When the writers here at the Copper and Blue decided to look at the prospects in the system we made a choice to look at all players under twenty-five and did substantive work on each of the top twenty-five players. One of they players who was among "The Rejects" (and 31st to be exact) was Milan Kytnar. But I think of all those rejects Milan Kytnar is one of the guys with a chance because the numbers we use to measure the effectiveness of players in junior leagues aren't particularly flattering for young Kytnar. Kytnar's team - the Vancouver Giants - were recently eliminated from the WHL playoffs. After the jump I'll take a look at Kytnar's season and, in particular, his play throughout this year's playoffs.
Kytnar is an interesting prospect. The Oilers thought enough of him to sign him to an entry-level contract about one year ago which suggests that they like the player but then they sent him back to junior for an extra season in the WHL which is usually a pretty bad sign. Real prospects usually don't play that extra year in junior. So why did they send him back? In an interview with Kristi Hennessy of oilers.nhl.com Kytnar said that the "Oilers put me back in the juniors to basically improve my offence."
So how's that going? Well, after scoring 64 points in 65 games in 2008-09 with the Saskatoon Blades, Kytnar's regular season saw him score 40 points in 45 games this season, mostly with the Vancouver Giants. And that's not very good for a 20-year old. If you wanted to find some hope as far as offensive progress is concerned, you'd look at Kytnar's performance in the last part of the season. Injuries were a concern for him this season as he dealt with shoulder and rib problems and those may have been detrimental to this early season performance because hrough his first 27 games, Kytnar only scored 16 points which means over his last 18 regular season games he scored 24 points, which is probably much closer to what the Oilers had in mind.
But offence isn't going to be Kytnar's calling card anyway. If he makes it to the NHL it's going to be as a traditional "checker" and maybe as a guy who provides leadership (he was, after all, the captain of Slovakia's fourth place entry in the World Junior Championship in 2009). And this is exactly the role he was playing with the Giants this past season. To illustrate what I mean, we'll look at how he did in each of Kytnar's three playoff series.
In the Kamloops series, Kytnar seems to have been matched up against their top line. Of the seven EV goal events with Kytnar on the ice, four of them took place against the line of C.J. Stretch, Brendan Ranford and Colin Smith, two of the Blazers' top three scorers including their top guy. He also had a SH point in the series, so he’s getting some PK time for sure but didn't have any PP points on five Vancouver PP goals, so he probably wasn’t getting much time there. His most common linemates were Brett Breitkreuz (who was at Edmonton’s Training Camp and used to play for the Oil) with 6/7 EV events, James Henry (4/7) and Connor Redmond (3/7) so he sure wasn't playing with Vancouver's top offensive guys. Nonetheless, he did manage to score one goal and three assists to go along with a +2 at EV (+4 -2) in four games against the Blazers.
In the Portland series there were 11 EV events (some 4-on-4, some 5-on-5) and he again had the other team’s top offensive players as his most common opposition. He had 6/11 EV events against Nino Niederreiter, 5/11 against Brad Ross and 5/11 against Ryan Johansen, so three of their top four scorers. The linemates were more varied this time but he was most often with James Henry (7/11) and Brett Breitkreuz (5/11). Connor Redmond was 0/11 so that 3/7 against Kamloops may have been a fluke. The big change was his point distribution. Kytnar scored one goal and six assists in the six-game series but four of those points came on the power play (out of eight Vancouver PP events) which is a pretty healthy chunk of his offence. He was also -3 in this series at EV (+4 -7) and having a goal against plus per game isn't exactly shutting the other guys down.
The series against Tri-Cities is the toughest to get real information from, mostly because Kytnar played well! He was +1 in the series with only five EV events with Kytnar on the ice over the six-game series (+3 -2). With so few events, Kytnar didn't have more than two against any one (Tri-City) American but he did have 3/5 with Brett Breitkreuz. He only scored three points in the six-game series (and two of those on the power play) but if he was taking on the toughs, it's awfully hard to say he didn't do his job.
In the end, Kytnar managed fifteen points in sixteen playoff games and ended the series even. Now, there's an awfully large chasm between shut-down center in the WHL and shut-down center in the NHL but it seems like that's the path Kytnar is on and that the next step will begin next season in Oklahoma City (unless he gets an invite to play with Slovakia at the WC's which actually seems plausible to me; it would be great to see him play). His NHLE doesn't project a big scorer. If we take his last two years worth of results (regular seasons and playoffs) it projects out to 23 points over 82 NHL games. But if he can develop a bit offensively and actually handle tough opposition, well a 30-point checking center has some value. Unlike many of the other "rejects," I think this guy has a chance.