At this late stage of training camp, the New York Rangers have several line configurations taking shape. For now, winger Vitali Kravtsov is slotted in on the second line next to fellow Russian Artemi Panarin and centered by Vincent Trocheck. This is a golden opportunity for the young forward – who has yet to stay with the team – to make a real contribution.
Kravtsov will enter the season with a clean slate despite a rocky history with the club. After he refused an American Hockey League (AHL) assignment to the Hartford Wolf Pack last season, he is now getting top minutes with two talented, established linemates. He has a lot to prove, but he is set up for success.
The 22-year-old only has a small sample size with the Rangers, which makes his performance this preseason even more crucial. When Kravtsov was selected in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, he was expected to be a big part of the team’s core, because his skill set seemed a bit more developed than the organization’s other prospects.
However, his path to join the team didn’t follow the same path as K’Andre Miller, forward Filip Chytil or even Morgan Barron, who all had a more straightforward journey to the big league. Instead, he spent most of his time in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). Management wanted him to skate with the AHL affiliate, but he opted to play in Russia instead, which caused some tension.
In 20 games with the Rangers last season, he collected two goals and four points. He also registered 23 shots, seven hits, blocked six shots, and averaged roughly 12 minutes of ice time per game. Of course, the Rangers are looking for a well-rounded game from the winger, especially if he hopes to maintain a top-six spot.
Hopes of reconciliation were high when Kravtsov signed a one-year, $875,000 extension back in June. Though many assumed he was signed to a short-term deal so the team could move him easily, the opposite was true. Instead, he started early preparation for training camp by staying in the USA for the summer.
Kravtsov at Rangers’ Camp
As Vince Mercogliano reported, Kravtsov and Panarin have looked comfortable together during training camp, and often worked alone together. Though the relationship between Kravtsov and the Rangers is in the reparation stage, it seems both sides want to make it work. The Rangers have plenty of forwards in their system but the organization has already burned bridges with Lias Andersson and more recently, Nils Lundkvist, who both requested a trade.
If the club wants to send the message that they are willing to be patient with their young players, they will want to make this arrangement with Kravtsov work.
The time has come for Kravtsov to earn his spot on the Rangers. After all, he was selected by the Rangers because of his unique blend of skills, and now he can prove his talent translates to the NHL, even though most of his development was in Russia.
Kravtsov participated in the Rangers’ opening preseason game against the New York Islanders and against the Boston Bruins in their next game. He was given ample playing time and earned some looks on the first power-play unit.
He didn’t appear nervous but seemed more settled during the second game. He also had a few solid scoring chances in the first game, but he will need to continue working to stand out and earn a roster spot. With a few exhibition games to go, he has the time and talent to make an impression, even if he doesn’t play every game. It seemed like a long time coming, but the rocky relationship between Kravtsov and the Rangers appears to be on the mend.
Rachel is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. She can be followed on Twitter @RachelNHL.