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Breaking Down Vitali Kravtsov’s Post-Draft Season

For now #KravtsovWatch rolls on, but what can be expected of the Blueshirts’ 2018 No. 9 overall pick?

A look into the future of Vitali Kravtsov in a New York Rangers uniform.

Vitali Kravtsov won’t be suiting up for the New York Rangers this season, but now is as good a time as any to reflect on his post-draft season, and get a sense of what the organization can expect once he is officially a Broadway Blueshirt.

Once #KravtsovWatch really began, it was key to consider context when evaluating his post-draft season. Fifty games later, we can break down his year with that in mind.

The Rangers’ 2018 first rounder suited up in 50 games for Traktor Chelyabinsk and scored eight goals while adding 13 assists for 21 points. His expected NHL points over an 82-game season, using Emmanuel Perry’s conversion factors, would be 25.7. He also led the KHL in raw U20 scoring, and was second in points per game with a rate of 0.42.

Kristian Vesalainen, drafted 24th overall in 2017 by Winnipeg Jets, had a P/GP average of 0.55 after posting a line of 6-11-17 in 31 games with Jokerit. Kravtsov’s fellow 2018 draft pick Grigori Denisenko, drafted 15th overall by the Florida Panthers, tallied six points in 25 games and had a P/GP of 0.24 with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.

As I explained in my deep dive on Igor Shestyorkin, it’s hard to look at stats in European leagues and compare players at face value. Parity is an issue in the KHL as there are teams who can toss around bushels of rubles with no issue and there are others who need to obsess over every little deal. That’s why context is a key part of player evaluation.

@StatBoy_Steven tracked Kravtsov’s production this season in the context of how his offense factored in to the amount of goals Traktor scored while he was in the lineup, and then did the same for other notable players who spent their post-draft season in the KHL.

Although Kravtsov comes in fourth in raw points for his post-draft season, he ranked first in contribution relative to team goals scored. Kravtsov happened to play on a team that wasn’t an offensive juggernaut. He finished third in team scoring which was only six points behind the team leader, Ryan Stoa, who tallied 27 points in 59 games played. The fact that he was as productive as he was on a weak team, where opponents could specifically key in on him as a top player, certainly stands out.

Compare that to Jokerit in 2017-18 who were led by Nicklas Jensen with 37 points, followed by Eli Tolvanen in second with 36 points, Peter Regin with 30 points, Brian O’Neill with 30 points, and so on. All in all, Jokerit had 11 players with at least 15 points, nine with at least 20 points, seven with at least 25 points, and four with at least 30 points. TL/DR: they had multiple players who could contribute, but no standout scorer such as Nikita Gusev (82 points in 62 games) for SKA St. Petersburg this season.

Numbers are numbers, and it’s easy for me to look at them from a computer screen sitting in New York and feel good about them. But those numbers only tell so much. Alex Nunn and Tobias Pettersson are Foreign Correspondents for Blueshirt Banter, and both watched Kravtsov play this season. So, I asked them a few basic questions for some additional context on Kravtsov’s 2018-19 campaign.

Tom Urtz Jr: How you would you grade Kravtsov’s season on an A to F scale?

Alex Nunn: I’d comfortably give him an A. There really aren’t any glaring things to pick at when trying to downgrade from that. Kravtsov was consistent for the most part with very few dips in play and he continued to create chances for teammates who quite often couldn’t finish. His defensive game was excellent all season, and though I’d like to have seen him shoot the puck a little more, there weren’t many egregiously bad decisions on that front.

Tobias Petterson: A-

TU: What stood out this year vs. Kravtsov’s time in the KHL last year?

AN: I think his confidence is the biggest thing. He gets the puck on his stick and always has that belief to try things and be aggressive in possession. He’s never passive and doesn’t waste time. It’s always been a strong attribute, but you can really tell that Kravtsov carried a lot of momentum and self-belief into this season after a breakout playoff run last year.

