New York Rangers have decision looming between Vitali Kravtsov and Dryden Hunt

The New York Rangers have another decision to make regarding which forward to keep to start the season; Vitali Kravtsov or Dryden Hunt.

On Sunday, they waived forward Julien Gauthier and defenseman Jarred Tinordi in preparation for final cuts. They then announced the signing of forward Jimmy Vesey to a one-year deal worth $750,000.

Once Gauthier clears or is claimed on waivers today, the team will have 14 forwards and may need to either trade or waive Kravtsov or Hunt.

The uncertain status of Sammy Blais, who was injured on a hard hit by the Islanders Alexandar Romanov in the final preseason game on Saturday, could buy the Rangers some time. Coach Gerard Gallant said he “seemed fine” despite being forced out of the contest during the first period.

If Blais is place on the injured list, he’ll have to stay on it for at least 7 days and the Rangers can hold off on making a decision. Regardless, a decision is coming.

Vitali Kravtsov or Dryden Hunt

vitali kravtsov
May 5, 2021; New York, New York, USA; Vitek Vanecek #41 of the Washington Capitals blocks the net against Vitali Kravtsov #74 of the New York Rangers during the third period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Bennett/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s first quickly break down each player.

Kravtsov, 22, is the Rangers first round selection (9th overall) from the 2018 Draft. Last season, he recorded 13 points in 19 KHL games. His tumultuous past with the organization which includes bolting the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack twice and requesting a trade is well documented. However, this summer Kravtsov signed a one-year, one-way deal to stay with the Blueshirts vowing to prove his worth.

There’s no question he’s a talented winger that has solid speed, good vision, a nice shot, and excellent hands. The issue is he’s a raw talent that has struggled to adjust to the smaller ice surface and faster pace of the NHL in preseason action. If the Rangers keep him as the extra forward, it’s only to allow him more time to acclimate himself to play on one of the middle-six lines.

Hunt, 26, is a solid player that Gallant trusts when he puts in the lineup. Last year, he played 76 games for the Rangers and notched 17 points while being plugged onto every line. The fact that he’s versatile, has a decent shot, and plays physical hockey makes him an ideal 13th forward.

This is the final year of a two-year deal Hunt signed last summer for an AAV of $762,500.

Rangers unlikely to waive Kravtsov

So let’s get down to the brass tacks of the situation.

I highly doubt the Rangers are struggling to decide whether to put Kravtsov or Hunt on waivers. There’s a great chance Hunt would go unclaimed while Kravtsov would almost assuredly be claimed and lost for nothing.

Simply put, the Rangers won’t be putting themselves into that position.

The injury to Sammy Blais is what’s most likely the reason that Hunt was not placed on waivers yesterday. Once that’s settled, Hunt will be assigned to the Wolf Pack.

Of course, there’s always a possibility that Kravtsov could be traded.

The more I think about it, this doesn’t seem to be the right time to trade him unless a team has seen enough of him in preseason action to warrant giving up a high draft pick or prospect. In four games, Kravtsov had just one assist but anyone trading for him is doing so on potential alone.

I find that scenario unlikely and Kravtsov would better serve the Blueshirts producing on the second or third line. If he builds his value enough, that’s when you could use him to bring in a top rental at the trade deadline.

Remember, his contract is expiring this summer along with Alexis Lafreniere, K’Andre Miller, Filip Chytil, and Zac Jones. The Rangers just don’t have enough cap space to sign them all and it’s better that they turn one of these assets into a win-now rental.

Kravtsov has always been the most likely candidate for that trade scenario.

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