Rangers & Kravtsov at a Crossroads After Latest Moves

Vitali Kravtsov, the much-maligned New York Rangers prospect, still tops their 2022 prospect list, with Brennan Othmann (Flint Thunderbirds) and Will Cuylle (Windsor Spitfires) not far behind. The latter two just finished a Western Conference Ontario Hockey League (OHL) playoff battle. Kravtsov was expected to at least start the 2021-22 season with the Rangers but quickly became disgruntled and seemed to be in head coach Gerard Gallants’ doghouse from the get-go. After president and general manager (GM) Chris Drury’s moves at the trade deadline, Kravtsov’s place on the team may be further away than ever.

Kravtsov Drama: Part 1

The saga dates back to the 2019-20 season when Kravtsov was one of the final cuts after training camp. He went back to Russia in protest but returned to the United States to play for the Rangers’ affiliate Hartford Wolf Pack a couple of months later. After being left out of the playoff lineup, he returned to Russia and played the 2020-21 season with Traktor of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). He was asked to work on his 200-foot game while there, and he believed he did.

Vitali Kravtsov, New York Rangers
Vitali Kravtsov, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

“One of the things that we were looking for was the maturity to his game,” Rangers director of player development Jed Ortmeyer said back in August. “The second-effort battles, backchecking, defensive responsibility – that was showing up more and more frequently in his games in the KHL last year. That was encouraging” (from ‘How the NY Rangers and Disgruntled Prospect Vitali Kravtsov Reached Their Breaking Point,’ lohud, 10/16/21).

Then Kravtsov returned to New York after his KHL season ended and was supposedly unhappy with how the Rangers used him in his short stint with the team at the end of the 2020-21 season when he played 20 games and had four points while being a minus-6. After that, he apparently had a contentious exit meeting focused on his offseason training or lack thereof (from ‘Rangers Could Trade Vitali Kravtsov With Tensions Rising Over Demotion,’ New York Post, 9/12/21).

Kravtsov Drama: Part 2

Kravtsov had a lower-body injury coming out of the Rangers’ 2021-22 training camp, so they designated him to an American Hockey League (AHL) conditioning assignment with the Wolf Pack. They wanted him to work on a few aspects of his game along with getting in better shape after the injury slowed him through camp (See lohud article above). If he did so, he’d be back up quickly, but that’s just speculation. He refused and asked to go back and play in the KHL with Traktor. The Rangers granted him that and also told his agent they could seek out possible trade destinations.

Gallant had this to say about the demotion, “There was no reason why. It was about picking your team that you’re moving forward with, trying to win hockey games,” Gallant said Tuesday. “We said there was a battle for those spots all training camp long, and the other guys played well, some of the guys that stayed up, [Julien] Gauthier and [Dryden] Hunt and those guys. They played really well in camp, and they earned this position” (from ‘Rangers could trade Vitali Kravtsov with tensions rising over demotion,’ NY Post, 10/12/21).

The 6-foot-3, 189-pound forward had six goals and nine assists in 19 games and was plus-4 during the 2021-22 KHL season. He added seven goals and three assists with a minus-3 in 15 playoff games to help Traktor get to the Eastern Conference Final before losing to Metallurg Mg. The Rangers’ first-round, ninth overall draft pick in 2018 reportedly said he’d go to the AHL only if it were with another organization, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger back in Oct. 2021.

Kravtsov has gone through a couple of agents during this drama too. The first go-around, the Russian-born forward was repped by Paul Thefanous, and this time Dan Milstein is handling the case.

Kravtsov Drama: Part 2.5

Last week, the Rangers signed Kravtsov to a standard contract extension for one year at $875,000. If either party had waited until the Monday after the 2022 NHL Entry Draft (July 7-8), when he would have been an official restricted free agent, he would have received an offer of five percent above his 2021-22 salary. He made a total of $832,500 as a base salary last season instead of his entry-level contract (ELC), which was $925,000, so $875,000 pretty much equals the standard five percent increase.

Related: Rangers News & Rumors: East Loss, Kravtsov, Rydahl & More

Apparently, neither party wanted to wait, which could be a good thing moving forward, or it could mean Drury and the Rangers want to have his contract set to make it easier to trade him before or during the draft. We’ll see how that plays out in the coming weeks.

What’s Next for Kravtsov?

Odds are the Rangers will try and move Kravtsov, but they won’t just give him away. They don’t necessarily need any more prospects at the moment, so they could possibly deal him for an older, more established player. Or, they could get a couple of high-round picks further down the road that might make sense. This summer and/or coming fall should be interesting to see what happens in Act III of the Rangers/Kravtsov saga.

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