Following his team’s elimination from the Russian Hockey League (KHL), 21-year-old Vitali Kravtsov joined the New York Rangers for the 2020-21 season. The Rangers drafted Kravtsov ninth overall in the first round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. He recently shared time with the Rangers’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack, and Traktor Chelyabinsk of the KHL.
Before the Rangers announced in March that Kravtsov was set to join the team, his arrival in New York was highly anticipated but never set in stone. Needless to say, the confirmation was exciting. The young winger had a successful but abruptly-ended season in the Russian league, where he posted 24 points in 49 games for Traktor before he could translate his skill set to the NHL.
As my colleague, Sean Crimmins, mentioned, the arrival of the first-rounder is key to the Rangers’ long-term rebuilding effort established a few seasons ago. Although other prized prospects skated in the big league this season, but the organization’ss future looked more promising after Kravtsov’s first game. He has provided a wonderful spark for the Blueshirts as they close out the season.
From Debut to Today
Kravtsov’s first game with the Rangers was on April 3 against the Buffalo Sabres. He joined the Rangers weeks before, but head coach David Quinn was not the slightest bit eager to toss him in the lineup. With almost 11 minutes of ice time, he grew visibly more comfortable as the game wore on and came close to winning it in overtime.
Despite what might have been a memorable finish to his debut, Kravtsov looked sharp throughout. He was fearless shooting the puck and recorded three shots on net. Though he pointed out the difference in pace following the game, he managed to keep up with the Rangers and, since his debut, has continued to grow.
His first NHL goal was against the New Jersey Devils a couple of games later. Though it was determined to be offside, it was a promising start. Kravtsov’s first official goal came two games later, again against the Devils, which put the Rangers up 2-0 early. The goal started and ended with Kravtsov, who put pressure on defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler behind the Devils’ net to force a turnover and released his quick shot to beat Mackenzie Blackwood.
With 14 games under his belt playing on the fourth line, Kravtsov averages around 11:30 of ice time per game and has three points. The points will come as he continues to look solid, and this is the time to cultivate his confidence and comfort.
It is a small sample size, but Kravtsov has made the most of his limited and recently decreased minutes. Pacing and encouraging the rookies will be an important step in their development, as the Rangers continue to rely on their young core. Yet, it would be valuable for Kravtsov to graduate to a different line and gain more exposure. The skillset of the organization’s young players makes them a very dangerous team and they will contribute to their success in the future.
Kravtsov could become a top forechecker, as demonstrated by his first goal. Teams are successful when a solid and consistent forecheck is deployed. As is, the Rangers are a speedy team, and forcing the opponent to keep up is only half of it. With added pressure in the offensive zone, the team will become a true threat.
Kravtsov in the Battle of New York
The Rangers host their archrivals, the New York Islanders on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. Kravtsov has made the most of these rivalries with two assists against the Islanders and a goal against the Devils. The Rangers will try to take advantage of a struggling Islanders team as points in the division become vital.
The Rangers are four points out of a playoff spot, but they should feel empowered. Yes, playoff experience would do wonders for their young core, including Kravtsov, K’Andre Miller, Alexis Lafrenière, Igor Shesterkin, and Zac Jones, but the reality is, they are a long shot to crack the final postseason berth. Instead, the team’s focus should be on this season’s progress; from the beginning of the season until now, the team and their players, especially Kravstov, have improved.
Rachel is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. She can be followed on Twitter @RachelNHL.