In consecutive games at Madison Square Garden, two 18-year-old centers have given Rangers fans a glimpse of things to come.
Lias Andersson, who was selected seventh in the June draft, and Filip Chytil, chosen at No. 21, pulled on Rangers sweaters for the first time Monday and Wednesday and left teammates and head coach Alain Vigneault pleased with their performances.
On Wednesday, Chytil scored from the right circle with 3.5 seconds left in overtime to lift the Blueshirts over the Devils in the second preseason game. Andersson had assisted on defenseman Neal Pionk’s overtime winner on Monday against the Islanders.
“It was fun to get out here and play with some of these guys who have a bright future,” Kevin Shattenkirk said. “You want these young guys to have their big moments, and more importantly, to have confidence playing at this level.”
With referees placing a renewed emphasis calling penalties for slashing and faceoff violations, Vigneault said it was difficult to evaluate players 5-on-5. “On the positive side, we’re getting a chance to work on specialty teams,” he added.
Andersson, a Swede whose father played 138 games in the NHL, played in both games. On Monday, he was deployed on the power play, and Wednesday, Vigneault said, “I wanted to get a sense of his understanding on the penalty killing. I thought for the most part he did all right.”
Against the Islanders, Andersson hustled and hit, playing 16:10 and winning seven of 11 faceoffs. He was with different linemates on Wednesday and skated just 12:14. “It was a step up from back home,” he said. “Faster game, more physical. It’s good to play to get used to the pace.”
Chytil, who is 6-2 and almost 200 pounds and turned 18 two weeks ago, played 18:52 against the Devils, including 8:56 with the man-advantage before cashing in.
“Everyone saw the skating and skill,” Vigneault said. “No doubt there’s a tremendous amount of upside there . . . it was his first game and he ended it in pretty good fashion. It was a continuation of what we saw in practice, good set of hands, was able to go into traffic, he made the plays he had to make.”
Mats Zuccarello slid the pass to Chytil for his shot that zipped past goalie Mackenzie Blackwood, triggering an animated celebration by the young Czech.
“He sees the ice well,” Zuccarello said. “Not sure how much I can teach him.”
Chytil was just as excited in the dressing room afterward. He called his first goal “an amazing feeling . . . I feel great. It was my first game after four weeks [groin strain]. I played with some of the best players in the league so I enjoyed every moment on the ice. I will see if I will play the next game. I’m looking forward to the next practice.”