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The waiting game continues for Vitali Kravtsov

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Some thoughts on Kravtsov, and the plan the Rangers seem to have for him.

New Jersey Devils v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Vitali Kravtsov’s KHL season ended on March 11, and shortly after that he made the journey to New York, quarantined, and ultimately cleared the COVID-19 intake protocol.

Today’s April 1st, and Kravtsov won’t be in the lineup tonight, barring an unforeseen event which knocks a regular out of the lineup. The Rangers’ ninth pick from the 2018 draft has participated in two practices, but the team isn’t rushing to get him into the lineup.

When asked about what the plan is to get Kravtsov, Vince Mercogliano of Lohud had this from Head Coach David Quinn:

“As much as it’s about what he’s doing, it’s about what people in our lineup are not doing, right? We won 5-2 (Tuesday) night. We feel good about the way we played, feel good about the way a lot of guys played.”

Quinn rarely makes changes to a winning lineup, and on a surface level I understand what he’s saying about how the team played. But Kravtsov is one of the team’s most important prospects — and potentially one of it’s largest trade chips — so there should be a sense of urgency when it comes to getting him into the lineup as the clock ticks down on the 2020-21 regular season.

Quinn went on to say:

“Our decision to get him in, there’s two parts to it: It’s us wanting to get him in and him earning the opportunity to get in. But also, someone you may want to say, ‘Well, this guy needs to change. This guy probably doesn’t deserve to be in the lineup.’ There’s a couple things that go on in that decision-making process. That’s kind of where we’re at with when he will get in.”

Kravtsov’s path since being drafted by the Rangers has been an interesting one that’s seen him bounce between Hartford and Chelyabinsk more than once. Now that he’s here — coming off an impressive KHL season — the organization shouldn’t need to think long and hard about finding someone to come out of the lineup.

Quinn also acknowledged that Kravtsov is an offensive minded player that isn’t suited for the fourth line, and they are mindful that he needs to be put in a position to succeed. I said it on March 17, and reiterated it again on Wednesday, but I don’t think the decision is a hard one.

Phil Di Giuseppe is a great guy, and a player who has been a nice addition to the Rangers in a bottom-six role, but he doesn’t have a long term future with the team. He’s back in the lineup now that Brendan Lemieux has been traded, but he should not be standing in the way of Kravtsov.

Julien Gauthier has been making improvements as well, and earned the look he’s received on the third line, but he’s not more important to the organization than Kravtsov either. I can understand why the coaching staff might feel wrong about putting him on the fourth line and his off wing, but even if he becomes a worthwhile player, Kravtsov is still more important.

I recognize that Brett Howden will be back soon from COVID protocol and is ultimately going to be back in the lineup. He was intentionally excluded because it should be no surprise that I feel that he’s pretty much what he’s going to be at this point, and doesn’t deserve to be a roster regular.

As for the other lines, the mainstay trio of Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, and Pavel Buchnevich has become stale, and breaking it up partially is the easiest course of action considering how successful the line of Artemiy Panarin, Ryan Strome, and Kaapo Kakko has looked.

Filip Chytil and Buchnevich looked great together last season, and the addition of Alexis Lafrenière would make for an interesting look. Buchnevich’s improved defensive game, and his overall work ethic would balance out the line, and there’s reason to believe it could be an effective line. Although, I can understand a slow approach with Chytil if he’s still not quite 100%. But he sure looked good on that breakaway vs. the Capitals.

This would mean that the “third line” would be Kreider-Zibanejad-Kravtsov, but that would be in name only. Ideally there’s no reason for the fourth line to play a ton at evens, and in my hypothetical there’s a pretty even balance with the top nine. Zibanejad and Kreider see a decrement here, but those lost minutes are made up on the power play, an area that Lafrenière, Chytil, and Buchnevich don’t see much action.

Kravtsov is going to play at some point, potentially Saturday vs. the same Buffalo Sabres the Rangers will square off against on Thursday. It will give him another opportunity to get a practice in, which may ultimately not be a bad thing. But with all that said, I still think it feels weird how the team has phrased the process of getting him into the lineup. While there’s still a chance the Rangers make a run for the fourth spot in the division, it is an unlikely one. So if that’s the case, the team shouldn’t be that concerned with finding someone who is playing poorly in order to get an important prospect into the lineup.

None of this matters all that much. This is more or less formally putting some Twitter thoughts, internal thoughts, and opinions into one place. But I imagine some of you feel that it is odd how things have gone, and how an attempt to overcommunicate the “plan” can leave fans with more questions than answers.

Who knows? That’s why they play the games. Eat Arby’s.