roster spot, recording a goal and two assists in three preseason games. Andersson, who turns 19 next month, will return home to Sweden and play for Frolunda, which was also the team of Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and Andersson’s father, Niklas.

Chytil’s rapid ascent is linked to the departure of the team’s longtime top center, Derek Stepan, in a trade to the Arizona Coyotes on the weekend of the draft.

The Rangers expect Mika Zibanejad, who arrived in an off-season trade last year, to assume a leading role this season. The team is further counting on Kevin Hayes and the veteran David Desharnais, who signed as a free agent in July, at the center position.

Chytil, whose 18th birthday was Sept. 5, caught Vigneault’s attention quickly. He scored an overtime winner against the Devils on Sept. 20 and assisted on Ryan McDonagh’s game-clincher against the Flyers last Monday, part of a slick passing play in overtime that included Mats Zuccarello.

Chytil has most recently skated on a line with the veteran playmakers Rick Nash and Zuccarello, a sure sign that coaches have developed confidence in his abilities.

“I think me and Nasher, playing with him right now, it’s up to us to help him be the best he can be,” Zuccarello said. “I’m really impressed that he knows his game. He’s easy to play with. I’m excited for him.”

Photo

Chytil, left, who turned 18 in early September, was selected by the Rangers in the first round in June. Credit Adam Hunger/Associated Press

Andersson and Chytil were the first pair of first-round picks for the Rangers since goaltender Al Montoya and forward Lauri Korpikoski were taken sixth and 19th in 2004. Montoya never played for the Rangers, while Korpikoski played one season.

In 1999, the Rangers had two top 10 picks in Pavel Brendl (fourth) and Jamie Lundmark (ninth), but Brendl never played for the team. He was traded to Philadelphia as part of a deal for Eric Lindros. Lundmark spent two-plus seasons in New York before he was traded to the Coyotes.

After their 2016-17 season ended in the second round of the playoffs, the Rangers made significant roster moves. In addition to trading Stepan and the backup goaltender Antti Raanta to the Coyotes, they bought out the contract of the veteran defenseman Dan Girardi. Another defenseman, Kevin Klein, retired from the N.H.L. and signed with a Swiss team. The Rangers then brought in the top free-agent defenseman, Kevin Shattenkirk, to play with their captain, Ryan McDonagh.

Stepan was an offensive cornerstone in his seven seasons with the Rangers, who also relied on him for important minutes on special teams. How the Rangers compensate for his absence will be one of their main challenges as they strive to reach the playoffs for the eighth straight season and the 12th time in the last 13 years.

Also opening the door for Chytil to stay with the Rangers was Vigneault’s decision to shift J.T. Miller back to wing after experimenting with him at center early in camp. And the Rangers will be without the versatile forward Jesper Fast for the first several weeks of the season as he recovers from hip surgery.

Vigneault, in his fifth season with the Rangers, said he was grateful for the talent he had been given. “There’s no doubt,” he said, “that our scouts picked young players with a tremendous amount of upside.”

Chytil, a native of Kromeriz, played last season with HC Zlin in the Czech Republic and was expected to return there this season, but he so impressed Rangers executives that he will start the season in Manhattan instead.

Gordie Clark, the Rangers’ director of player personnel, has praised Chytil’s maturity, based on his successful move from the junior level to Zlin in the men’s league.

“As the season went on, he ended up being a guy they were using all the time,” Clark said at the draft. “They had scheduled him to be their second-line center this year, which is tremendous for an 18-year-old. He grew two inches over the season, and I don’t think he’s going to stop. He’s going to be a really good skating center, a playmaker.”

The Rangers can use Chytil in nine games without having to burn the first year of his entry-level contract, but their confidence in him suggests that he will stay beyond a tryout.

Chytil was all smiles after his winner against the Devils at Madison Square Garden.

“It was an amazing feeling to score a goal in overtime,” he said. “I played with great players, some of the best players in the league, so I enjoyed every moment on the ice. It was really exciting.”

Zuccarello called Chytil’s skill at 18 amazing, and he expects more.

“He’s a real good player now,” Zuccarello said, “but he’s going to be even better.”

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