September 25, 2020

Inside the KHL: A closer look at Vitali Kravtsov and Traktor with Gillian Kemmerer

Vitali Kravtsov on loan (KHL)

Gillian Kemmerer is one of the best reporters covering the KHL and she’s been keeping a close on Vitali Kravtsov. With the Rangers prospect having such hot start I asked a few questions to get the inside track.

Changes at Traktor have helped Vitali Kravtsov

Q: What a difference from the last time he with Traktor! Why do you think it’s going so much better for Kravtsov this time around?

A: Vitali Kravtsov has arrived with a renewed work ethic and hunger that has not gone unnoticed by his teammates. There is an unspoken acknowledgement that this is a make-or-break season. He is a consistent figure on Traktor’s top line, and is benefiting from the presence of veteran Sergei Kalinin in the locker room.

An Olympic and Gagarin Cup champion, Kalinin speaks impeccable English and has served as a much-needed bridge between the Russians and imports in Chelyabinsk this year. He practically arrived with the C on his chest, and has already put up consistent numbers. We also can’t forget the return of Anvar Gatiyatulin, the head coach who had Vitali in his rookie season and coached Traktor to its best performance to-date.

In addition to some changes within Kravtsov’s game, which we will get to in a minute, the roster around him was significantly upgraded. Stability, familiar mentors and playing minutes are what Kravtsov needed this season, and that’s exactly what he’s getting. Traktor has run into some recent scoring issues despite the fact that they tend to outshoot opponents–many of the guys are saying that they’re gripping their sticks a little tighter lately, so it will be interesting to see if Kravtsov can help to buck the trend.

A new Vitali Kravtsov

Q: What’s the inside scoop on Kravtsov from the KHL?

One of Traktor’s players described the change within Kravtsov as a migration from “cute hockey” to a more aggressive, North American game. Another joked about trading dipsy-doodles for being first in on the forecheck. Beyond his on-ice performance, he is working harder than ever.

Aside from the regular Traktor routine, he pulls up the Rangers’ workouts on his phone and is logging extra time in the gym. Players who have known him for years see the change in his work ethic, but also his mentality. One teammate commented that he seems to put less unproductive levels of his pressure on himself. The results are (thus far) self-evident in his numbers.

Vitali Kravtsov playing his way to the big show

vitali kravtsov rangers
Kravtsov scores again (KHL)

Q: He could stay in the KHL, but if he keeps playing like this, the Rangers probably will want him at camp. Thoughts?

Among Vitali’s teammates, more than one expressed a hope that he will get his shot in New York sooner than later. There has been some debate about the terms of his loan. The team and league have stated an expectation that he will stay for the season, but it’s also impossible to imagine a scenario in which New York would relinquish their ability to recall him. The Rangers have depth in this position, so I don’t see a downside to letting Vitali amass playing minutes, points and confidence in Russia–but I don’t think anyone anticipated this hot of a start.

KHL Rundown, who could win it all?

Q: Give us a quick KHL rundown, who are the best teams and who wins the Cup?

A: The COVID-19 situation has been nightmarish for teams across the KHL, regardless of where they sit in the standings. Lineups are swiftly shifting, players are coming back at various intervals, and entire coaching benches are quarantined.

SKA produced Juniors players in double-digits versus Sibir, icing the youngest team ever in league history. Others, such as Lokomotiv, have had to forfeit games because they are unable to gather a roster in time.

A few teams I would keep an eye on include the usuals–SKA (when healthy), CSKA–and Salavat Yulaev, which is fortified with a high-scoring Scandinavian contingent that recently added Markus Granlund to the mix. Bob Hartley’s Avangard is always dangerous, and they just acquired the Blues’ Klim Kostin this week. Kunlun Red Star, coached by Rangers great Alexei Kovalev, has only one win this season, the result of a forfeit defeat, but I expect their fate to change.

Their imports have only just arrived (and in large quantities), which means the squad you see in the coming weeks will look wholly different from the Russian squad they iced at the season start. Sproul, Kristo, Foo, Lockhart, Wellman, Chelios, Bondra…all familiar names with varying degrees of experience inside the Kunlun organization. If they remain healthy, they may become fun to watch.

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