For the last decade the New York Rangers haven’t had to think about goaltending. Henrik Lundqvist has been the starter, and a varied cast of characters have backed him up. That’s the way it has been, and it’s allowed the team to worry about other things.
That’s about to change as Igor Shestyorkin is expected to make his long awaited pilgrimage to North America. With two years left on Lundqvist’s contract the Rangers need to start thinking about how Shestyorkin will fit in.
Shestyorkin’s been referred to by fans as the “Prince” or the “Tsar” as he’s next in line to take over for the “King” Henrik Lundqvist. His contract expires at the end of the current KHL season, and a recent extension of SKA backup, and former Hartford Wolf Pack starter, Magnus Hellberg suggests that this will be Igor’s last season there.
Magnus Hellberg has extended his contract w/ SKA for another three years. Have to think that's semi-confirmation that Igor Shestyorkin will not be sticking around beyond this season.— Alex Nunn (@aj_ranger) February 15, 2019
Things can obviously change, but there’s enough evidence to suggest Shestyorkin is headed to North American in 2019. The Rangers will be in the second full year of their rebuild next season, but how he’ll fit in is unknown at this point.
Soon... pic.twitter.com/Vl1Cvm2kTj— Tom Urtz Jr. (9 Days Until NHL Trade Deadline) (@TomUrtzJr) February 16, 2019
When this graphic was shared on Twitter, there was naturally a lot of excitement. He’s someone who has been bandied about for year, and his numbers are outrageous. When seeing a stat line that shows a total of just 9 losses, it’s normal to question whether or not he’s simply a product of the system.
Alex Nunn watches (and GIFs for all of us) a ton of European hockey including the KHL. As someone that’s watched a lot of him in his KHL career, I asked him for his opinion Shestyorkin.
SKA are one of the very best teams in the league. Score a lot of goals, create a lot of chances and a win a lot of games by large margins. But they’re not great defensively. They give up odd-man rushes, turn the puck over in their own end and they’re pretty soft physically in front of the net. They control the puck for large periods but without it there’s not a ton of coordination to their defensive game. Particularly noticeable against the better teams who can capitalize on that more.
When asked whether SKA has treated Igor like a giant safety net, Nunn responded “Pretty much. It’s the same for Hellberg and was for Koskinen before that too. If the goalie has a bad day then 4-0 can quickly become 4-3 with the chances they allow in most games.”
“I think the main thing that stands out for Shestyorkin and several Russian goalies is they are all super flexible/athletic but also conservative. They can make reactionary saves and recover but don’t often get extremely out of position, like Ryan Miller if he learned to not come flying out of his net for approaches like an utter lunatic.”
Shestyorkin’s game was also broken down by Greg Balloch of In Goal Magazine just over a year ago, and compared to New York Islanders’ goalie prospect Ilya Sorokin. The piece broke each goaltender down in a number of categories to answer the question of “Which goaltender has a better shot at translating to the North American game?” The answer to that question was, “Overall, Shestyorkin looks to be the safer bet based on his mature positional play and incredible post-integration.”
Hearing that Shestyorkin has the tools to make a good transition to North America is encouraging, but it’s still worth looking at other European goalies and the road they took to the NHL to get a baseline of what could happen with Igor. This is more of process than results as in “goalie X played in this league for two years. They then played in AHL before making NHL at age xx and so on.” The list includes eight goalies of varying backgrounds from different time periods to paint a wide spread.
Before comparing Shestyorkin to other goalies, here’s a look at his career numbers to date.
- Selected No. 118 overall in 2014 draft by New York Rangers.
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
- Selected No. 19 overall in 2012 draft by Tampa Bay Lightning.
- Spent two seasons in Russia, one primarily playing in KHL.
- Came to North America at age 20 and spent time between AHL and NHL for two seasons.
