Coming into the 2021-22 New York Rangers season, expectations for the soon-to-be 26-year-old Igor Shesterkin were pretty high. The Russian goaltender finished the prior campaign with a .916 save percentage and 2.62 goals-against average (GAA) in 35 appearances, while also posting a goals-saved-above-expected (GSAx) total of 4.73 (per Evolving Hockey, score-and-venue adjusted), which ranked 16th in the league. Following the high bar he set with his eye-opening 12-game stint in 2019-20 (which featured a .932 save percentage), Shesterkin’s 2020-21 season might have felt like a bit of a letdown, even though it was very solid. He also missed some time with a groin injury but still ended up playing the majority of the shortened 56-game season.
Still, heading into his first full 82-game season, it seemed that Shesterkin could reach another level. And boy, did he ever do just that.
Shesterkin proceeded to put together literally one of the greatest goaltending seasons of all time. In 53 games, he compiled a record of 36-13-4, a GAA of 2.07, and an absurd save percentage of .935. That save percentage is the third-highest in league history among goalies to play at least 50 games in a season. Tim Thomas in 2010-11 (.938) and Dominik Hasek in 1998-99 (.937) are the only goalies ahead of him.
Shesterkin’s GSAx in 2021-22 stood at 37.24, well ahead of Frederik Andersen’s second-place mark of 28.47. It’s the sixth-best mark overall since 2007-08. It’s worth noting here that Henrik Lundqvist leads that category with an astounding GSAx of 53.0 in 2009-10.
Shesterkin’s excellent performance relative to the quality of the unblocked shot attempts he faced is quite evident in the chart below.
In simpler terms: Tall blue bars for ‘Player’ are good!
In the postseason, Shesterkin continued to shine. He opened with a franchise record 79-save performance but took a tough-luck triple-overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of the first round. What was perhaps most impressive, though, was his ability to bounce back from two particularly bad games against the Penguins later in that round. In addition to his overall brilliance, Shesterkin demonstrated a resilience and will to win in the highest-pressure moments. He was especially dominant in New York’s second-round series victory over the Carolina Hurricanes, which culminated in a dominant 6-2 win in Game 7 in Raleigh.
Igor Shesterkin saved 2.15 goals above expected in Game 7.— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) May 31, 2022
That brings him up to a GSAx of 15.75 in all situations, via @EvolvingHockey.
Even with those two disappointing performances against the Penguins, Shesterkin finished his first NHL postseason (no, the one game in the 2020 COVID-induced qualifier round doesn’t count here) with a GAA of 2.59 and a still-stellar save percentage of .929. More impressive was his GSAx of 23.21, easily leading the way for all playoff goaltenders, and underscoring just how much he weathered the storm for a Rangers team that got better after the first round but had trouble limiting scoring chances against.
As if his prowess in stopping pucks wasn’t enough, Shesterkin also demonstrated his incredible puck-handling and passing ability throughout the season.
Zibanejad shoots, Kreider scores off the rebound. But look at this goalie stretch pass from Shesterkin for the secondary helper #NYR pic.twitter.com/XgYTDS8JZo— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) May 14, 2022
Shesterkin with two points in Game 6, more than quite a few players in this series... pic.twitter.com/Yz4c1kOXI5— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) May 29, 2022
The only thing he didn’t do was score a goal, although he came very close. At this point it’s a matter of when, not if.
Shesterkin just missed the empty net. #NYR #NHL pic.twitter.com/1NGqMWTIxT— David (@DaveyUpper) February 21, 2022
Shesterkin’s regular season basically made him a slam dunk for team MVP. It also just about ensured that he’d run away with the Vezina Trophy, which was indeed the case, as he secured 29 of 32 first-place votes. (Side note: The three general managers who did not give him their first-place vote should probably be arrested, in my opinion.) Shesterkin also managed a third-place finish in Hart Trophy voting. Somehow, he was not named and All-Star this year, which sadly shows how meaningless that honor has become.
And the Vezina Trophy goes to... pic.twitter.com/765MvTGQxC— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) June 22, 2022
As another side note, I think that whoever decided to rush Shesterkin off the stage with the walk-off music should also be arrested. On a brighter note, his great year continues with the news that he and his wife are going to have a baby!
All roads lead to Vezina. pic.twitter.com/miDf12buoS— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) June 22, 2022
So, what grade does Igor deserve for this season? This is a no-brainer.
Author Grade: A+
Banter Consensus: A+
With Shesterkin having ascended to “best goalie in the world” status, general manager Chris Drury’s decision to hand him a four-year contract extension with an average annual value of $5.67 million sure is looking like a genius move. It’s a rare example of a team paying for anticipated future performance instead of past performance that likely won’t continue over the entire course of a contract.
Shesterkin is in the prime of his career. While it will be difficult to replicate the historic levels he reached this season, he should continue to provide the Rangers with elite goaltending for years to come. Now, all the Rangers have to do is improve their play in front of him so that he is a luxury on whom they do not need to consistently rely so heavily.
Stats via Evolving-Hockey and Hockey-Reference unless otherwise noted.