The New York Rangers have four prospects in the KHL, and three weeks into the season is a good time to analyze first impressions.
2018 ninth-overall pick Vitali Kravtsov has not produced as one would hope through eight games. The Russian winger has just two goals and one assist through eight games. However, this does not properly account for his overall performance and the circumstances he is existing within.
Traktor, his team, are currently enduring a mini crisis of sorts. The perennial contenders have just three wins through eight games and have been outscored 31-to-16. Defensively, they are a mess, and they have taken a ton of penalties. The defense has tremendous trouble moving the puck up the ice as well. As a result, it’s been difficult for the team’s top offensive players to establish consistent offensive zone time.
It’s been particularly frustrating for Kravtsov specifically. He has an incredible ability to create offense out of nothing, and has done so when given the opportunity. But puck luck has not been on his side so far (Kravtsov is #74 in all of the upcoming videos).
Vitali Kravtsov with a hell of a deke to create a scoring chance for himself. pic.twitter.com/pSUE6PXlyU— Adam Herman (@AdamZHerman) September 4, 2018
What’s more, teammates have flubbed great setups from Kravtsov on multiple occasions.
This SHOULD have been an assist for Vitali Kravtsov. Somehow, Alexander Rybakov did not bury this. pic.twitter.com/hNeGshsqHU— Adam Herman (@AdamZHerman) September 11, 2018
What has really impressed me about Kravtsov, and Alex agrees, is his work away from the puck. The narratives which surround skilled Russian players are typically lazy, but in Kravtsov’s case they absolutely do not apply. He commits on the forecheck and, even at the end of his shifts, will bust his tail to cover on the backcheck.
In essence, there is no reason to be concerned about Kravtsov despite this early struggle to get on the scoresheet. Even despite a sub-optimal team situation right now, he is generating offensive chances for both himself and his teammates, and should he continue to do it then the puck will eventually find the net more often. He’s also putting in the work on the defensive side as well, and even as just an 18-year-old he has proven he can be a responsible player. While Kravtsov’s lack of production is a bit frustrating, not to mention Traktor’s early season struggles, some turbulence isn’t necessarily the worst thing. Learning to persevere through that will make him a better player
The other Rangers’ forward prospect in the KHL is Patrik Virta, and he has had a bit more success in registering points for HC Slovan. The 22-year-old has five points in nine games, which is hardly earth-shattering,., but nonetheless very respectable production given that the KHL is a step up from Liiga in Finland, where he played last season. Virta has also demonstrated his worth away from the puck, showing strong defensive awareness in the offensive and neutral zones to create turnovers and put his team on the attack (look for #11).
Virta started the season on Slovan’s third line, but has gained the trust of the coaching staff and has been promoted to the top line in recent games. The Rangers have to sign Virta by June or else they lose his rights (UPDATE: Because of Virta’s move to the KHL, the expiration date on Virta’s exclusive rights is wipes away and the Rangers hold now hold his rights indefinitely.) so this is an important season for him. Of course it’s still very early, but if he continues on this trajectory then he will justify a contract.
Yegor Rykov, the defenseman acquired from the Devils at last season’s trading deadline, has pretty much had no season at all. The defenseman is owned by SKA, who are loaded with talent, and that has created a problem. SKA’s coaching staff very heavily favors veterans, and as such Rykov has been unable to see the ice. He has played one game in the VHL, which is sort of like Russia’s AHL equivalent, but otherwise has not played this season. According to SKA’s coaching staff, his absence is not injury-related.
This can not endure for much longer without it becoming a massive problem. I consider Rykov to be the team’s third-best defense prospect, and he needs to get playing time in a competitive environment or else it will harm his development. There are rumors SKA are exploring a trade, and there are a number of KHL teams for whom he could play top-four minuts - Kravtov’s Traktor included. He could also have his contract
bought out mutually terminated, and at that point perhaps the Rangers could sign him and bring him over to North America. In any case, one would hope this gets figured out soon.
Lastly, it’s business as usual for goaltender Igor Shestyorkin. He has split SKA’s goaltending duties with former Ranger Magnus Hellberg, and through four games he has an absurd .960 save percentage, plus two shutouts. As mentioned in the past, this is of course great, but SKA are a very good team and so these numbers are definitely inflated to an extent.