- First full season came at age 22 in which he posted a goals saved above average of -0.23
- Second season showed improvement with a GSAA of 3.19, a save percentage of .931, and 2.20 goals against average
- This season he’s posted a GSAA of 9.69, with a SV% of .931 and a 2.19 GAA
All statistics are at 5-on-5
Sergei Bobrovsky, Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets
- Was undrafted and signed as free agent by Philadelphia Flyers.
- Won starting job over Brian Boucher in rookie season posting a GSAA of 0.88 along with a SV% of 0.927 and a GAA of 2.23, but lost it after rough performance in the playoffs.
- Became backup after Flyers’ signed Ilya Bryzgalov to nine-year contract and was limited to just 29 games. Traded after season to Columbus Blue Jackets for 2012 second-round pick, 2012 fourth-round pick, and 2013 fourth-round pick.
- In first season with Blue Jackets, Bobrovksy won starting job over Steve Mason and was ultimately rewarded with Vezina Trophy. Finished season with GSAA of 9.83, a SV% of 0.941, and a GAA of 1.76.
- Has held starting job in Columbus ever since and won his second Vezina Trophy in 2016-17 season.
Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
- Selected No. 21 overall in 2005 draft by Toronto Maple Leafs; traded to Boston for Andrew Raycroft on June 24, 2006.
- Spent first two seasons in Finland posting decent results before coming to North America at age 20.
- Had decent results with Providence Bruins and four spot appearances with the NHL Bruins.
- Second season in AHL saw bit of regression statistically; he recorded first NHL shutout at age 21.
- Third season saw him seize opportunity while Tim Thomas — coming off a Vezina Trophy season — struggled. Rask posted GSAA of 10.80, with a SV% of 0.936 and GAA of 1.77.
- Fourth season Thomas returned to form — won second Vezina Trophy and first and only Conn Smythe Trophy — and Rask was limited to just 29 starts.
- Fifth NHL season saw Rask serve as Thomas’ backup for final time, as the starter sat out the 2012-13 lockout shortened season.
- Since becoming full-time starter, Rask has gone 210-110-46 with a .921 SV% and a 2.28 GAA.
Frederik Andersen, Anaheim Ducks and Toronto Maple Leafs
- First selected 187th overall in 2010, then 87th overall in 2012 as a re-entry by Anaheim Ducks. This factor delayed his move to North America.
- Spent a season in Denmark and season in Sweden before coming to North America at age 23 and posting solid results for Norfolk Admirals at the AHL level.
- Made NHL debut at age 24; appeared in 28 games and posted encouring results including a GSAA of 1.42, SV% of 0.928, and 2.23 GAA.
- Won starting job in 2014-15 and posted GSAA of 1.72, with a SV% of 0.921 and a 2.16 GAA.
- Platooned with John Gibson in final season in Anaheim while posting GSAA of 4.69, SV% of 0.930, and 1.95 GAA.
- Traded to Toronto Maple Leafs on June 20, 2016 in exchange for No. 30 pick in 2016 NHL Draft and a 2017 second-round pick. In first season with Leafs, posted a GSAA of 7.13, SV% of 0.927, and 2.30 GAA.
- Andersen’s road to the NHL was longer than previous goalies, and he went through a situation where he had starting role, lost it, and then was ultimately traded.
Kari Lehtonen, Atlanta Thrashers
- Selected No. 2 overall in 2002 NHL draft by Atlanta Thrashers.
- Spent post-draft season in Finland. Played four games at NHL level after coming to North America and posted average results at AHL level.
- NHL was locked out for 2004-05 season, and Lehtonen had strong season in AHL winning nearly 40 games.
- Next three seasons saw Lehtonen play at NHL level posting middling results, although he had strong GSAA each year — 4.88 in 05-06, 13.62 in 06-07, and 10.71 in 07-08.
- For remainder of career, Lehtonen has been a pretty average goalie statistically with a 0.912 SV% and 2.67 GAA, while posting record of 235-172-53.
Jacob Markstrom, Florida Panthers and Vancouver Canucks
- Selected 31st overall — first pick of second round — in 2008 draft by Florida Panthers.
