GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Consider it nothing less than a breakthrough for center Filip Chytil.
The 18-year-old Czech, selected 21st overall at the NHL draft in June, made the Rangers opening-day roster, and skated between Mats Zuccarello and Rick Nash at Thursday’s practice.
“He’s earned the right to be here,” said general manager Jeff Gorton, who along with coach Alain Vigneault, have nine games to evaluate whether Chytil should be kept on the roster and use a year on his entry-level contract, or be re-assigned. “So far, he’s handled it well,” said Vigneault. “Can he handle it moving forward? What’s going to be better for the team and him? He did show a lot in camp, we’ll see if he can do it [against] NHL-caliber [teams] on a day-to-day basis.”
Chytil, who is 6-2, 202 pounds, had a goal and two assists in four games and led the Blueshirts in shots with 14. He won the Lars-Erik Sjoberg Award as top rookie in camp, as voted by local media.
The youngster, who hadn’t yet texted the news to his parents back home: “I think they’ll be very proud . . . I tried to play my game the whole camp, every practice and every game, score some goals and play the system.”
To remain, Gorton said, Chytil needs to have “a positive effect on our game, his game and on the wingers . . . when you’re 18, playing down low in your own zone can be a little stressful. We’ll be watching that closely.”
The team’s other teenaged center, Lias Andersson, who was drafted seventh overall, was loaned to Frolunda, his former Swedish team. “He needs to go play in the top six, and play on the power play, penalty-killing,” said Gorton. “We just didn’t see that happening here. Our plan is to have him play the whole year.” He could be recalled after Frolunda’s season ends in March.
Meanwhile, free agent Paul Carey, the Boston native who just turned 29, won a fourth line spot. “In the last six or seven days, I thought he played extremely well,” said Vigneault. “His speed enabled him to get separation from checkers, he played physical, was effective on penalty-killing.”
With opening-day rosters due Tuesday, the Blueshirts have 12 healthy forwards under contract. Jesper Fast and Stephen Fogarty are injured, and Andrew Desjardins, after meeting with his agent and Gorton, remains on a tryout. Fast, who had hip surgery in June, skated in a non-contact jersey and is expected to return by the end of October. Eight defensemen remain in camp.
Matt Puempel, 24, a former first-round pick by Ottawa, was waived. Forwards Vinny Lettieri and Boo Nieves were assigned to Hartford, as were defensemen Neal Pionk and Ryan Graves. Bobby Farnham was released from his tryout.