The New York Rangers got one step closer to their finished product when highly touted prospect Vitali Kravtsov made his NHL debut Saturday night against the Buffalo Sabres. The Rangers lost in a shootout, Kravtsov played 14 shifts and had a game-low 10:45 time on ice. He had some quality flashes to his game, nearly scoring a game-winner. It would have been a perfect way for him to cap off his first NHL game but it was not meant to be. Regardless, that game signified him officially becoming an NHL player and the Rangers took one step closer to graduating another prospect.
Another First Round Pick Arrives
Kravtsov has had high expectations ever since his selection at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft as the ninth overall pick. He arrived in New York after another season filled with personal success with Traktor of the KHL. In 49 games, Kravtsov put up a career-high 16 goals and eight assists for a career-high 24 points. He finished seventh on the team in points but also first in goals, despite missing 10 games due to injury. The 21-year-old then added two goals and two assists in five playoff games to lead the team.
He does have some experience playing in North America from his 39 AHL games last season. He had six goals and nine assists for 15 points during that time and worked on rounding out his game and regaining the confidence he lost from being cut from the team at the end of last season’s training camp. This is a very good hockey player here with top-six upside and some very high hopes. One year is a long time for such a young player, now that he is on the big stage it is his time to show how far along he has come.
The Rangers added another highly skilled winger who provides strong offensive instincts and a quality shot. Over the course of his KHL season, he showed an ability to score goals in numerous different ways which is exactly what the Rangers could use. His game is continuing to grow and playing meaningful NHL minutes will no doubt help him become a more complete player. With the current line shuffle going on, he has gotten bumped down to the fourth line for now, which would see him play in sheltered minutes. (From ‘David Quinn’s Rangers shuffles searching for second line fit,’ New York Post, April 5, 2021). David Quinn has shuffled his lines very often so Kravtsov could see himself back into the top nine sooner rather than later.
More Pieces Likely on the Way Soon
Kravtsov’s arrival to the NHL level is no doubt exciting for the Rangers organization and fans but there will likely be other prospects also on their way to the big stage in the near future. By this time next year, the Rangers could have Nils Lundkvist and Morgan Barron as full-time NHL players. Barron is currently 22 and Lundkvist is only 20 – it would be another strong infusion of youth to an already very young team. Barron has been putting up great offensive numbers with Hartford of the AHL with eight goals and four assists through 13 games and could already be ready for the NHL. Lundkvist has yet to sign his entry-level contract but it is looking likely that he does after this season.
Lundkvist is another very highly touted prospect who is expected to be a strong offensive force for the blue line. The hope is that Lundkvist can be the final piece of a young and lethal top four on the Rangers blueline. Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren have already established themselves as a legitimate top pairing despite both players being in their second season. K’Andre Miller is having a strong rookie season and has consistently been on the team’s second defensive pairing with Jacob Trouba. Add Lundkvist into the mix and that is a very solid defensive corps, especially if he can work well alongside Miller.
Barron is more of a longshot but with the way he is scoring in the AHL, he could easily earn himself a call-up. Barron is showing he could be the next Rangers late-round gem as a former sixth-round pick back in 2017. He is a big center who uses his size well on the puck and could offer strong scoring depth in the future. His fantastic start to his first season as a professional hockey player is really encouraging. He might not have the same impact as Kravtsov or Lundkvist but if he does fill a role in the bottom six, the Rangers will no doubt chalk that up as a win. Barron was not expected to be a needle-mover when he was drafted but now he is one of the more exciting prospects in a very deep pipeline.
Building a roster to contend for the Stanley Cup is not an easy thing to do, especially when you try and get many core pieces through the draft. The Rangers have done pretty well so far and got one step closer to that contending roster. Kravtsov is an important piece for the Rangers – they got him to the NHL, now they have to develop him into the player they hope he can become.
Currently a writer for the New York Rangers, University of New Hampshire alumn