- Spent post draft season in Sweden before coming over to North America.
- First pro season saw Markstrom struggle at AHL level, and in only NHL start.
- Second pro season featured a rebound at AHL level and slightly better results at NHL level.
- Third pro season was during lockout shortened season and Markstrom once again was average in minors and NHL level.
- Traded from Panthers to Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Roberto Luongo and Shawn Matthias in fourth pro season. Markstrom played four games at NHL level after trade to Vancouver and posted GSAA of -3.34, SV% of 0.867, and 2.97 GAA.
- Markstrom got on track in fifth pro season with exceptional results at AHL level with Utica Comets. Spent three games at NHL level with underwhelming results including -1.42 GSAA, SV% of 0.871, and 3.40 GAA.
- Since that point, Markstrom has spent just two games in AHL and theremainder at NHL level. Markstrom’s record is 68-68-20 over that stretch with a .912 SV% and 2.72 GAA.
Jusse Saros, Nashville Predators
- Selected No. 99 overall in 2013 NHL Draft by Nashville Predators.
- Spent two years post draft in Finland, posting solid results despite having an average record of 29-24-16.
- Made jump to AHL at age 20 and posted strong results with Milwaukee Admirals. Split time the following season between minors and NHL level.
- Backed up Pekka Rinne in 2016-17 posting a GSAA of 0.25, with a SV% of 0.927 and a GAA of 2.07.
- In second year as backup posted -2.23 GSAA, with SV% of 0.932 and 2.17 GAA. That season Rinne made 59 starts and posted GSAA of 2.23, a 0.937 SV%, and a 1.92 GAA.
- This season Saros is in third year as backup and has a GSAA of -2.36, a SV% of .924, and a 2.40 GAA.
- He’s been on a bit of a roller coaster and has had a similar start to career in terms of usage as Rask sans one year as starter. Rinne turns 37 in November and has a new two-year deal worth $5 million a season kick in on July 1. It will be interesting to see how the Predators balance his workload so Saros can show what he’s capable of once he’s in a rhythm starting games on a consistent basis.
Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
The inclusion of Lundqvist — selected No. 205 overall in 2000 draft — is for context, and not for actual comparison because that sets up unrealistic expectations for the incoming prospect goaltender.
The one interesting thing is that Lundqvist spent ages 19 to 22 playing in a professional men’s league, and his pièce de résistance came during the 2004-05 NHL lockout season. His efforts that year saw him win league MVP as voted on by players (equivalent to Ted Lindsay Trophy), Sweden’s player of the year (equivalent to Hart Trophy), goaltender of the year, and a league championship.
The rest is history as Lundqvist broke onto the scene coming out of the lockout and slowly but surely became a household name.
Conversely, Shestyorkin has spent the last three season playing in a professional men’s league at an elite level, and he’s won a Gagarin Cup (KHL’s Stanley Cup) and has a chance to win another one this season.
So now that you’ve seen the stats, I think of the goalies listed there, Saros, Andersen, Vasilevskiy and Rask are most interesting (in that order).
Saros first and foremost because he spent his time overseas and then slightly eased into things before ultimately becoming a full-time backup at age 23. Andersen also spent two years in Europe and established himself as a very good AHL goalie at age 23 before bursting onto the scene at age 24. Then there’s Vasilevskiy who came to North America at age 20 and spent a two season shuffling between the AHL and NHL before getting a baptism by fire at age 22. He was given more leash the following season and now anyone can see what he’s done this season.
Rask is listed last because his development could be described as a bit of a slow burn. He did his time in Finland, came to North America at age 20, and spent the next two years primarily in the AHL putting up decent results. He pounced on an opportunity at age 22, and after losing his temporary starting spot, he was ultimately relegated to the role of backup until Thomas was out of the picture. From age 25 on, he’s been a pretty solid goalie.
