It is an exciting time in Rangerstown with their top pick from the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Vitaly Kravtsov coming back to North America after his season with Traktor Chelyabinsk of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) came to an end. Traktor was eliminated in the KHL Conference Quarterfinals by Salavat Yulaev. In five games, Kravtsov scored two goals and had two assists. He is set to join the team in the coming days and will be a big addition to the lineup. (From ‘Vitali Kravtsov could be on the ice Tuesday for the Rangers,’ Newsday, 03/22/2021).
The former ninth overall pick has a great deal of hype around him and deservedly so In 49 games with Traktor this season he found the back of the net 16 times and added eight assists. He has scored in multiple different ways as well. He has had clean snipes, deflections, rebounds from the front of the net, he has been a multi-dimensional threat offensively. Kravtsov has top-six upside and is expected to become an offensive threat at the NHL. When he finishes his quarantine, his arrival does pose a bit of a problem for the Rangers.
Rangers Already Have Solid Depth at Right Wing
When Kravtsov is eligible to play, he creates a big logjam along the right side. Too much depth is a problem, albeit a good one to have. The Rangers already have Pavel Buchnevich, Kaapo Kakko and Julien Gauthier who can fit into a top-nine role. Buchnevich and Kakko will likely stay on the top two lines which bump Gauthier or Kravtsov down to the fourth line. Odds are that Gauthier is the one to get bumped down as he has been a frequent visitor to head coach David Quinn’s doghouse. He has shown flashes of brilliance using his size and speed but he has had some struggles. Having him on the fourth line right now is not the end of the world but it is very unlikely the Rangers traded a quality prospect in Joey Keane for him to be a fourth-line winger.
On top of them, they also have Colin Blackwell and Phil DiGiuseppe who have both played all over the lineup. Blackwell has played some wing this season and has been an impressive story for the Rangers. (from, Center Colin Blackwell emerging as Rangers’ hidden gem,’ New York Post, March 1, 2021). He has made it hard to justify taking him out of the lineup, he was a healthy scratch during the Rangers 4-0 win over the Boston Bruins but then came back the next game and scored a goal. DiGiuseppe has been a solid energy player for the Rangers and would be the likely option to rotating in and out of the lineup. He is currently still on the COVID-19 protocol list but could find himself even further on the outside very soon.
The Rangers would have four wingers who could fit into the top three lines and another two players more than capable of filling in the fourth spot. DiGiuseppe can easily be moved to the left side and swap in with Brendan Lemieux when needed. Blackwell can play center but then the Rangers have six centers for four spots. Mika Zibanejad, Ryan Strome, Filip Chytil, Kevin Rooney and Brett Howden all are full-time centers. The first three are all locks for their spot and Rooney has not given any reason to take him out of the lineup either. Howden has had his fair share of struggles but was always a consistent lock for the lineup. He finally became a healthy scratch in that 4-0 win against Boston and the Rangers had one of their best games of the year.
Where Kravtsov Fits Into the Lineup
When Kravtsov is playing he is more than likely in the top nine to start games. It is also very likely he finds himself all over the lineup as Quinn has done plenty of times with his players. Buchnevich, Kakko, Blackwell, Chris Kreider, and even Alexis Lafreniere have seen time up and down the lineup. Predicting a consistent lineup is near impossible since the lines are always subject to change. Even the team’s top line in Kreider-Zibanejad-Buchnevich has gotten broken up and reunited several times.
A third line of Lafreniere-Chytil-Kravtsov feels like the line we are going to see on the ice and it can be a very dangerous line. All three players are highly skilled and have equally high potentials, it would make for a very fun line to watch and one that if meshes, could be a staple for years on Broadway. Should Quinn decide to roll with chemistry as he does with the top line and him keeping Strome with Artemi Panarin, we could see more of Kakko on Chytil’s wing. Before Chytil’s injury, the duo was showing some dominance in terms of puck possession. Their CF% together is 62.62% in 61:58 together, as they outshot opponents 41-18 together. That would bump Kravtsov up to the second line with Strome and Panarin. It is unlikely but still a possibility.
Kravtsov has shown a ton of growth in his game since he failed to make the team out of training camp last season. The 21-year-old winger plays a more rounded game and should be ready for the NHL by now. A third-line spot for Kravtsov’s rookie campaign is fitting but the Rangers are hoping he does bigger things than be a middle-six winger, this is a former top 10 pick we are talking about. In short, someone might have to be on the move, and it will not be Kakko. Buchnevich has also made himself hard to let go with his strong two-way play. Who gets moved is a discussion for another day, however.
The Rangers and Quinn in particular will have their hands full in managing the upgraded roster when Kravtsov is ready to slot into the lineup. His NHL future is bright like many others on the team but he will have to earn a spot. They have strong depth on the right side and someone will be getting the short end of the stick, losing out on a role they could easily fill. The trade deadline is April 12 and there is a very real possibility the Rangers move someone by then. Until that date, each player has a job that is theirs to lose.
Currently a writer for the New York Rangers, University of New Hampshire alumn