The NHL has always been an earn-it league. Brett Howden emerged from a crowded competition at center to make the Rangers’ 23-man opening-night roster.
Howden will begin the season as the Rangers’ fourth-line center. That role could have gone to former seventh overall pick Lias Andersson – but Howden outplayed Andersson and others vying to survive the final roster cuts.
At the moment, some Rangers fans are drawing long-term conclusions over the futures of Howden and Andersson. Howden beating out Andersson only means one thing: He outperformed Andersson during the preseason.
Preseason impressions won’t mean a thing when the Rangers take the Madison Square Garden ice for their regular-season opener against the Nashville Predators on Thursday. The slate will once again be clean, and Howden will have to prove himself all over again in his NHL debut.
Such is life for NHL rookies. Some immediately prove their staying power at the highest level, while others require seasoning at lower levels before establishing their NHL credentials. We’ll soon find out if Howden is ready to carve out an NHL career.
There’s no guarantee that Howden will still be with the Rangers in November. He’ll stick around if he fits the bill as a fourth-line center and keeps his performances high. There’s going to be constant evaluating of Howden and Andersson. Howden isn’t a locked-in fixture on the NHL roster, nor is Andersson destined to spend the entirety of the 2018-19 season in AHL Hartford.
Despite not making the opening-night roster, Andersson was named this year’s winner of the Lars-Erik Sjoberg Award as top Rangers training camp rookie. The award has been annually determined by the media since 1988. Mike Richter, Dominic Moore, Henrik Lundqvist, Marc Staal, Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin are among the past winners. Filip Chytil won the award last preseason.
Andersson will turn 20 on Oct. 13. At this stage, it would be unfair to make any bold predictions about which way his career is going. He’s going to have other opportunities to impress the Rangers’ decision-makers, and a strong start to this year’s campaign in Hartford will increase his chances of making the AHL-to-NHL jump.
The 6-foot-1 center recorded 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 25 games with Hartford last season, and he was able to register two points in seven NHL games.
For Howden, Thursday’s NHL debut will be an entirely new experience. The 20-year-old pivot tallied 75 points (24 goals, 51 assists) in 49 games for the Moose Jaw Warriors last season. He also recorded 15 points in 14 playoff games for the WHL club.
We’ll soon find out if Howden’s impressive junior-level production can translate to the fast-paced demands of the NHL.