Kravtsov KHL backfire and how the Rangers move forward

KHL

Vitali Kravtsov is now back in Hartford and getting ready to make his return debut after a wild and confusing stint with Traktor. The 19 year old prized prospect left for the KHL after being disappointed and frustrated with not making the Rangers out of camp. While he tried to see how it would work out in Hartford, he wanted to go back home to Traktor and develop there instead. It didn’t work out.

From struggles with a new coaching staff, demotions to the VHL (Traktor’s farm club), and now terminating his KHL contract to return to Hartford, we dig and try to understand what happened.

Broken?

When Kravtsov returned to the KHL everything seemed to be going as planned. He was getting minutes and contributing offensively early on but as Traktor struggled so did Kravtsov. This led to two demotions, benchings, and the coach saying Vitali came back from North America “broken”. So what’s really going on with Traktor? I reached out to Gillian Kemmerer, a reporter who hosts The Faceoff for the KHL to get her insights on the situation.

What I know for sure is that Traktor Chelyabinsk is sitting at the bottom of the KHL’s Eastern Conference. Fan groups are writing letters encouraging one another to boycott games due to allegations of mismanagement. This is not the same team that made the playoffs in Kravtsov’s rookie season and catapulted him into view. 

Gillian Kemmerer

Traktor’s issues undoubtedly had a lot of impact on what went down with Kravtsov. According to Gillian, his KHL return brought unfairly high expectations and ultimately led to his coming back to Hartford.

Vitali is 19 and was (officially or unofficially) expected to come home and correct a crisis. The send-down to the VHL was unexpected among the KHL head coaches I spoke with last week. Two of them asserted that he would be back on the main squad after the international break, and look where we are. Until we hear from Vitali himself, speculation feels useless.

Gillian Kemmerer

Setting Proper Expectations

When seeking an outside perspective on what happened with Kravtsov in the KHL, Gillian spoke with players and executives. The most interesting view comes from Detroit Red Wings great and Hall of Famer, Sergei Federov.

I’ve spoken with many people about Kravtsov, from KHL players who have been his All-Star teammates to CSKA GM Sergei Fedorov. The latter questions whether or not anyone in Kravtsov’s inner circle set reasonable expectations for his first days in America. Fedorov says he battles against misinformation on a daily basis when retaining talent at CSKA (a far more competitive club than Traktor). Fedorov would have liked to see Kravtsov stay in the KHL along the lines of a Gusev or Panarin, and come to New York in his mid-twenties. This option is off the table for now, so I think other elements of his advice come to mind–namely that Vitali needs a plan every single game. I know that Vitali has now sought out guys like Nigel Dawes who have played on both sides of the pond, so my hope is that 1) his own expectations are clearer, and 2) Hartford will offer a clean slate, particularly as Vitali did not bomb preseason with the Rangers.

Gillian Kemmerer

Even with proper expectations set, everyone needs to remember that Kravtsov is still a young kid who has a ton of raw talent. Another thing to keep in mind with young players is how important building up their confidence is when developing their game. Gillian’s perspective on Kravtsov’s development are extremely important in the grand scheme of things.

“Confidence” concerns aside, Kravtsov is still growing into his 6’3 body. Alexei Kovalev–formerly the highest-drafted Russian Ranger–was a similar build when he arrived in the NHL and then passed the 220s. Vitali has more than just mental development ahead of him. He has expressed a desire to be a creative player along the lines of Datsyuk (or Lionel Messi!), which is something I love to hear from Russian forwards.

Kravtsov’s success now in his hands but with the Rangers control

Jeff Gorton did not waste time or accept what was happening with Traktor passively. The Rangers GM saw a bad situation, picked up the phone and made Kravtsov come back to where he belongs. Now it’s up to Kravtsov to show a new level of maturity and put in the hard work to be the success we all believe he can be.

The best thing to come out of this unorthodox journey back to the Rangers is Vitali has a whole new perspective on the situation. Better yet is the organization who wants to see him as a top line winger has control of his development. It is the best outcome both sides could have hoped for to happen when this all started in October.

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