New York Rangers forward Filip Chytil on the practice ice...

New York Rangers forward Filip Chytil on the practice ice today, May 21, 2024 as his team prepares for the Easrn Conference Finals. Credit: Sofia Sawchuk

Everyone involved is happy to be here — or should be. It’s the Eastern Conference final, after all. What’s not to like?

But for one Ranger, the series against the Panthers means something extra.

“Grateful” and “proud” were among the words Filip Chytil used in describing his expected return to the lineup for Game 1 on Wednesday night.

In hockey terms, having the multi-talented Chytil back on the third line was a clear bonus. But in human terms, it was uplifting and yet a little worrying, too.

Chytil last had played at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 2, when he suffered a presumed concussion in a collision with the Hurricanes’ Jesper Fast.

He tried to come back in January, had a setback and then was said to be shut down for the rest of the season, at which point he returned home to Czechia.

But Chytil rejoined the team on April 12, then started Game 3 of the second round against the Hurricanes. He looked and felt good that night and clearly was thrilled.

Then he missed the final three games of that series with what the team initially said was illness and later soreness.

Those outside the organization wondered what was up. But come this week, he was back at it again, working in practice on a line with Alex Wennberg and Kaapo Kakko.

When asked after practice Tuesday whether the ordeal had made him appreciate his opportunities to play even more, Chytil said, “It’s funny, actually, because I was thinking about this before I joined the team in the beginning of April.

“Six-and-a-half months with no hockey during the season, it’s very hard. When I joined, I just started to feel that I’m enjoying this even more, not putting that much pressure on myself that I have to do something, or I must do something.

“I’m just feeling grateful that I’m here and very happy that I can be involved in everything we can be here. It’s changed a little bit that view on the sport for myself. I’m very proud for myself that I’m here right now.”

Chytil acknowledged it was “hard” not being able to finish what he started in the Carolina series. But seeing the team advance made it easier to take.

“Of course, we lost another two games after (Game 3),” he said. “I was not happy with that, because I wanted to be involved in that. But we did a great job in Game 6 and there was so much happiness for all the team, myself as well.”

Chytil’s saga naturally led to speculation about the precise circumstances of his setback in the second round.

But on Tuesday, general manager Chris Drury stressed that the team continues to prioritize players’ health.

“As we’ve said from the beginning, his and all the players’ health and well-being are first and foremost every single day,” Drury said.

Chytil, 24, had 22 goals and 23 assists in 74 games last season. This season, he had no goals and six assists before going down after 10 games.

He historically has been a center but now is playing wing.

“I know I played center for the most part in many years, but I can play wing as well and I can play my game there as well,” he said.

Chytil has plenty of experience playing with Kakko, as those two plus Alexis Lafreniere used to make up the team’s “Kid Line.”

Now all three have grown up fast, and Chytil wants in on the fun with the rest.

“It’s been a very long time,” he said. “I could see during the games there is a great crowd. We have great fans. I can’t wait to be out there on the ice to enjoy the atmosphere and most importantly give them the win (in Game 1).”

When he was back in Europe, did he think he would get this chance come spring?

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m always thinking about hockey, so even in that moment when I was back home and I was resting and enjoying my time with the family, I still thought about hockey.

“Even when I watched the highlights in the morning of (the previous night’s Rangers game), I was visualizing that I’m there with them. That I’m here at this time, it’s beautiful for myself and can’t wait for (Game 1).”


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