Game after game, analysts and fans across the NHL have reminded those who follow the New York Rangers just how lucky they’ve been with their goaltending. Indeed Rangers legend, Henrik Lundqvist, handed the reins to Igor Shesterkin, who recently won the 2021-22 Vezina Trophy for the league’s best goaltender. The goalie duo only had a partial season together, but it was significant as Shesterkin always admired his predecessor.
There are not enough words to describe what Lundqvist means to the organization and the fanbase, and it’s only fitting that the next in line is already a star. It’s a massive role to fill, as Lundqvist spent 15 seasons with the Rangers and is considered one of the best goaltenders of this generation. But with a Vezina already on his resume in just three (incomplete) seasons, it is safe to say Shesterkin fills the role just fine.
Lundqvist & Shesterkin’s Early Start
When Lundqvist was selected in the seventh round (205th overall in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft), he played for Frolunda in the Swedish Junior League and worked hard for the next five years to join the Rangers for the 2005-06 season, when he played 53 games for a 30-12-9 record. Those 30 wins set a club record for victories by a rookie. He also ranked fourth in the league with a .922 save percentage (SV%) and fifth with a 2.24 goals-against average (GAA), finishing the season as a Vezina finalist.
The Swede was also a Vezina finalist in each of his first three seasons and landed in the top six in voting in each of his first 10 seasons. He was finally awarded the trophy after the 2011-12 campaign and finished third in voting for the Hart Trophy, awarded to the league’s MVP thanks to a 39-18-5 record, a .930 SV%, and a stunning 1.97 GAA.
More than a decade later, Shesterkin was selected in the fourth round of the 2014 Draft (118th overall). Though he looked up to Lundqvist, he approaches the job differently as he is calmer and more collected in the net, but with a similar athleticism and work ethic to Lundqvist.
In his rookie 2019-20 season, Shesterkin played 12 games due to a late-season call-up. Of course, he settled in under difficult circumstances as the league dealt with the COVID pandemic. Regardless, his skill was apparent, with a 10-2 record in those 12 games, as he gradually took on a larger role until he became the clear no. 1.
The Russian was also up for the Hart Trophy last season though he finished third in voting amongst the finalists. In 53 games, he led all goalies with a .935 SV% and a 2.09 GAA.
Comparing the Early Career Numbers
In Lundqvist’s first three seasons he played 195 games for a 104-58-27 record and a .917 SV%, 2.27 GAA, and 17 shutouts. Though Shesterkin is known for his ability to play the puck, his predecessor was also quite smart with it, as Lundqvist collected two assists in his first three seasons.
Shesterkin has played 100 games with a 62-29-7 record along with a .928 SV% and 2.31 GAA. Within those games, he has registered eight shutouts and also picked up his first assist. The sample size is still relatively small, but there is no denying his talent, as he still has the potential to reach another level in his game. If his career lasts as long as Lundqvist’s, he will have plenty of time to prove that.
Looking Ahead at Shesterkin’s Upcoming Season
Shesterkin and the Rangers have a lot to prove this season. Their elimination in the third round of the postseason exposed the weak areas of the team and though he struggled in the first round against the Pittsburgh Penguins, goaltending was not the Rangers’ Achilles heel.
As the young Rangers look to have a stronger regular season and make a further playoff run in 2022-23, the experience from Shesterkin’s first official playoff encounter will be a major tool as he continues his career in New York. He has served as somewhat of a backbone for the developing team so far, and while the skaters work on chemistry and sort out other kinks, I’m sure we can expect the same from him again this season.
Rachel is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. She can be followed on Twitter @RachelNHL.