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Vitaly Kravtsov Returning to Hartford Wolf Pack

NHL: SEP 21 Preseason - Rangers at Flyers Photo by Nicole Fridling/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Vitaly Kravtsov is heading back to North America to return to the Hartford Wolf Pack.

Kravtsov himself took to Instagram to thank fans, and it makes sense given the reported news.

After starting the year in training camp with the New York Rangers, Kravtsov was one of the final cuts as the team finalized their opening night roster, and was sent to their AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack. There, he tallied one assist in three games, was a healthy scratch for a game, and benched at times in the three games he played. Adam Herman analyzed his first few games in Hartford back in October.

In late October, Kravtsov exercised his KHL out clause to return to Traktor Chelyabinsk. The move was one he made in conjunction with the Rangers, and they were supportive of his decision.

Since he signed his entry-level contract with the Rangers this summer, he was loaned to the KHL with the understanding he could be summoned to return to North America at any time.

While a return to the KHL seemed like a less than ideal outcome, the idea was that the 19 year old would still be able to develop with Traktor, and do so in a more familiar setting, with the support of the Rangers. Last year, with Traktor, Kravtsov scored 21 points in 50 games, plus two in four playoff games. In his draft year, he scored seven points in 35 regular season games, along with 11 points in 16 postseason matches.

There seemed to be some resentment on Kravtsov’s end about his first North American experience, which Herman outlined after his departure for the KHL.

Still, Kravtsov does seem to hold some resentment over the experience. In an interview with Russian media company Sports Express, Kravtsov voices a few gripes. He seems upset that the Rangers accused him of not working hard enough after his pulse on the exercise bike did not reach 180 beats-per-minute. There’s some hint of irritation at how a defenseman (Brendan Smith) is playing the wing on the third line and how that line is used for checking rather than skill. He feels the need to return to Chelyabinsk in order to play a style he is more familiar with and return to feeling confident about his play.

Though there’s no bomb-drop here, the number of complaints and their varied nature add up to a situation that is not ideal. However, it’s important to note some extremely important cultural context. Athletes based in North America are taught to bite their lips and not rock the boat. Any criticisms are to be reserved for private conversations. That’s why the Minnesota Wild’s Jason Zucker was forced to apologize after making an extremely obvious and banal observation that everyone, including the team’s coaches, had to do better if the Wild were to start winning games. Rest assured that there are many players in every single organization who are annoyed about a few things they have experienced, but societal expectations result in them rarely getting voiced. If, say, Adam Fox was to publicly voice issues to the New York Post, it would be a big deal not only because of the content of his remarks, but also the general fact that he felt it was a big enough deal to break with societal norms and escalate the issue publicly.

The Russian attitude towards this is extremely different. The threshold for crossing the line with public comments is tremendously higher and there’s less pressure to suppress what is on one’s mind. While his remarks may hardly be music to one’s ear, this isn’t the cause for alarm it might appear to be. In his mind, he is not being rebellious or insidious, but rather casually stating his experience. There are also multiple instances where he refuses to take the interviewer’s bait and insists that some things should remain private. He also shoulders the majority of the blame for his inability to make the NHL roster.

Kravtsov’s return to the KHL didn’t go according to plan either. Last week, he was sent down to their VHL affiliate for the second time, and it was for more than just playing time during the KHL’s international break after skating only one shift in his last game before the demotion.

While much that has occurred with Kravtsov to this point has sparked overreactions, our Joe Fortunato explained why the best solution moving forward would be a proactive one from Rangers’ general manager Jeff Gorton: taking control of the situation and bringing Kravtsov back to North America.

The Rangers are invested in Kravtsov because of his dynamic potential, but the winger struggled to start this season — both mentally and physically. Some of that comes with age, and with Kravtsov turning 20 in 11 days he will be the youngest player on the Pack’s roster, joining Joey Keane as the only other player born in the year 1999. It also comes with moving to a foreign country, where he didn’t speak the language, and transitioning to North American ice.

This return to the Wolf Pack offers him a fresh opportunity regain his confidence, get back on track, and continue on his path to becoming a key part of this team.