TP: This year he was the offensive catalyst of a really weak offensive team. Last year he was a depth player for the regular season and a top 6 complementary piece in the playoffs on a strong offensive team.

TU: What was Kravtsov’s biggest strength this season?

AN: His stick-handling, skating, and passing are obvious, but I think the way he processes the game from moment to moment is so important to everything he does. A lot of players have those tools, but Kravtsov really ties them together effectively and that was evident all season when transitioning the puck from A to B, or navigating traffic to reach dangerous spots. He makes quick decisions and adjusts so well to obstacles.

TP: The way he kept creating chances both for himself and his teammates even when he got very little support, the ability to drive offense in the KHL as a teenager is really impressive.

TU: What was Kravtsov’s biggest weakness this season?

AN: I hesitate to say physical play is a weakness because it really isn’t part of Kravtsov’s makeup. He can get rubbed out in board battles easily at times, but his perimeter game is built on positioning, smarts, and good stick work rather than engaging body-to-body all that much.

(In this clip, Kravtsov takes a big hit along the boards but continues on with his shift and eventually scores a goal.)

TP: There weren’t any glaring weaknesses in my eyes.

TU: Do you think Kravtsov is ready for the NHL?

AN: I think he could play in the NHL now with the understanding that room needs to be allowed for adjustments and necessary growing pains. Kravtsov has shown before that he can hold his own on the smaller ice without any real issue and offensively his game is absolutely ready.

TP: I think he’s ready for the NHL.

TU: Do you think it is NHL or bust this season for Kravtsov? Will he see some time in the AHL or if he’s not on the roster will he return to the KHL?

AN: Definitely not. The best course of action may be to start him in the AHL and I certainly don’t think that should be perceived as a failure. His game is NHL-ready but he needs to make the obvious adjustments and taking a little time to do that with Hartford is a logical approach. European-out clauses seem to be pretty standard for players coming from the KHL these days, but I’ve seen nothing to suggest Kravtsov wouldn’t play in the AHL for a period of time.

TP: No, I don’t think it is NHL or bust. If he needs more seasoning you give it to him.

TU: If there were a redraft would he go No. 9 overall, higher or lower?

AN: I think ninth at this point is still about right. The argument could be made for shifting up a spot or so, but certainly no lower.

TP: If I were the general manager for every team, with hindsight in a redraft he’d go 5th. If the same GMs made the picks then I think he’d go 6th to Detroit in a redraft. Either way he’d go earlier.

#KravtsovWatch will continue until his KHL contract expires on April 30 and he officially signs his entry-level contract with the Rangers.

By all accounts Kravtsov had a fine season, but patience will be required as he adjusts to a new league, an enhanced level of competition, and new teammates. The Rangers are rebuilding and there is no need to rush players along — it has to be what’s best for the player, not the team that likely won’t be contending again next year. Kravtsov may tear it up in the preseason and then struggle out of the gate. He could struggle in the preseason, but get off to a hot start in the regular season. There are so many different scenarios that could play out, and the Rangers have time to let them all play out.

Speaking of time, if you have 10 minutes, checkout this great highlight package that Alex put together on Kravtsov.

He’s still a young prospect who won’t turn 20 until December 23, and by no means is he being looked upon to be a piece that gives a contending team that little something extra boost, like when Chris Kreider joined the Rangers in the 2012 playoffs on a run that saw them advance to the Eastern Conference Final. Kreider was coming off of a campaign that saw him score 23 goals and add 22 assists in 45 games for Boston College, and he wound up posting a line of 5-2-7 in 18 games when he joined the Rangers. Kravtsov, on the other hand, is joining a rebuilding team, so the future is the priority above all else.

There’s a lot to like about the Blueshirts prospect pool, and Kravtsov is the clear number one as of this writing. If all goes to plan, he could have a very big impact on Broadway, and management’s decision to take him at No. 9 instead of Oliver Wahlstrom — something that drew ire and question at the time of the pick — looks amazing in hindsight.

Stats via Elite-Prospects unless otherwise noted.