I listed my top-25 off-season questions last week. Throughout the summer and early-fall, I will cover each of those questions, hoping to finish before the draft or free agent, Rather than place a link to each one in the first paragraph, I will post the link following the completion of each blog in the table below that contains all 25 questions.
In this blog, I tackle question #11: "Which is the true Brett Howden, the one that did little from October to March or the one we saw against Carolina?)" Part of this question was tackled way back during the pandemic when I wrote an analysis of each player, bridging off Larry Brooks' columns of the same. For Howden, the blog was titled Brett Howden: could roster spot next season be in jeopardy?.
Here is what Brooks wrote in his column:
So after two years, how much do we really know about what to expect from Brett Howden, other than the fact that the 22-year-old is always going to put in the work to improve and is always going to work on whatever assignment he’s given by the coaching staff?
Beyond that, though: Is Howden a center, where he had played throughout his entire career until David Quinn moved him to the wing last December?
Critically, does Howden have it in him to be productive enough to merit top-nine minutes, or is he going to settle into a fourth-line role that hardly seems befitting of the young, developing first-rounder, especially playing for a coach who has generally viewed the fourth line as a repository for mismatched players?
It’s interesting. Had the Rangers been either a little bit better or a little bit worse last season, and this applies pretty much from the get-go, then Howden probably would have been in the AHL because that’s where he would have had the opportunity to sprout his wings in a top-six role.
The Blueshirts acquired No. 21, selected 27th overall by Tampa Bay in 2016, as part of the 2018 deadline package in exchange for Ryan McDonagh and JT Miller. When he arrived, he surpassed his notices. He was a man among adolescents throughout both prospect camp and the prospect tournament in Traverse City. He made the Rangers at age 20. He earned his spot. And he has kept it, maybe to his own — and ultimately, the organization’s — detriment.
Advanced stats, at least the ones that are publicly available, paint Howden as one of the very worst players in the NHL. This season’s 40.4 Corsi ranked dead last among the 230 forwards with at least 725 minutes at five-on-five, and his two-year Corsi of 41.36 also ranked last among the 235 forwards with at least 1,500 minutes of full-strength hockey. The stat may not be dispositive, but being last among 230 or 235 can’t be good. There is xGF and GAR, and Howden does not grade well in the more esoteric numbers, either.
Howden opened the season in the middle, generally playing with Kakko on one side and/or Brendan Lemieux on the other. He bounced to the fourth line before Quinn moved him to the wing pretty much for good just before Christmas. A couple of games later, the coach created the Howden-Chytil-Kakko third unit that kind of made sense given the locked-in nature of the top six and the bargain-bin feel of the fourth line.
Except the trio graded as one of the worst in the NHL, if not the worst, combining for a 41.10 shot share and an xGF of 39.01 percent while on the ice for two goals for and 10 against in 133:31. The probability is we won’t see very much of that combination again.
The question is, where will we see Howden? On the wing? In the middle? In New York? Or Hartford?
This is what i wrote at the time:
We discussed Howden several times this season. In my view, he is living off his strong start to his Rangers' career. Since then, though, I think his game has fallen off substantially.
Lias Andersson drew much of the ire from the fanbase. But Howden did little to me to stand out this season or last two-thirds or half of last year. As Brooks said, is he a center or a wing? From what we have seen, Howden appeared to play better at wing, but the jury is still out as to his future position.
Howden should have been back in the AHL playing top-six minutes in all situations. If New York does import additional talent, then I could see Howden landing in the minors, at least during some part of the season. In addition, after two years in the NHL, as we have seen, Howden has yet to really stand out and show he belongs.
At the time of the trade, I wanted several other players well in advance of Howden. Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli were those two, each of whom were pipe dreams, though Cirelli might have been an option, especially if the Rangers didn't obtain Libor Hajek as part of the bigger deal. Howden made a good first impression, which bought him some bandwidth and time, but as said above, has done little if anything to really distinguish himself since.
Next season is a big one for Howden, whose ELC expires after the season. With no arb rights, another so-so campaign, especially one where he ends up in the minors, will mean a minimal raise for 2021-22. In addition, he likely will be exposed in the expansion draft, a far cry from where he thought he would be after coming to New York.
With Howden there are four aspects:
1) Is he a center or a wing? Howden bounced back and forth between both positions. When he was on the third line with Kaapo Kakko, Howden played wing but took the draws, especially in the defensive zone. On the line, he alternated with Greg Mckegg between center and wing.
