Rangers’ Hopes of Ending Playoff Drought Hinge on Shesterkin

The New York Rangers had a disappointing 2020-21 season, as their star players struggled to play well consistently and stay in the lineup, except for Adam Fox. One of the most costly injuries the Blueshirts faced was a groin injury that kept Igor Shesterkin out of the lineup for three weeks.

Though injuries have kept Shesterkin out of New York’s lineup in each of his first two seasons, he has been very strong in goal when healthy. The Rangers have relied heavily on him since his debut with them during the 2019-20 season, and they will need him to stay healthy and play well to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2016-17 season.

Shesterkin’s Play With the Rangers

In his first two seasons with the Rangers, Shesterkin has played in just 47 games, but his performance in most of those games has been excellent. During the 2019-20 season, he won 10 of his 12 starts, and finished with a .932 save percentage. He made more than 40 saves in four of those victories.

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Despite the Rangers being outplayed in many of Shesterkin’s starts during the 2019-20 season, his stellar play stole the Blueshirts some crucial victories. His positioning was excellent and he repeatedly stopped breakaways.

Shesterkin got off to a rough start last season, losing his first three starts, and then-head coach David Quinn decided to split playing time with Alexandar Georgiev. However, after those three starts, Shesterkin returned to form and consistently gave the Rangers an opportunity to win games.

After returning from his groin injury in late March, Shesterkin helped the Rangers make a push for the playoffs. He went 7-2-2 in his first 11 starts back, including two 41-save performances, and back-to-back shutouts against the New Jersey Devils. Despite his strong play, the Rangers struggled down the stretch, as they were without key players Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, Jacob Trouba and Ryan Lindgren. and they fell short of reaching the postseason.

High Expectations for the Rangers and Shesterkin

The Rangers are a talented, young team, but they lacked grit and struggled to win close games last season. This offseason they added players like Barclay Goodrow, Patrik Nemeth, Sammy Blais and Ryan Reaves to address that issue. However, the Blueshirts traded away one of their top wingers, sending Pavel Buchnevich to the St. Louis Blues, and he won’t be an easy player to replace. The Rangers will have a very difficult road to the playoffs in a tough Metropolitan Conference but Shesterkin can provide the Blueshirts with an edge in goal.

Other than Shesterkin’s slow start last season, he has played like a star, and the Rangers should have high expectations for him. He has shown a knack for making timely saves late in games, and has already shown that he has the potential to be an elite goalie if he can stay healthy.

Igor Shesterkin/Shestyorkin New York Rangers
The New York Rangers should expect a strong season from Igor Shesterkin (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

One thing to watch for will be whether or not Shesterkin wears down late in the season. He has never played in more than 39 games in a season, which he did during the 2017-18 season while playing for St. Petersburg SKA of the Kontinental Hockey League. However, the Blueshirts will likely make sure they don’t overplay him and he showed no signs of wearing down when the Rangers relied heavily on him after he returned from his groin injury last season.

It’s reasonable for the Rangers to expect Shesterkin to win 30-or-more games, and have a save percentage of .915 or better. Their offseason moves are supposed to make them a better team defensively, which should help him and he has already proven he can bail out the Blueshirts when the defense in front of him struggles.

Shesterkin’s Future with the Rangers

Beyond the hopes that Shesterkin can help lead the Rangers to the postseason, this season is an opportunity for him to establish himself as their goalie of the future and the heir apparent to Henrik Lundqvist. Injuries and the coronavirus pandemic have slowed his momentum but this could be a breakout season for him. That would certainly go a long way towards helping the Blueshirts make the playoffs.

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