The New York Rangers will be without one of their top prospects for the foreseeable future. Vitali Kravtsov, the 2018 ninth-overall selection, has chosen to use the escape clause in his contract in order to return to his former Kontinental Hockey League club, Traktor Chelyabinsk. The Russian winger had played in five games in the American Hockey League with the Hartford Wolf Pack, logging a single assist in limited playing time.
Kravtsov’s return to Russia was previously reported by KHL reporter, Igor Eronko and by the Forever Blueshirts blog. It’s now been confirmed by the NY Post’s Larry Brooks and the Russian website, Championat. The Rangers had negotiated a clause into Kravtsov’s contract for this very situation. After not making the NHL roster out of camp, the 19-year-old saw very limited usage in the AHL. He had been a healthy scratch for a game and was benched for extended stints in the few games he played. It seems he was unhappy in Hartford, so a return to Russia should help his confidence and overall well-being as his path to the NHL continues to morph.
Kravtsov logged 8 goals and a total of 21 points in his most recent season with Traktor. He added another two assists in the playoffs and then six points with the U20 Russia team at the World Junior Championships. He will be too old by the time the next World Junior Championships comes around, so he’ll strictly be playing the KHL for the time being. The Rangers can choose to bring him back to North America whenever they want. Expect him to remain in Russia for the majority of this season.
The Impact on His Development
There was a chance that Kravtsov saw immediate time in the NHL as part of the Rangers’ current youth movement. Unfortunately, it appears the learning curve on North American ice took a heavy toll on his play. It would be ideal if he got used to the smaller size and style of play, but not if he was unhappy in doing so. The Rangers should not be holding any of their prospects hostage in Hartford, especially ones that have the option to return to their home country.
Many Russian prospects take this same route. St. Louis Blues’ Vladimir Tarasenko and Washington Capitals’ Evgeny Kuznetsov both spent three years in the KHL before they made their debuts in the NHL. They were both 21 in their inaugural seasons. Current Minnesota Wild prospect, Kirill Kaprizov, has spent four years developing in the KHL and is poised to become an immediate impact player when he makes the transition. He’ll be 22 years old by the time he makes his NHL debut. This sort of development is not uncommon for Russian prospects.
Kravtsov’s development hasn’t taken a hit nor has his relationship with the Rangers organization. They were all prepared for this, hence why a clause was even negotiated into the contract. He’ll be back in North America as a 20-year-old with more experience and a better attitude. The Rangers still have a gem of a prospect on their hands, no matter where he decides to develop his undisputed talent.