Brett Howden is just keeping Mika Zibanejad’s seat warm while the Rangers star center awaits his training camp debut.
But Howden, entering a crucial third year with the Rangers, is helping himself out while he’s at it. Centering the top line with Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich for Thursday night’s intrasquad scrimmage, Howden picked up a goal and an assist while the line combined for four goals together.
“It’s pretty easy to play with the two guys I’m playing with,” Howden said after his “white” team notched a 6-1 win in the two-period scrimmage. “They’re obviously two key guys for our team. It was fun to play with them.
“Obviously with Mika out, I’m getting that opportunity, but we’re hoping for him to come back soon and keep moving forward.”
It remains to be seen what role Howden will play for the Rangers this season, whether he slots in as the fourth-line center or gets a shot to play on the wing, as he did down the stretch of the regular season last year. But he made the most of filling in for Zibanejad on Thursday, tipping in a shot from Brendan Smith and later assisting on one of Kreider’s two goals against goalie Alexandar Georgiev.
“I liked Howden’s game,” coach David Quinn said. “I thought Howds did a good job complementing Buchnevich and Kreider, who I both thought had really good nights. I thought Howden was involved. He was moving his feet, he was hard on pucks. There was a lot of good things out of Brett’s game.”
The 22-year-old Howden, who has recorded 15 goals and 27 assists through his first 136 NHL games, is hoping his play in the bubble last summer was a sign of things to come.
“This is my third year so obviously I want to keep improving and building off how I played in the bubble,” Howden said. “I think that was a big stepping stone for me, the way I played there. The confidence kind of came to my game. I want to keep building off that and keep moving forward.”
No. 1 pick Alexis Lafreniere assisted on a goal, scooping up a loose puck and sending it back to the right circle for Filip Chytil to snap a one-timer.
“Alexis is a great player, there’s no doubt [why] he was the first-overall pick,” said Chytil, who had Lafreniere on his left and Julien Gauthier on his right.
After sitting out Wednesday’s practice for “procedural reasons,” Artemi Panarin and Libor Hajek were back on the ice for the scrimmage.