It is incredibly rare that a 21-year-old player hits the trade block before the end of their entry-level contract (ELC). When it does happen, it is often because that player hasn’t played many meaningful games in the NHL at that point, and the player would like that to change. That was the case with Lias Andersson before the New York Rangers traded him to the Los Angeles Kings, and now that’s the case with another Rangers forward: Vitali Kravtsov.
Drafted with the ninth pick of the 2018 draft, Kravtsov is a veteran of just 20 games in the NHL, with all of them coming in the latter half of the 2020-21 season. After recording four points through those 20 games, the assumption around the Big Apple was that the Russian winger would have the inside track on securing a roster spot with the Rangers to start the 2021-22 season. After all, that seemed to be the rationale behind moving fellow Russian winger Pavel Buchnevich to the St. Louis Blues during the offseason (From “Blues acquire Pavel Buchnevich from Rangers for Sammy Blais, second-round pick”, The Athletic, 7/23/21).
That all changed when the Rangers announced their opening night roster and Kravtsov was nowhere to be found. After the team assigned him to Hartford of the American Hockey League (AHL), he refused the assignment, leading the Rangers to suspend him indefinitely. Now it appears that the player has returned to Russia where he will wait until the Rangers are able to trade him somewhere that will give him the NHL opportunity he desires.
One thing seems clear: the team that acquires Kravtsov needs to have roster flexibility so that they can give him a proper look in the NHL. However, they don’t necessarily need to have that opening right now:
For a team like the Detroit Red Wings whose lineup is pretty set but also has room in the system to add young players with upside, a player like Kravtsov should be appealing. His willingness to start in the AHL means they wouldn’t have to disrupt their lineup right away, and they would add a hungry 21-year-old that wants to prove himself at the NHL level. Depending on the cost, the Red Wings should be all over this situation.
Red Wings Already Giving Opportunities
The success of a rebuild is determined by whether or not the team can add young difference makers over the course of the rebuild. Most of the time, a team will add these kind of players through the draft, but sometimes there’s an opportunity to add them through other means. Just two years ago, the Red Wings were able to acquire a then-23-year-old Robby Fabbri from the St. Louis Blues with the intention of giving him an opportunity to play the kind of minutes he wasn’t seeing with his previous team. Since then, he has scored 52 points through 84 games with the Red Wings.
The Red Wings currently have (technically) three rookies on the team (Moritz Seider, Lucas Raymond and Alex Nedeljkovic), but they still have plenty of room for youth and upside in their lineup. After all, with prospects like Joe Veleno and Jonatan Berggren waiting in the wings, the expectation is that the Red Wings will continue to work young talent into their lineup as the season goes on. They are at the phase of their rebuild where it’s not only important to collect young players and prospects, but they also have to give them an opportunity to start making a difference at the NHL level. With an average age of 26.3 (per CapFriendly), this is the youngest the Red Wings have been in quite some time, and they’re still probably looking to get even younger.
In the case of Kravtsov, we’re looking at a player that has played 148 games in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), recording 30 goals and 55 points along the way. It should also be noted that he started playing in the KHL as a 17-year-old, a year before his draft year. In the AHL, he played 39 games during the 2019-20 season, collecting six goals and 15 points. While these totals don’t really jump out at you, they do show that he has had some success playing against some of the better hockey players in the world, starting at a very young age.
While Kravtsov hasn’t found that same success at the NHL level so far, it is debatable as to whether or not he has been put in a position to have success. With an offensive-zone start percentage just south of 50%, as well as an average time on-ice last season of just 12:24, you can argue that not only has he not been given enough ice time to do much with, but he also isn’t starting in an advantageous part of the ice to do what he does best: produce offense.
What Kravtsov Can Bring to the Red Wings
Offense. Since before Kravtsov was drafted, he was heralded for his ability to not only create plays, but finish them too. In seven games during the 2018-19 World Juniors tournament, he recorded six points in seven games while wearing an “A” on his sweater as an alternate captain. While the defensive side of his game actually isn’t that bad, his game lives and dies based on his ability to create offense. At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, he also offers pretty good size to go along with his offensive capabilities.
If you’re reading this and thinking “okay, he offers offensive upside…but then how come he hasn’t really shown that he can score in North America?”, there is some hope to found. Among Ranger players to play 20 games or more last season, his PDO – a measurement that essentially measures a player’s “luck” on the ice – was the lowest on the team (per Natural Stat Trick). There’s also the fact that, considering there were players such as Buchnevich and Kaapo Kakko ahead of him on the depth chart, he wasn’t able to consistently play with the best playmakers that the Rangers have to offer.
Should the Red Wings acquire Kravtsov, he would likely begin his tenure with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL. A top line of Berggren, Veleno and Kravtsov would not only provide the Griffins with one of the most talented top lines in the AHL, but it would also put three of the top 33 picks in the 2018 draft together; in fact, that’s a line that could transfer over the NHL at some point as well. While in the AHL, he could also provide a sense of familiarity to fellow Russian Kirill Tyutyayev, who is in the midst of his first season in North America.
Should Kravtsov make the jump to the NHL, he would provide competition on the right side of the forward group, currently highlighted by 19-year-old Raymond, Filip Zadina and Adam Erne. With Kravtsov, Zadina and Raymond all under the age of 22, the Red Wings could head into the next decade with impressive scoring power secured on the right wing. This would present lineup options, and it would potentially free up the Red Wings to dip into their pool of talent on the right side in a trade to address a need elsewhere. Even if Kravtsov doesn’t have a long-term future with Detroit, this situation is a buy-low opportunity to bring him in, coach him up, help him find success, and then sell-high on him down the road. All of this, of course, would be contingent upon Kravtsov realizing his potential.
What Would the Rangers Want?
According to a few different sources, including the Darren Dreger tweet included at the beginning of this article, the Rangers want a player or prospect that has top six upside in return for Kravtsov. That makes sense – the Russian winger has similar upside. However, given all the chatter that the Rangers are in on Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel, it can be assumed that the Blueshirts would prefer to land a center in any prospective deal.
The best center the Red Wings have to offer outside of their roster is Veleno, though that is more than likely a non-starter for Detroit. This is where things get tricky; while the Red Wings have immense depth in their prospect pool on the defensive side of things, they are not as deep on offense. There’s a general lack of forwards with top six upside in their pool, and the ones they have are likely off limits unless they’re part of a bigger deal.
One prospect that could be on the table is Theodor Niederbach, who is currently playing over in the SHL. Drafted 51st overall in 2020, the Swedish forward has the ability to play all forward positions, and while he doesn’t scream top six potential, there is middle six potential there as a player who is good at a little bit of everything. Would Niederbach plus a conditional pick based on Kravtsov’s performance get the deal done?
It’s Up to the Rangers
Going back to those Eichel rumors, the (most likely) preferred outcome for the Rangers is that they use Kravtsov as part of a package to land a top line player like the former captain of the Sabres. The ball is ultimately in their court, and they can essentially name their price while Kravtsov waits back home in Russia. However, unless they’re content with the idea of him essentially becoming a dead asset, they will want to move him sooner rather than later. The longer this situation drags out, the less bargaining power the Rangers ultimately have.
The Red Wings, led by general manager Steve Yzerman, should absolutely do their due diligence and see what kind of offer they can put together to entice the Rangers. Kravtsov would add another highly-touted and highly-skilled winger to the team’s collection of talent, and it shouldn’t cost them too much to get it done. That being said, they don’t need to force the issue here. If another team wants to overpay to add him right now, let them. If the price has to be right, however, the Red Wings’ depth at right wing could soon look very, very nice.
I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.