Rangers head coach David Quinn admitted he and his staff have engaged in constant conversation about how to manage the younger players on the team.
It’s a balancing act that factors in development, what gives the Rangers the best chance to win and how their decisions will impact the longevity of the team’s success. Though it’s important to prioritize staying competitive, the Rangers have the youngest team in the league, which means the youth is the future.
Prior to Tuesday’s 5-2 win over the Capitals, Quinn said he was “pissed” at himself for not playing the kid line of Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil and Julien Gauthier more in Sunday’s loss in Washington. He alluded to being at a crossroads with wanting to reward the players who are playing well, while also understanding that he has an entire locker room “to answer to.”
“When you’ve got a young line, you’re going to have to be patient and allow them to grow,” Quinn said Tuesday. “[But] depending on the game situation, there may be some changes to some of those lines to give it a little bit more of a veteran presence on that line and mix the lines up.”
There have been some discussions of breaking up “the kid line” of Lafreniere, Chytil and Gauthier, according to Quinn, but that would come at the expense of the top six, which has been propelling the offense recently. And now that Vitali Kravtsov is in the mix, it’ll be even more of a challenge to effectively distribute playing time.
Wednesday was Quinn’s first time on the ice with Kravtsov since he accompanied the team to the Toronto bubble for last season’s playoffs. Though there is still no timeline for when Kravtsov will crack the lineup, Quinn said it is not lost on the coaching staff that the 21-year-old is not a fourth-line player.
But Kravtsov took line rushes with the fourth-line group on Wednesday. That’s a result of the “logjam” of forwards that Quinn has addressed recently. It has complicated not only how Quinn distributes ice time, but the makeup of each line.
“As much as it is what he’s doing, it’s about what people in the lineup are not doing,” Quinn said. “We went 5-2 [Tuesday] night, feel good about the way we played, we feel good about the way a lot of guys played. Our decision to getting him in, there’s two parts to it.
“It’s us wanting to get him in and him earning the opportunity to get in, but also you may want to say, ‘Well this guy needs to change, this guy probably doesn’t deserve to be in the lineup.’ There’s a couple things that go into that decision-making process.”
It’s because of the top six’s recent success that players like Lafreniere, Chytil — and, in due time, likely Kravtsov — have been given less ice time. Lafreniere logged his second-least amount of ice time this season in Washington on Sunday, with 8:13, while he’s averaged roughly 10 minutes over the last three games. Some of that is credited to the fact that the team has been on special teams a lot.
In the past three games, Chytil has averaged just under 12 minutes per game. But Chytil said he doesn’t think about things he can’t control.
“It’s [something] I can’t control, that’s all about coach and [who] he wants to put on the ice,” Chytil said. “But every time I step in, I want to play my game. I don’t think about momentum, I just think about doing the best for our line, do the best I can and just play how we can.”
Brett Howden, who has been on the COVID-19 protocol list for 10 days, is set to undergo cardiac screening Thursday. Should he clear the remainder of the NHL’s protocols, the center will be able to skate on his own at the team’s training facility Thursday then rejoin the team as soon as Friday.
Igor Shesterkin will start in goal Thursday in Buffalo for his fourth start in the past five games since his return from a groin injury.