In the 2014 NHL Entry Draft the New York Rangers selected seven players overall; the highest pick being Brandon Halverson, 59th overall. Among those seven players, and the second taken in the 4th round at 114th overall, was an 18-year-old goalie out of Spartak, Russia named Igor Shesterkin.
At the time, Shesterkin was just another goalie in the Rangers developing pipeline and he was considered the seventh-best European goalie in the Draft. So, after getting drafted, Shesterkin joined SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL as a backup, getting six games in his first pro season and putting up a respectable .917 save percentage.
Then, over the next few years, Shesterkin, playing behind one of, if not the best, team in the KHL, decided to become a goaltending deity putting up three consecutive seasons of at least 20 wins and a .930 save percentage between the 2016 and 2019 seasons. Saving his best performance for his last KHL season when the 24-year-old put up a .953 Sv%, 24-4 campaign for SKA before signing his ELC coming over to North America. By this point, Shesterkin was already gaining notoriety and hype as the “Heir Apparent” to Henrik Lundqvist as one of the best goaltending prospects in the world, but he was still a bit of a mystery to Rangers fans.
There was a lot of focus on the 2019-20 Hartford Wolf Pack season as, for the first time in a while, the Pack were worth paying attention to. A couple of the Rangers top prospects — Shesterkin and fellow Russian Vitali Kravtsov — both started the season in Hartford. While Kravtsov stumbled a bit out of the gate, Shesterkin kept on dominating. In 25 AHL games, Igor went 17-4-3 with a .935 save percentage, carrying the Wolf Pack back into relevancy and to the top of the AHL standings.
On January 6th, just days after his 24th birthday, the Rangers made the move that was a long time coming; Igor Shesterkin was called up to the big club. In true Rangers fashion, the young Russian was thrown into the fire as his first game in the NHL came against one of the best teams in the league, the Colorado Avalanche.
After a couple of early goals against, Shesterkin settled down and earned the win in his big league debut, stopping 29 of the 32 shots he faced against the high-powered Avalanche team. From there, the Rangers coaching staff began a game of goalie roulette as David Quinn had to figure out how to get ice time for Henrik Lundqvist, Alexandar Georgiev, and the newly arrived Shesterkin.
It was a weird juggling act that saw the face of the franchise end up with fewer and fewer starts in what appeared to be a somewhat passive-aggressive phasing out program. Through it all, though, Shesterkin kept on winning and dominating and the Rangers did everything they could to make sure he saw enough action when he started. After facing 32 shots against Colorado, Igor was bombarded by the New Jersey Devils as he faced 49 shots, stopping 46 of them.
Shesterkin’s ascendancy hit a bit of a stumbling block as he and forward Pavel Buchnevich were involved in a car accident right before the trade deadline, which left the young Russian goalie with a broken rib and sidelined him for a few weeks. He returned in March and picked up his final win of the season against the Dallas Stars, stopping 31 of 33 shots against and closing out his first taste of NHL action with a 10-2 record and a .932 Sv%.
It’s rare to find a franchise cornerstone player in the later rounds of the draft, in a position so volatile, have that player work out beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, and then, 14 years later, do almost the exact same thing.
Right now, it looks like Igor Shesterkin is well on his way to doing just that.