All you need to know about Kravtsov returning to the KHL
After weeks of rumors and news coming out of Russia, yesterday marked the moment we knew for sure. Vitali Kravtsov, the talented Russian winger drafted 9th overall in 2018 by the New Yor Rangers, is going back to the KHL. Ranger fans on social media reacted to the news with disappointment, frustration and even anger but is it really a bad thing? The answer to that question is “It’s not a bad thing” and here’s why.
Kravtsov is still under contract
Unlike the situation with Alexei Bereglazov a few years ago, this isn’t a terminated contract. The entry level contract signed by Kravtsov is still valid and he is signed until 2022. The European Assignment Clause (EAC) which was triggered by Kravtsov to move back can best be compared to a loan. Kravtsov goes back to the KHL for this season only, and will return once his KHL season ends. In essence, this is no different than Lias Andersson being sent back to Frölunda in 2017 after he signed his ELC with the Rangers.
Kravtsov is not allowed to sign a KHL contract for next season due to the lack of a transfer agreement between the NHL and KHL. This works both ways. The limitations of this can be traced back to Alex Radulov who left the NHL while under contract and signed in the KHL. The Nashville Predators filed a complaint with the IIHF and the governing body of world hockey acted upon that and introduced the new rules. Players can only sign in the other league if they are free agents (restricted or unrestricted). The EAC gives Kravtsov the option to move back only temporarily.
Developing in the KHL
There seems to be this notion that, in order to be NHL ready, a player has to develop in the AHL. He has to “adjust to the smaller ice surface” but is that really the case? Isn’t this just a case of a player who is simply too young and too raw for the level of play in the NHL? I feel Kravtsov is the latter. And add to that, that several teams in the KHL play on NHL-sized rinks, we can put that argument to bed.
Last season the NHL had just 9 players who appeared in over half the NHL games. In 2017-18 there were 12. How realistic was it for us to expect Kravtsov to be NHL ready? I personally never felt he was and thought the Rangers jumped the gun in signing him. A lot of reactions talk about this being bad but if we look at other prospects who played junior or college hockey for at least 2 years, you could see why this is not a big deal. Nobody complained when Mark Scheifele, Claude Giroux, Logan Couture, Cody Glass, Mat Barzal and many others needed 2 full years before making the jump to the NHL.
Developing in the KHL is the right call for Kravtsov. It’s a stronger league than the AHL and others have made the jump from the KHL straight to the NHL but they were older. Evgeni Kuznetsov, Vladimir Tarasenko and Artemi Panarin all played 3+ seasons in the KHL after being drafted/draft eligible. Kravtsov played just 1 season after being drafted.
No contract slide, and the trade deadline
There has been some confusion about the contract sliding or not. The CBA (Article 9.1(d)(i) on page 23) states that an entry level contract slides for 18 and 19 year old players unless the player turns 20 years of age in the calendar year in which he signed the contract. Kravtsov turns 20 in December. The contract cannot slide. With the contract year burning regardless of the decision, Kravtsov’s return could potentially coincide with the NHL trade deadline. The Rangers are still rebuilding and expectations are that pending UFAs such as Kreider will be traded at the deadline, opening roster spots for kids like Chytil and Kravtsov. 6 months in the KHL can be huge for a 19-year old player and the impact on his career it can have, should not be understated.
Would people’s opinions be different if Kravtsov signed a 1-year extension in the KHL instead of signing his entry level contract with the Rangers? If the answer is “yes”, you shouldn’t see this temporary move back to Russia as a bad thing. Kravtsov will be back on Broadway, better than ever and with the determination to make the team in 2020.