Igor Shesterkin’s journey with Rangers likely to include richest goalie contract

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Florida Panthers at New York Rangers
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Igor Shesterkin could be an unrestricted free agent following the 2024-25 season. Now there’s a frightening thought to ponder for the New York Rangers.

Of course, this is not news to general manager Chris Drury. And it’s expected the Rangers are going to get to work soon on a contract extension for their all-world goalie, who likely added a few extra dollars to his next deal after his brilliant play in the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Shesterkin is eligible to sign a contract extension beginning July 1.

When asked about the possibility Tuesday at breakup day, Shesterkin offered no insight into his thinking, but did provide a good sound byte.

“Sorry, I don’t speak English,” was his answer.

Reports have indicated that he’ll likely ask for around $12 million a year, which surpasses Carey Price as the highest paid goaltender in the League. Price, who’s unable to play due to a knee issue, averages $10.5 million per season on his contract with the Montreal Canadiens. Florida Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky averages $10 million per season on his seven-year deal.

So, how did the 118th overall pick from the 2014 NHL Draft jet into superstardom and potentially command this kind of salary?

Related: Kaapo Kakko’s future with Rangers big question this offseason

Like Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers found Igor Shesterkin later in draft

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Florida Panthers at New York Rangers
Brad Penner-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

This is the second massive goalie success story for the Rangers in the latter rounds of the NHL Draft. New York landed Hall of Famer Henrik Lundqvist with the 205th pick in the 2000 draft. His No. 30 already hangs in the rafters at Madison Square Garden.

The Rangers didn’t have to delve as deep to find Shesterkin in the fourth round 14 years later. But it’s not like he was a top-rated pick either.

After making his professional debut at just 16 years old for the KHL’s Spartak Moskva team, he quickly rose through the ranks of the league and signed with the juggernaut SKA St. Petersburg, a superteam that often feeds the NHL with elite Russian talent.

Among his teammates in St. Petersburg were future Rangers Pavel Buchnevich and Artemi Panarin. 

After being drafted, Shesterkin remained in Russia, just as Lundqvist stayed in Sweden, to build his game and reputation.

In his final season in the KHL, 2018-19, Shesterkin had an absurd 1.11 goals-against average coupled with a terrific .953 save percentage in 28 games.

This is the same Shesterkin who was passed over for 13 other goaltenders in the 2014 draft.

Some, like Thatcher Demko, Elvis Merzlikins and Ilya Sorokin, are bonafide NHL goalies. Each was selected before Shesterkin.

But Mason McDonald (34th overall)? Zach Nagelvoort (111th overall)? Neither of them saw a lick of NHL ice time.

Interestingly, Shesterkin wasn’t even New York’s first goaltending choice.

The Rangers selected Brandon Halverson with the 59th overall pick. Halverson went on to face six total shots in the one game he played at the NHL level.

There were initial concerns about Shesterkin. Some argued that his 6-foot, 185-pound frame wasn’t large enough to fill the net. That didn’t seem to trouble him against the heavy Panthers in this year’s Eastern Conference Final.

His eye-popping numbers were enticing, but there was also uncertainty about his ability to convert his success to the North American competition.

Related: Filip Chytil could have ‘major impact’ on Rangers next season

Physical setbacks didn’t derail Igor Shesterkin with Rangers

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Florida Panthers at New York Rangers
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

After dominating with Hartford in the American Hockey League in 2019-20,Shesterkin took the NHL by storm, winning 10 of his 12 regular-season starts as the third string goalie with an excellent .932 save percentage.

It was the only season Shesterkin would get to play alongside Lundqvist.

He likely would’ve played more if it wasn’t for an unfortunate rib fracture caused by a car crash that involved Buchnevich on Feb. 23, 2020, that sidelined him for weeks. He was banged up several times his first two seasons, in fact.

The following year, Shesterkin assumed starting duties during the shortened COVID-19 season, finishing with a solid 2.62 goals-against average. He was just scratching the surface of excellence.

And If there was any doubt about his size or consistency, it was long gone by now.

Leading the NHL in save percentage (.935), goals-against average (2.07), and goals saved above average (44.9), Shesterkin secured the Vezina Trophy as the top NHL goalie in 2021-22 and was a finalist for the Hart Trophy as League MVP.

He is the only member of that 2014 draft class to win the Vezina. 

“He kept us in games, he single-handedly won games. He’s got my vote if that counts for anything,” Chris Kreider said at the time.

Calgary Flames 6-foot-6 goalie Jacob Markstrom was second in Vezina voting that year. So, perhaps, size isn’t everything.

The 2022-23 season was not as solid. By Shesterkin’s standards, anyway. Other goalies would’ve been thrilled to post a 2.48 GAA with a .916 save percentage. A first-round playoff exit in 2023 after reaching the conference final the seasons before also didn’t sit well, though Shesterkin was New York’s best player against the New Jersey Devils in that series.

The ever-so-slight regression seemed to affect his mentality, as he admitted to getting frustrated in practice with his performance.

“Oh yeah, I was too hard on myself, for sure,” Shesterkin admitted. “I just want to be positive every day because last season I was so mad at myself because I didn’t play like I want.”

He had some ups and downs this season, too. Remember the month of January?

But Shesterkin rebounded, finished strong and was simply magnificent over 16 postseason games with a .927 save percentage and another conference final trip.

Related: What next Ryan Lindgren contract could look like for Rangers

Rangers future for Igor Shesterkin looks bright – and expensive

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Carolina Hurricanes
James Guillory-USA TODAY SportsCredit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the final year of his contract, Shesterkin has honed the mental and physical aspects of his game, and has been among the most consistent goaltenders in the NHL.

Just as he did in the KHL, Shesterkin’s has been a rock for the team in front of him.

It’s rare to find a goalie that you can build a team around. The Rangers were incredibly lucky to find Shesterkin after riding Lundqvist for 15 seasons.

Now, it’s time to pay up for that good fortune.

Nick Palmer is a beat reporter and journalist specializing in NHL and MLB. Throughout his time at Fordham University's... More about Nick Palmer

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