Igor Shesterkin was sensational in the 12 games he started for the New York Rangers in 2019-20, and he rewarded all the fans who patiently waited with anticipation for him to take his talents from St. Petersburg to Madison Square Garden. His 2019-20 season was shortened because of injuries sustained in a minor car accident, although he did return for two regular season games after, and one game in the play-in series vs. the Carolina Hurricanes. Heading into 2020-21 it was clear that Shesterkin was the man following a buyout of Henrik Lundqvist, and he was in a position to make a name for himself as one of the league’s most exciting young goaltenders.
Shesterkin started 31 games, and appeared in 35 overall posting a record of 16-14-3 with a .916 SV% and a 2.62 Goals Against Average. He also tallied the first two shutouts of his career in back-to-back games vs. the New Jersey Devils. Despite there being concerns with “the clock ticking” on him proving if he could be the Rangers’ No. 1, he more than answered the call.
Ticking clock(s) eh? Needless to say, I had to get this Igor idea out of my head. pic.twitter.com/LdEZYnWyH3— Tom Urtz Jr. (@TomUrtzJr) March 31, 2021
Shesterkin put up strong numbers, and exceeded expectations posting a Goals Saved Above Average of 7.45 (12th among starters) and a Goals Saved Above Expected of 3.97 (12th among starters) per Evolving-Hockey.
Here’s an additional look at Shesterkin’s save impact via HockeyViz which shows his performance versus what was expected of him.
Igor outperformed Alexander Georgiev who was limited to 19 starts (-1.3 GSAA, -3.19 GSAx), and should be in a position to start 50 or more games in 2021-22. It would have been interesting to see how many more games Shesterkin would have played had he not suffered a groin injury which kept him sidelined for 10 games, but 31/56 starts is 55.3% of potential starts. The amount of playing time he gets could also be impacted on who his backup is next season, as Georgiev’s name continues to be out there in various trade rumors. Overall the NHL is evolving away from goalies starting 60 to 65 or more games a season, but 55 starts or more feels like a good number for Shesterkin.
Grade: A | Banter Consensus: A-
Shesterkin is the future for the Rangers in goal, and is currently a restricted free agent coming off his entry-level contract. He turns 26 in December which means the Rangers could theoretically give him a one-year deal before going long term with him. That would back him up to the brink of UFA status, and while that seems dicey, there’s precedent.
The Rangers went that the route with Shesterkin’s idol Henrik Lundqvist, as the Blueshirts legend exited his two-year ELC and then signed a one-year deal for $4.25 million, and upon expiry inked a six-year, $41.25 million deal which counted $6.875M annually against the salary cap.
The Rangers have the room to be flexible and in a flat cap world can save a bit, but it makes too much sense just to pay Igor. A five or six year deal which takes Shesterkin to age 30 or 31 would work for both sides, and allow an opportunity for him to get another good deal while he still has some game left. It also times up pretty well with the contention window the Rangers are working with, and allows flexibility if they need to make adjustments on the fly.
That said, 2020-21 was another positive step for Shesterkin, and a pretty amazing transition in terms of ability considering he replaced Henrik Lundqvist. Back in 2019 I wrote a story taking a look at how Igor could factor into the team’s goaltending plans, and compared him to other netminders who made the transition out of Europe. From my initial list, he’s progressed about as well as you’d like him to, and there’s ever reason to believe he can a similar impact as Juuse Saros and Andrei Vasilevskiy (No.2 and No. 3 in GSAA this year) over a full 2021-22 campaign.