The New York Rangers are in a fantastic situation right now. They possess multiple quality goaltenders but need to figure out how to utilize them. This next season is going to be critical in setting up the Rangers’ future in net.
Henrik Lundqvist, Alexandar Georgiev, and Igor Shesterkin are all expected to have significant roles next season and possibly beyond. But, like a puzzle, the real challenge will be finding where they fit in as the team moves forward.
This is perhaps the easiest of the decisions in regards to next season. Lundqvist has manned the Rangers net for a decade and a half, and will continue to do so.
He has received significant criticism from many fans due to his declining play. But the important thing to remember is that a goaltender’s poor performance is often the result of poor play in front of him.
Lundqvist has been putting up slightly worse numbers over the past several seasons even when the Rangers had their old defensive corps in tact. But it was last season during which his numbers really slipped.
But think about who he was playing behind. Neal Pionk and Anthony DeAngelo spent all season in front of Lundqvist but are still young defenders acclimating to the league. Marc Staal has slowed down considerably and Kevin Shattenkirk has never been good in the defensive zone.
Were Lundqvist’s statistics worse than usual? Absolutely. But the effect that poor defensive play had on his ability to keep the puck out of the net cannot be overstated.
He is far from “done” in the NHL and will resume his duties as the Rangers’ starting netminder next season. Eventually he’ll be on his way out, but his current contract still has two years left.
Shesterkin is going to have an interesting entrance to the NHL. Because of the logjam at the goalie position right now, he is not going to be rushed in to the league.
Shesterkin wasn’t incredibly impressive during the Rangers’ prospect development camp, but this is mainly due to the difference in ice surface size in North America compared to Russia.
The agile Russian netminder is presumably the team’s future franchise goalie. That said, if the Rangers rush him to the NHL level then he may never develop the way he’s supposed to. He must learn the ins and outs of his position in these smaller rinks before he faces top level talent.
Shesterkin may get a few games in the NHL this season depending on his performance elsewhere. He is likely going to be the new starting goaltender for the Hartford Wolf Pack, the Rangers’ AHL affiliate.
That said, the Rangers have plenty of goalie prospects who will be competing with Shesterkin for that very position in the AHL. Olof Lindom was the Rangers’ second-round selection in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Adam Huska was a 2015 seventh-round pick. Both could be competing for starting goaltender for the Wolf Pack.
Despite the fact that Shesterkin will likely spend most of the season in the AHL, the goal is likely to put him on a path to take over Lundqvist’s job when his contract expires. This means that after spending this season in the AHL, Shesterkin will likely be Lundqvist’s backup during the season after.
This makes Georgiev the wild card. While he is safe as Lundqvist’s backup for now, he will be the odd man out in due time.
Georgiev had an interesting start to his career. After going undrafted at the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, he was invited to the Rangers’ prospect development camp that year. He was eventually offered an entry-level contract.
He made his debut right around the time that the Rangers announced their rebuild via a letter to season ticket holders. In a season and a half as Lundqvist’s backup, Georgiev has established himself as a potential future starting goalie.
He has been solid enough that some people have questioned whether or not he should be the Rangers’ starting goalie moving forward. He started the majority of the games for the Rangers during the last couple weeks of last season so that the organization could get a better look at him.
The highlight of his career so far was making 55 saves en route to a 4-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on his 23rd birthday.
But where does he fit? He is the backup for now, but what happens when Shesterkin is ready to make the jump to the NHL? It will all be dependent on Shesterkin’s play in the AHL this season.
If Shesterkin is performing well and showing he is ready to be Lundqvist’s backup soon, expect the Rangers to shop Georgiev at the trade deadline. Teams like the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, who just signed aging veteran goaltenders in Mike Smith and Cam Talbot respectively, would love to get their hands on a young netminder with starter potential.
Regardless of how it goes down, the Rangers are in an excellent spot heading into the upcoming season. If Lundqvist is performing poorly, they can turn to Georgiev and remain competitive. If Lundqvist gets hurt, Shesterkin will have a shot to be a backup behind Georgiev. This is going to be an exciting year for Rangers goaltenders.