Mika Zibanejad is the #1 center. If Ryan Strome isn't back at the #2, then someone will be imported or Filip Chytil will get a shot at the spot. If that happens, Howden might be the 3C, though Morgan Barron might get a look there. Patrick Khodorenko or Justin Richards might get a look as the 4C if Greg McKegg isn't back, though Howden would seem to fit better there.
At wing, the Rangers have lots of depth. But, Howden could be fourth line right wing. But is that where he should play? To me, there or center on the fourth line makes sense, see next question.
2) Where is his sweet spot? Howden is living off his hot start to his career. Maybe he was promoted initially - otherwise known as rushed - to show the "value" New York received in the deal, though he did have a decent camp. But after an initial first blush, the wheels have come off a bit.
Howden deserved a trip to the minors, which did not happen. He clearly is not a second line player and the jury is out if he can be a third liner. We have spoken how the fourth line needs an identity and a set trio. Howden might be able to be one of the three on the line. If that happens, not a great return in the McDonagh trade, but he can carve out consistent value at a cost effective price. But he needs to be more physical and improve defensively.
3) What does Rangers' brass think of him Both David Quinn and John Davidson made a point of noting how well they thought Howden played in the Carolina series. I am unsure what games they were watching, but this smacks of potentially pumping up his value to deal him this offseason. No guarantee andI could be way off, but mentioning Howden and Kakko might have to give them confidence to go into the offseason. I understand that for Kakko, but not so much for Howden, who might have been better but still didn't move the needle for me.
To me the true Howden was the one we saw in the regular season not the one we saw versus Carolina.
11) Which is the true Brett Howden, the one that did little from October to March or the one we saw against Carolina?
12) Do you view the three-game sweep as a good learning experience, as mentioned by several including Davidson, for the neophytes on the team or is it too early to make that call?
13) Were you satisfied with the growth seen from Kappo Kakko and what's your realistic view as to what we should expect in years 2 and 3?
14) If Lundqvist is not back, do you want Alexandar Georgiev as Igor Shesterkin's 2020-21 backup or are you dealing him for additional assets? If bringing him back next year, are you signing him for more than one season?
15) Are you concerned with Artemiy Panarin's small late-season swoon? No goals in the last eight games before the pandemic and just one goal in the three-game sweep?
16) What is the identity of this Rangers' team? Do we know? Is one needed?
17) Can Brendan Lemiuex repeat how he played in Game 3 against Carolina or was that the aberration and not the norm?
18) What should be done with Lias Andersson? (from Tommy G on 8/7)
19) Who will be Jacob Trouba's partner next season if it's not Smith? (from Tommy G on 8/7)
20) How does the looming Expansion Draft affect the decision made for a particular signing/trade/buyout? (from Hedgedog 8/8)
21) If buying one player out, presuming that it's not Lundqvist for a variety of reasons, is it Staal or Smith, or do you not buyout anyone?
22) Presuming Lafreniere is the pick, on which line does he start the season? If New York makes no major acquisitions, what is your top-nine and fourth line? Is Morgan Barron on the team to start the season? (new)
23) Who do you want to target in free agency or via trade? (please be realistic in your proposals. That applies to who New York could get and what they would give up, so no 4-for-1 offers where the team grossly overpays. (new)
24) Does Gord Murphy end up on the coaching staff for 2020-21 or is someone else brought in to helm the defense and the penalty kill? (new)
25) When do you think New York contends for the Cup? 2021-22, 22-23 or other? (new)
With the Islanders winning, the Rangers will pick 22nd in the first round, the selection acquired from Carolina for Brady Skjei, in addition to the first overall pick. I think Jeff Gorton will be aggressive with this pick. If a player they love starts to fall, maybe they package the pick with their own or Dallas' third round selection - as the team lacks a pick in the second round, having used it in the Adam Fox deal - or maybe Buffalo's 2021 third rounder to move up. We could see them slide down to acquire another pick or possibly trade the pick for a player to help fill the roster, possibly at center or on the blueline.
It will be the second time in three years that the Rangers pick 22nd in the draft. In the 2018 NHL Entry Draft they traded up to be able to select K’Andre Miller in the 22nd slot. A move that has afforded New York a possible future first pair d-man.
We will have a mock draft as we did the last few seasons. Because the time frame is narrow between the season ending and draft, may start up in the Stanley Cup Finals and run three picks a day. I will get a separate blog up shortly so we can have GMs in place for each selecting team.