Vitali Kravtsov Returns to North America Following KHL Stint

The saga of Vitali Kravtsov has met yet another stopping point. The New York Rangers’ coveted prospect will be returning to North America following a six-week grace period with the Kontinental Hockey League. The 19-year-old Russian will report to the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League and look to refine his game before he’s eventually promoted to the Rangers. He announced the news on his Instagram, thanking his coaches and fans as he makes his way back to North America.

The Rangers’ ninth-overall selection in the 2018 Entry Draft began the 2019-20 season in North America where he attended training camp and preseason in hopes of breaking the main roster. In four preseason games, he logged a single goal and assist but was often inconsistent on both sides of the puck. That being said, he averaged 16:06 of time-on-ice through that span and was consistently used on the power play. Despite his decent play, he was still sent to Hartford to refine his play and get accustomed to North America ice.

After just five games where he was benched, scratched and logged a single assist, Kravtsov returned to Russia to play for Traktor Chelyabinsk on a temporary loan. He was coming off a 21-point campaign with Traktor and seemed poised for another strong outing. Unfortunately, in his 11 games with them this season, he logged just two goals and one assist.

Vitali Kravtsov, KHL
Vitali Kravtsov, KHL, 2018. (Photo: HC Traktor)

The KHL may be a legitimate league to help develop NHL talent, but the teams are still competitive and trying to win games. Development is not their primary goal. At the expense of the Rangers, Traktor decided to send Kravtsov to their VHL affiliate in Chelmet. He logged two assists in three VHL games but the Rangers were quickly losing control of his development. By bringing him back to North America, the Rangers can have a much stronger hand in his development this year. They enlisted Tuomu Ruuto to assist Kaapo Kakko in his first year of North American hockey, perhaps they use the same strategy for Kravtsov in Hartford.

His entry-level contract included a clause should he have to transfer from Russian and North American clubs. His pathway may not have developed how he or the Rangers wanted but he’ll have a chance to straighten out his winding journey in Hartford.

Where Does He Fit?

His arrival comes at a very opportune time for the Wolf Pack. The roster has changed a fair amount since Kravtsov’s first game with them on Oct. 5. Most notably, the promotions of Filip Chytil and Ryan Lindgren to the Rangers and the arrival of Lias Andersson. Ty Ronning, Shane McBride and Jake Elmer have been assigned to the ECHL while Yegor Rykov has returned from injury and been given meaningful minutes in his first four AHL games. The roster has gone through exponential changes since Kravtsov last suited up for them.

Lias Andersson New York Rangers
Vitali Kravtsov could reunite with Lias Andersson in Hartford (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Additionally, team captain and leading scorer, Steven Fogarty, left the Wolf Pack’s most recent game against the Binghamton Devils. He was taken immediately to the locker room and was in visible pain. His absence would be a huge factor for the team as they continue their promising season.

Fogarty has been skating as the first-line right winger with Andersson as his center. Should he miss time, Kravtsov will have an excellent chance to fill the gap. Since his first stint with Hartford, they’ve lost two of their most reliable offensive threats and could be losing yet another for a significant time.

Kravtsov could be in action as soon as Dec. 13 or 14 when the Wolf Pack take on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in a home-and-home tilt. With a 15-4-7 record, Hartford is playing not just for playoffs, but for the top spot in the entire AHL. Playing meaningful hockey will be a huge benefit for the nearly 20-year-old, even if it’s in a foreign country. With fellow countrymen Rykov and Igor Shestyorkin also in Hartford, the young Russian should find his place in the Rangers organization with enough patience and discipline.