So that leaves us with Shestyorkin who turns 24 on December 30. Given what we know about these goalies, Henrik Lundqvist, Benoit Allaire, and the Hartford Wolf Pack, it makes sense to give Igor every opportunity to win the backup job. He will have a chance to learn from a future Hall of Fame goalie and the best goalie coach in the league, and that could put him in a position in which he’s capable of starting 25 or 30 games.
You might be saying, well what about Alexandar Georgiev? That’s a fair point.
We don’t know a ton about Georgiev, and that is why him playing the remainder of this season is very important. Contractually the Rangers have the flexibility to move him between New York and Hartford — much like they have done this year based on the schedule — and that’s something that should happen next year. Heck, there could be brief moments next season in which the Rangers are carrying three goalies, and in this scenario Lundqvist doesn’t even need to dress at all so the tandem would briefly consist of Georgiev and Shestyorkin. This can work with someone like Hank who is an older goalie and has no reason to feel unsure about his position on the team. In recent years the Islanders were a team to rotate three goalies, but they were in a much different place than the Rangers.
I asked Nick about how the Rangers should juggle their goalies next season, and here’s what he had to say.
Bottom line for me is every goalie will have an adjustment period, the Rangers are in a favorable position to let him (Shestyorkin) adjust in his own time. With the greatest goalie in the modern game to mentor and possibly the best coach too, as well as a capable enough backup for a mediocre team in Georgiev. The play is to have him compete with Georgiev for the “super backup” role next season (25-35 games based on performance). Then hopefully he takes it and runs. And if he falters you don’t send him down, you just shuttle Georgiev up and down
Nick went even further talking about what he’s seen thus far with Georgiev and how Shestyorkin should be more of a priority.
I don’t think Georgiev has shown anything to suggest he is a regular NHL goaltender. Maybe he has a career as a backup. Maybe. Still young and there’s development but i just don’t see the high end save making ability. I’d give 25-35 games to Shesty without question and then give Georgiev scraps or if Shesty really falters cut into his time. And I’d be fine going a small stretch where Hank doesn’t dress, just for rest. Maybe he doesn’t go on a west trip or whatever. But it cannot be determined by performance. That doesn’t help any of them. It should just be planned rest.
Ultimately the Rangers will have time when Shestyorkin arrives in New York, and once he’s here the organization is going to put him in a position to succeed. The last thing they’d want is for him to end up returning to Russia. Shestyorkin isn’t the only goalie prospect of note in the Rangers’ organization, but he is the most important. Goalies — outside of Henrik Lundqvist — have shown to be voodoo that are hard to get a read on. Lundqvist only has a few years left in his NHL career, and finding his successor is very important.
There may never be a goaltender like Lundqvist again, and that’s what makes replacing him so difficult. No matter who it is, that goalie is going to be measured by what Lundqvist did. But that can’t be what happens because you can’t measure Shestyorkin, Tyler Wall, Adam Huska, or whoever ends up standing in the blue paint against a generational player like Lundqvist. But what the Rangers can do is give whoever they feel is the heir apparent enough time to learn from Lundqvist and Allaire to ensure as smooth a transition as possible.
It is easy to look at what Shestyorkin has accomplished and get excited. During a rebuild you should be excited about legitimate top prospects and have optimism. But with that said; there’s a reason they play the games. This is not to say that he’s going to be a bust and that you should lower your expectations, but there must be patience. There are numerous examples of European goalies of different walks of life who posted results all across the board before hitting their stride.
There is every reason to believe that Shestyorkin can come to North America and be a starting goalie. The level at which he performs that role in the AHL and NHL is to be determined, but it will require both patience from Shestyorkin, the Rangers, and the fan base.
Stats via EN.KHL.RU, Elite-Prospects, Hockey-Reference, Liiga, Natural Stat Trick, New York Rangers’ media guide, Quant Hockey, SHL.se, theAHL.com, Toronto Maple Leafs’ media guide, Vancouver Canucks’ media guide