When Igor Shesterkin signed his two-year entry-level contract on May 3, 2019, there was a general sense of relief among the fan base. After nearly five years of hoping and waiting, the New York Rangers finally had their heir apparent to Henrik Lundqvist locked up and officially on his way to Broadway. Despite lofty expectations for the 24-year old goaltender heading into the 2019-20 season, the Rangers weren’t going to rush anything.
They let the goalie battle play out during training camp and ultimately decided on Shesterkin beginning the year in the AHL to adjust to the North American game. While many were disappointed by the early demotion, Shesterkin used the opportunity to play his way into a roster spot and force the Rangers’ hand later in the season.
Prior to his arrival in New York, Shesterkin absolutely lit the American Hockey League on fire with his eye-opening start in Hartford. Through 25 games with the Wolf Pack, Shesterkin posted a 17-4-3 record with a league-best 1.90 goals-against average, and vaulted Hartford back into relevancy. His steadiness in goal not only caught the attention of the Rangers management, but others around the NHL started to take notice as well.
After weeks of pumping out Shesterkin highlights and absurd stat lines, the Rangers finally made the move. On January 6th, Shesterkin was called up to the big club, and thrown right into the fire against the Colorado Avalanche the next evening. The 24-year old let in two early goals in his debut, but quickly settled down and finished the night with 29 saves to pick up his first NHL win.
That would set the stage for Shesterkin, who started 12 games during the second half of the 2019-20 season and won all but two of them. He finished the year with a 2.05 GAA and a .932 save percentage in all situations. At 5-on-5, his goals-against average took a slight dip down to 2.44, while his save percentage remained relatively steady at .931. It should be noted that he missed time after establishing himself in the NHL when he was injured in a car accident in late February.
Despite only starting 12 games though, Shesterkin was constantly under siege from the opposition, which has become quite a theme for goaltenders in New York. As a result, he sat at the top of the list in terms of shots against per-hour with a 35.59 SA60 at 5-on-5. It’s pretty incredible that Shesterkin was able to put up the numbers that he did this season, while also facing a high volume of shots in the process. Not to mention, doing all of that as a rookie is as good as it gets. His talent is undeniable.
Banter Consensus: A
The buzz surrounding Shesterkin this season was justifiable given how he started the year in the AHL, and even more so when he finally got his chance with the big club. It’s no easy task stepping onto the ice of Madison Square Garden and performing, let alone doing it while pushing aside a legend in Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers also deserve a ton of praise for taking their time and allowing Shesterkin to adjust to a different brand of hockey. He used his time in Hartford to fine tune his game, and ultimately left Jeff Gorton with no choice but to call him up just after Christmas.
Shesterkin handled the pressure of New York with ease, which should set him up nicely for next season and beyond. Even if this signals the end of Henrik Lundqvist’s tenure in New York, the Rangers will be left in good hands with Shesterkin locking down the crease for the foreseeable future.