Brett Howden, the Rangers’ 22-year-old center, chatted with The Post’s Steve Serby from the “inside the bubble” in Toronto.
Q: You can pick the brain of any center or wing in NHL history?
A: For sure Sidney Crosby. Grew up watching him, he was my favorite player growing up. He’s been the best player in the league for a really long time now. Everything he’s been through, with all the pressure he’s had to deal with, and winning the Cups, just everything. I think it’d be unbelievable to pick his brain. He seems like a really knowledgeable and smart guy.
Q: What’s it like playing against him?
A: (Laughs) It’s pretty cool for sure, I remember the first time I played against him last year. Going up against him lining up for a faceoff, it’s pretty crazy to think about, I’ve been watching him for how long now? So getting the chance to be able to play against him and take faceoffs against him obviously kinda makes you realize where you’re at.
Q: How would you compare his skill level to Artemi Panarin’s?
A: They can see a play develop before it even happens. They’re so smart and patient with the puck. That’s the main thing that really separates them from the rest is the way they read the game and the way they see things happen.
Q: What’s the most amazing single play you’ve seen Panarin make?
A: There’s so many … every game you get to see him make all these little plays night in, night out. And it’s not just every other shift, it’s every single shift.
Q: You’re one-on-one with any goaltender in history …
A: To be able to go against Henrik Lundqvist, an absolute legend is pretty special. You ask that question of many people, I bet you he’s at the top of a lot of the lists.
Q: What have you observed about him?
A: He’s so competitive and he wants to win, and he wants to get better every day. To see him push himself to be better and being a good teammate and help others around him, it’s been really fun to be able to see him in that way and kinda get to him and see what he’s all about.
Q: Igor Shesterkin?
A: He’s a funny guy. He competes. He works. He’s always getting better. He’s really good in the net, I mean, I don’t know much about goaltending, but I know he stops the puck a lot. I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing (chuckles).
Q: Mika Zibanejad?
A: Mika is a real soft-spoken guy. He’s a great teammate, great leader. On the ice, he’s dominant, he’s a two-way player … the guy you can rely on in any situation at all. He’s a guy we lean on all the time for every situation.
Q: Adam Fox?
A: Great friend, great teammate, and on the ice, he’s one of the most patient players I’ve ever played with, can read the game like no other.
Q: Chris Kreider?
A: Kreider is a great guy, great teammate, great friend, he took me under his wing, I lived with him for a full summer last summer. He showed me the ropes, taught me all about different diets, eating. He’s always looking out for other guys, great leader. And then on the ice, everybody knows what he’s about in New York, he’s been here for so long. Just a real powerful guy. And he can make you look silly with his speed, that’s for sure.
Q: Kaapo Kakko?
A: He started out quiet when he first came, but he’s really opened up since the year’s gone on. I sit behind him in the room actually at the practice rink, and he’s funny. On the ice you can see all the potential he has. He had so much skill. He’s able to adapt. He’s a great player and he’s got a great shot, and he sees the ice really well.
Q: Jacob Trouba?
A: He’s a guy that everybody leans on. He’s a really good voice in the room. On the ice, people see he’s a real force out there. He’s a really good two-way defenseman that you’d rather have on your side than the other, so we’re lucky to have him.
Q: Coach Quinn?
A: He’s a really caring guy, and wants the best for everyone, obviously. I think for us young guys, our first couple of years, he’s helped us out so much just making us feel comfortable, and helping us adapt to the league. He’s always pushing you to get better, and making sure that he’s doing everything he can to put us in a position to succeed. There’s not much more you can ask from a coach.
Q: Do you have a percentage in mind for winning faceoffs?
A: One day I’d love to be well over 50 percent, but faceoffs are tough, especially for me, I’m still learning all about it.
Q: Your on-ice mentality?
A: I think I’m very competitive, I don’t think I ever give up on anything. That’s my kinda play … working hard every shift.
Q: Is there an art to blocking shots?
A: I don’t think there’s an art, but you definitely gotta sacrifice your body and yourself. I think it’s just a will if you want to do it or not.
Q: Where do you think you need to make your biggest improvement?
A: I think my speed for sure. I think I do well with the pace. My first three strides coming out of the corners making some separation from a player that’s defending me, I think that’s one of the biggest things for me.
Q: What skill are you most proud of?
A: I think my vision with my hockey sense, I think I read the game well. I feel like I can see the ice pretty well and see things develop.
Q: What do you like better, center or wing?
A: I’ve played center for longer, so maybe I feel a little bit more comfortable at center, but it doesn’t matter to me. Forward is forward. When I moved, I was completely fine with it. I think it really helped me, it kinda opened things for me, a little less responsibility on the wing when he [Quinn] moved me over there. I have no problem playing either/or. It’s hockey, and you roll with it, and I enjoyed it.
Q: Do you like penalty kill?
A: I take a lot of pride in it. If we can kill off the other team’s power play, I feel like that’s a big momentum swing our way.
Q: How are you and your older brother Quinton similar or different off the ice?
A: I think we’re similar in a lot of ways, the way we look at life and our mindset. I looked up to him growing up. I learned a lot from him growing up, and we’ve become closer friends. We both love to be jokesters around the family, that’s probably our favorite thing about summer is going home and being all together.
Q: Your best hockey moments?
A: Making the NHL, my first year in New York, making the team out of camp, that was really special, and then scoring my first goal my second game, those were obviously two moments you wait for your whole life. But I think another big, big moment for me was winning the World Juniors, that was something I’d dreamt of as a kid, and obviously growing up every kid watches that.
Q: Four dinner guests?
A: Tiger Woods; Neil Young; Will Ferrell; Will Smith.
Q: What’s your handicap?
A: My handicap’s around a 10.
Q: Other athletes outside hockey you admire?
A: Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth in golf; Steph Curry, LeBron [James], like all those top dogs, Kevin Durant. I loved watching “The Last Dance,” Michael Jordan. I think that would have been unbelievable to be able to watch him play live growing up.
Q: What did you learn about Jordan?
A: Just his mentality, his mindset. He was so competitive, and he wanted to win. He really would do anything to win, and he made sure his teammates knew that. He was a man amongst boys it looked like when I was watching that. He was so dominant. When he wanted to win a game or take over a game, he could do it just like that, just like a snap of the fingers. Just to be able to see him in his prime was really cool.
Q: Favorite movie?
A: “Never Back Down.”
Q: Favorite actors?
A: Adam Sandler; Will Smith.
Q: Favorite actress?
A: Rachel McAdams.
Q: Favorite entertainer?
A: Justin Bieber.
Q: Favorite meal?
A: Lamb chops or duck.
Q: What kind of books did you bring to the bubble?
A: I’ve got Tiger Woods’ book, and a Kobe Bryant.
Q: How would you describe what it’s like being a New York Ranger?
A: Just to be on a team with so much history that goes back a long ways, one of the Original Six teams, it’s obviously a real honor to be able to consider yourself a New York Ranger … the iconic jersey, with the red, the white and the blue. Every night it’s a real honor, and it’s special to be a part of this organization.
Q: How much do you miss Rangers fans?
A: A ton. Getting to play in front of them, especially in MSG, but even on the road, we have so many fans at every away game that you create energy off of it.
Q: Your message to the fans?
A: We’re gonna go the best we can for them, and can’t wait to be playing back in front of them one day.
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