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We Don’t Talk About Kravtsov...

But it’s about time we start

NHL: APR 20 Rangers at Islanders Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With a 6’ 3” frame, the puck glued on his stick… the Rangers called his name with the 9th overall pick. He came to play for the team but then fled the scene. We don’t talk about Kravtsov.

Whether you think he’s a disgruntled prima donna or a scorned kid, whatever you choose to believe about the Rangers’ Vitali Kravtsov situation is your opinion to have. I’m not going to dive into the drama since it’s been dissected in every which way imaginable. However, the facts of the situation remain that a young talented forward chose to publicly walk away from the team that drafted him, and we may never know the entirety of the interactions between the Rangers and Kravtsov that led us to this position.

It’s been 181 days since the Russian prospect requested a trade, and with the KHL playoffs winding down, we may be moving on to the next phase of the Kravtsov saga. On loan to Traktor Chelyabinsk, Kravtsov is still under contract with the New York Rangers. With Traktor down three games to one in the KHL Eastern Conference Final, their season could be over as early as this Monday afternoon’s lunch break. The end of Traktor’s season means Kravtsov and the Rangers must decide whether he will be recalled back to North America or stay put in Russia.

The Rangers chose to keep Kravtsov through the trade deadline, which could have been due to either subpar offers and little interest in him or hope that their relationship could be repaired and the skilled RW could return. To add a bit more perspective, it took the team 291 days to move Lias Andersson after his trade request, and with the Rangers plugging a lot of their weaknesses at the deadline this year, would there even be room for Kravtsov? That is still up in the air, but meanwhile, let’s take a look at how his year away from the New York Rangers has been.

A Season in Review

Kravtsov rejoined Traktor in November of last year for their 28th game of the season and made an impact immediately. Scoring two goals and assisting on another, he was playing as if he had something to prove. His second goal, a Bill Pidto MSG 150 goal if I’ve ever seen one, decided the game in overtime and displayed the skillset he possessed that made the Rangers draft him in the first place.

While Kravtsov did tally a few points in his first game back with his old KHL team, we’re not going to cherry-pick moments of his season, so it should be said that he didn’t record a point in the next three games after this. While he was loaned to Traktor to play in hockey games, Kravtsov didn’t manage to compete in many. Having played only 19 regular-season games this season he still managed to put up 6 goals and seven assists for 13 points. This translates to .68 points-per-game and per NHL equivalency projections is estimated at a respectable 45 points in 82 NHL games. Now it goes without saying this is merely a projection and no one knows what he would have accomplished, but Kravtsov does still have value as an NHL player.

As the postseason began, Kravtsov continued to play an important role for his team. Historically speaking, Kravtsov elevates his game this time of year—it was his playoff heroics that elevated his draft stock in 2018—and prior to the Conference Final, this year was no different. But with only 1 point in the 4 game Conference Final series thus far the RW currently has 6 goals and 3 assists in 14 games—enough for second in total playoff points on his team, but with a ppg of .64 which is just a bit lower than his regular-season scoring rate.

Seeing some of these numbers this year may seem a bit disappointing, but it’s important to remember Vitali Kravtsov is still only twenty-two years old and has bounced around the globe the last couple of years. Reviewing a couple of other Russian NHL superstars’ seasons at this age shed some light on just how special of a player he may be. For instance, Panarin’s playoff stat line as a twenty-one-year-old in 2012-13 read as 9 points in 14 games, which is right on par with Kravtsov’s current ppg of .64 this postseason. Next up we have Kaprizov, who in his twenty-one-year-old season in 2018-19 had a playoff stat line of 14 points in 19 games for a .74 ppg, just slightly above where Kravtsov currently stands.

Where Do We Go From Here?

With the conflict in Ukraine, the NHL recently suspended its Memorandum of Understanding with the KHL and then ceased all contact. This doesn’t necessarily impede Kravtsov from coming back to North America right now, but it does complicate the situation. As an RFA after this season, Kravtsov can sign with a KHL team, and while the Rangers would maintain his rights, it further delays his return to the NHL and could negatively impact his trade value and the list of trade partners the Rangers would attract upon seriously trying to move the RW.

Kravtsov is still developing as a player, and while he may not have torn up the KHL this season, there was progression and maturity displayed throughout the year. While the iron surrounding Kravtsov’s hype and NHL future may have gone cold, the young Russian still has a serious shot at the NHL if he so chooses and per Elliot Friedman, earlier this season after leaving the Rangers he confirmed he wanted to play in the NHL.

A lot was put on his shoulders after the Rangers called his name at the podium. He was the team’s first pick after Gorton and Sather’s infamous letter, the first draft pick of the rebuild in a way. Many of us heaped enormous expectations on him; the excitement and passion around his potential was off the charts. Whether this was earned or was due to the Rangers’ neglect of prospects and the draft remains up for debate.

For a Vitali Kravtsov and New York Rangers reunion to happen this season a few obstacles will need to be overcome. First, with the playoffs on the horizon, the Rangers’ depth chart looks full. All the recent trade deadline acquisitions have performed admirably and as it stands it’s not certain there would even be room for him on the NHL roster. But depth is important, even more so this time of year. To have a skilled forward such as Kravtsov available to plug into the lineup due to injury, or any other reason at all, could be a tremendous asset to the team in the middle of a grueling playoff series. Another hurdle is whether both parties would agree that having him compete for a spot on the NHL roster is where he should be placed—which they probably won’t. It’s possible Kravtsov would have some objections, but Drury and the rest of the Rangers management may want to see him go to Hartford first, and realistically if that’s the direction the brass wants to head in, we may not see a reunion ever again. While it’s uncertain whether Kravtsov has played his last game as a New York Ranger, there is one thing that is for sure—he and the team have got some decisions to make, and we’ll likely be hearing more about those decisions soon.

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