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Rookie Howden Feeling More Comfortable in the NHL

by Michael Obernauer / NYRangers.com

Brett Howden didn't want to talk about himself. His focus from the past weekend was that in back-to-back games the Rangers didn't get the results they were looking for, or perhaps deserved.

When asked specifically about his personal milestones from the weekend, he attributed them to good play from his teammates. And when he did allow that the milestones were special for him, it was because his parents were able to be there and enjoy the moments.

Of all the attributes the 20-year-old rookie has brought to the Rangers, it appears selfishness is not among them.

But Howden's weekend is one he undoubtedly will remember. He scored his first NHL goal in the third period of Saturday's game against in Buffalo - bringing the Rangers within one on the scoreboard on their 40th shot of the game - then followed up by notching his first NHL assist the next night in Carolina, setting up Chris Kreider to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead six minutes into the game.

Video: NYR@BUF: Howden jams in rebound for first NHL goal

"I thought we were playing really well. The goal and assist you're talking about, that doesn't come without good teamwork and playing well," Howden said after practice on Tuesday. "We really were playing well, we just couldn't finish the job. So we're really looking forward to next game to play the full 60 (minutes)."

That next game will come Thursday at the Garden against San Jose, and if early trends continue - it is, after all, only three games into the season and into Howden's NHL career - coach David Quinn will continue to lean on his rookie center for significant minutes. Howden's ice time has only gone up in each of his first three games, from 10:32 in his NHL debut Thursday against Nashville, to 12:31 in Buffalo and 15:53 in Raleigh.

Howden had numerous linemates in Sunday's game, as the Rangers dressed 11 forwards against the Hurricanes. Yesterday, Howden skated for some of practice alongside Kreider and Mats Zuccarello.

"I think each game I've gotten a lot more comfortable and a lot more confident too," Howden said. "Even from preseason until now, I feel way more confident in myself out there. Each game and each shift pretty much that I play I just keep getting more confidence. So I just want to keep doing the best that I can and keep working hard."

His coach can feel Howden's comfort level - and his own comfort in Howden - on the rise.

"He's getting more comfortable for sure, as I think most first-year players in this league get when they have a little bit of success. There's a confidence level that grows," Quinn said. "Confidence is earned, it's not given. It's not like I come to the rink every day and say, 'Oh, let me have confidence in Howden today.' That's something you earn, you earn confidence. And he's earning it because of the way he's playing."

Video: Coach Quinn on the team's mindset

His points over the weekend showed off different facets of his game. On Saturday, he set a screen in front of Sabres goalie Carter Hutton, then found the loose rebound of Adam McQuaid's shot in the goalie's pads and scored. On Sunday, he made himself available for Vlad Namestnikov's pass along the backboards, then picked out Kreider driving the net and put a pass on his tape.

It was a reminder that Howden, Tampa Bay's first-round draft choice (27th overall) in 2016, was better than an assist-per-game center for WHL Moose Jaw last season, racking up 51 assists to go along with 24 goals in 49 games.

"That's one of the things I try to do most on the ice, that works well for me is my vision, and I try to play a smart game," Howden said. "For me I think that's one of my strengths is just finding teammates and trying to make plays."

He was able to find his parents in the bowels of KeyBank Center for a couple minutes after Saturday's game - Krystal and Sheldon Howden has traveled to New York for their son's NHL debut, then to Buffalo for his first road game and his first goal.

"They were really happy that they could be there," Howden said. "They were pretty thrilled to be able to see my first game and then just to be there with me in that special moment."

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After dressing 11 forwards and seven defensemen on Sunday in Carolina, Quinn said he and his staff are "still trying to find the best mix for sure." Tony DeAngelo made his season debut against the Hurricanes and impressed his coach, who is considering more changes on his blue line when the Sharks visit the Garden on Thursday. The Rangers are carrying 13 forwards and eight defensemen on their NHL roster.

"Tony played really well. Tony made some bigtime plays - and he had a good camp," Quinn said. "I feel we've got some depth on the blue line. Freddy Claesson's a good defenseman, I'd like to get him in there too. We feel all eight guys can play, and unfortunately there are going to be two guys that are out that are NHL defensemen."

Video: Kevin Shattenkirk on playing with urgency

Claesson and Kevin Shattenkirk skated as the fourth defense pair in Tuesday's practice.

"Tony DeAngelo played a phenomenal game the other night. He's earned a spot in the roster," said Shattenkirk, whose 2017-18 season ended in January when he underwent surgery on a torn meniscus. "I think all the D have earned a spot in the roster, and I'm probably the guy who needs to fight a little bit harder to get my spot back. That's on me, for sure. I know that it's a process, but this is probably a good little kick to get me going and get me out of this - I don't want to say slump, but just to get my confidence back and start playing the game that I know that I have."


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