Matt Rempe, Jonny Brodzinski and Filip Chytil: Who plays and who sits for the Rangers?

NEW YORK — Peter Laviolette never made a change to his lineup during the New York Rangers’ first-round sweep of the Washington Capitals. There was no reason to. His team trailed for less than four minutes the entire series.

The second round should present a much tougher test for the Rangers. They’ll play the winner of the Carolina Hurricanes-New York Islanders series, which Carolina leads 3-1. The Hurricanes had the second-best record of any team in the Eastern Conference and have more depth and top-end talent than the Capitals. If Carolina somehow collapses, the Islanders would enter the second round with momentum. Their roster is less complete than the Hurricanes’, but they still have three 30-goal scorers, plus a point-per-game player in Mathew Barzal and a legitimate No. 1 defenseman in Noah Dobson.

There are 11 Rangers forwards who, if healthy, will likely be in the lineup. The 12th spot is more up for grabs. Matt Rempe played all four games against the Capitals, with Jonny Brodzinski and Filip Chytil waiting in the wings.

Laviolette might not choose to run the same lineup out every night in the second round. A change could come either at the start of the series or midway through. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each of the three players vying for the final forward spot in the lineup.

Matt Rempe

Pros: Rempe, who had two points in 17 regular-season games, scored the Rangers’ first goal of the playoffs and had a plus-1 rating in four games. His average ice time (6:46) in the series was actually up from the regular season (5:38) and Laviolette clearly values the physical edge he brings. Rempe, who declared he’s “built for the playoffs,” is 6-foot-8 and prides himself on skating well for someone his size. The team has seen growth in his game, too.

“If you watched him from when he first got here to when he plays now, even when he practices now, it’s just completely different,” Laviolette said during the Capitals series. “He’s elevating his game on the ice and so we need him on the ice as well for his game, for his size, for his physicality, for his speed.”

New York has gone 18-2-1 in Rempe’s 21 NHL games (regular season and playoffs). Correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation — the Rangers as a whole were playing well down the stretch — but the team’s record with him in the lineup is certainly worth noting.

Cons: Rempe’s physicality can get him into trouble at times. He committed three minor penalties in four games against Washington. That could be costly against Carolina if it’s able to finish off the Islanders. The Hurricanes were second in the NHL with a 26.9 percent power-play success rate in the regular season. And though Rempe’s skating is good for his size, an offensively potent team like the Hurricanes could give him trouble, especially on the road when coach Rod Brind’Amour would have last change and the ability to exploit matchups.

Rempe is far from an analytics darling. During the first round, the Rangers had only 35.23 percent of the expected goal share with him on the ice, according to Natural Stat Trick. That was worst on the team. The Capitals outchanced New York 16-5 and led 35-25 in shot attempts during his minutes, also per Natural Stat Trick. Though likely impacted by a small sample size of 17 games, his regular-season offensive Net Rating projection was among the worst on the team, according to Dom Luszczyszyn’s model.

As the 12th forward, the Rangers don’t need Rempe to be an offensive stud, but Laviolette has other options who might be able to bring a little more.

Jonny Brodzinski

Pros: Brodzinski was a feel-good story for the Rangers this season. The journeyman played a career-high 57 games, logging 19 points, and the Rangers signed him to a two-year extension midseason.

“I see the work he puts in, he’s been putting in his whole career,” said Jonathan Quick, who played with him on the Los Angeles Kings. “To see him get rewarded, it’s well deserved.”

Brodzinski’s speed is an asset, and he had success on a line with Barclay Goodrow and Jimmy Vesey late in the season. New York had 52.05 percent of the expected goal share in more than 60 minutes of that line’s ice time at five-on-five. Brodzinski can play both wing and center and has more of a scoring touch than Rempe. Laviolette also trusted him more during the regular season. He averaged 11:08 of ice time a game compared to Rempe’s 5:38.

Cons: Brodzinski is not the strongest defensive forward, nor does he have the physical presence of Rempe. And though his underlying numbers were better than Rempe’s, they weren’t anything incredible. Here’s his Net Rating player card

Screenshot 2024 04 30 at 12.41.32%E2%80%AFPM

Filip Chytil

Pros: Chytil, who missed almost all of the regular season with concussion options, has the highest upside of any of Laviolette’s potential options. He had a 22-goal, 45-point season in 2022-23 and averaged .48 points per game (13 points in 27 games) over the Rangers’ 2022 and 2023 playoff runs. When healthy, the 24-year-old is capable of playing in a top-six role and is a draft win for the Rangers, who picked him at No. 21 in 2017.

Cons: Though Chytil, who is still listed on long-term injured reserve, has no contact limitations in practice, Laviolette has not come out and said he’s ready for game action. The Rangers initially ruled him out for the season after an on-ice setback in January; he’s back skating with the team after starting to feel better. Still, everyone involved has to make decisions with his long-term health in mind. The Rangers don’t plan to rush him.

If Chytil is ready to play, he could have some rust, having been out since Nov. 2. There’s also the question of where to fit him into the lineup. Laviolette has relied on his fourth line in defensive situations, so that probably isn’t the best way to maximize Chytil’s skill set. The coach could break up his third line (Will Cuylle–Alex Wennberg–Kaapo Kakko), but that group has been playing well and did not have a goal against at five-on-five all first round. Chytil might be an option as a top-line wing next to Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, but that would mean asking him to jump back into the lineup and play right wing rather than his natural center position.

Those won’t be easy decisions for Laviolette, but a healthy Chytil would make the team better. The big questions are whether he’s physically ready to jump into playoff hockey and — if so — when the best time to make the lineup switch would be.

(Photo of Matt Rempe: Joshua Sarner / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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