Kravtsov shift to left side is more than interesting

Kravtsov (NYR Twitter)

Vitali Kravtsov is a right winger who also played some center for the Russian National Team. Yesterday, fellow right winger Kaapo Kakko made his Traverse City debut with a goal and three assists. It was Kravtsov who converted two of those passes and the chemistry between them was obvious. What wasn’t as obvious was the move to put Kravtsov on the left side.

Reading in Between the Lines

One thing that stands out about Vitali Kravtsov isn’t just his dazzling point totals in three games at Traverse City, which is at 2 goals with 3 assists. What stands out is his Hockey IQ and vision. Those two factors combined with his unbelievable offensive skills likely will make him successful at any position up front the Rangers put him in.

So why the move yesterday? Sure, in a meaningless tournament it would behoove management to take their three best forwards and load them on one line to see what they can do. Karl Henriksson centering both Kravtsov and Kakko were amazing to watch, especially in the 2nd half of the game when it appeared Kakko finally found his stride after missing time.

Still, there could be one subtle reason to put Kravtsov on the left side that many likely didn’t think of yesterday. Going into the season that already has Artemiy Panarin and Chris Kreider slotted on the left side of the top two lines, that move makes me think a trade is being considered.

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The Logic Behind a Move

It doesn’t take a mathematician to see that if the Rangers want to sign both Brendan Lemieux and Tony DeAngelo to at least 2 year deals, they will need to free up cap space. The inability to move Vlad Namestnikov, Brendan Smith, or Ryan Strome (if he was ever made available) led to the buyout of Kevin Shattenkirk. In order to add both those important pieces, Kreider may need to be traded before the season starts.

If that is the case, you are going to look for a suitable replacement as the 2nd line LW and Kravtsov could be that player. It also helps with making sure that both Kakko and Pavel Buchnevich get top 6 minutes playing their natural right wing positions. Should Kravtsov be successful on the left side, it also gives David Quinn the ability to take his two best offensive weapons and play them on different lines.

A top line of Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and Pavel Buchnevich would be formidable. And can you imagine a second line centered by Filip Chytil with two other towering monsters in Kravtsov and Kakko? That line would be a blast to watch as they play run-and-gun with the rest of the league. Then again, maybe the Rangers just wanted to load the top line in a meaningless tournament. You decide.