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Hartnett: Rookie Centers Flash Potential, But Rangers Only Have Room For 1

By Sean Hartnett
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Every hockey team wants to enter the regular season on a high, but positive trends are more important than scoreboard results. Once the regular season is underway, few will remember that the Rangers lost three of their final four exhibition games to finish the preseason 3-2-1.

A team and its individuals learning more about themselves over the course of the preseason is what really matters. Rookie centers Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson entered training camp as a pair of 18-year-olds with promising reputations but zero experience against seasoned NHL pros. Both impressed throughout the preseason, and it’s clear that Chytil and Andersson have bright futures on Broadway.

Late Thursday morning, the Rangers made the decision to loan Andersson to Frolunda HC of the Swedish Hockey League. The Rangers can only guarantee ice time to a select number of forwards, and it’s hard to argue against Frolunda being the best place for his development. There, Andersson will have the opportunity to serve in a top-six role while getting ample minutes on the power play and penalty kill.

The Rangers’ Filip Chytil skates against the Philadelphia Flyers during a preseason game on Sept. 26, 2017, at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Throughout the preseason, Andersson was leaned on by head coach Alain Vigneault in a defensive center role. While his tremendous work ethic and refined two-way sense stood out, the young Swede also offers the versatility to play in several roles once he’s NHL ready. Andersson can line up at center and on the wing. He is skilled with the puck on his stick, possesses a heavy shot and has the tools to develop into a scoring line forward.

Chytil won the competition and will start the year with the Rangers. The Czech center recorded a goal and two assists in four preseason games. His excellent skating, skillful hands and instincts around the net form an impressive offensive package. It’s clear that he has a high upside. But Chytil will need to prove his consistency over his first nine NHL regular season games to stick with the Rangers. At that point, the Rangers must decide whether to keep him or send him back to the Czech Extraliga.

The 6-foot-2 center was also named the 2017 recipient of the Lars-Erik Sjoberg Award for top Rangers training camp rookie. Jimmy Vesey was last year’s winner. Henrik Lundqvist, Marc Staal, Jesper Fast and Vesey are the current Rangers who have earned the award.

Along with Chytil, Paul Carey turned heads during the preseason to make the opening night roster. The 29-year-old center has skated in 32 career NHL regular season games and four playoff games. He’s been a productive forward at the AHL level, totaling 182 points in 287 career AHL games – but has only recorded two career NHL points.

His physicality, forechecking ability and effectiveness on the penalty kill secured his spot. The Rangers were in need of a penalty killer to assert himself, as Jesper Fast, one of their best penalty-killing forwards, is expected to miss games into November after undergoing hip surgery in June.

Twenty-five players remained on the Rangers’ training camp roster. In addition to Andersson being loaned to Frolunda, Ryan Graves, Vinni Lettieri, Boo Nieves and Neal Pionk were assigned to the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack. Matt Puempel cleared waivers and is headed to Hartford as well. Forward Bobby Farnham was released from his professional tryout agreement.

Here’s how the Rangers roster stands:

Forwards (15): Pavel Buchnevich, Paul Carey, Filip Chytil, David Desharnais, Andrew Desjardins, Jesper Fast, Steven Fogarty, Michael Grabner, Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Rick Nash, Jimmy Vesey, Mika Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello

Defensemen (8): Tony DeAngelo, Nick Holden, Steven Kampfer, Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Shattenkirk, Brady Skjei, Brendan Smith, Marc Staal

Goaltenders (2): Henrik Lundqvist, Ondrej Pavelec

Finalized, cap-compliant rosters are due next Tuesday. The Rangers have just a little more roster trimming to do before their regular season opener. They begin the new season against the Colorado Avalanche on Oct. 5 at MSG.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey

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