Rangers prospects battle at WJC as U.S. beats Russia
Russia vs. United States
This semi-final tilt between the US and Russia featured two, if not best prospects in the Rangers farm system: 2018 first round picks, forward Vitali Kravtsov (Russia), and defenseman K’Andre Miller (United States). Let’s take a look at how they faired in this game.
Miller so far has played a solid tournament in the games that he has played in. He unfortunately missed a game due to an illness, but was installed back into the lineup against the Czech’s in the quarterfinal match-up Thursday night.
Miller came back into the lineup with a solid game against the high-powered Czech team, and I was interested to see how he would fair against the Russians. Before I get into Miller’s play, I need to be clear who’s team this is and who is not only the best player on the back end but the entire team; Vancouver Canucks 2018 first round pick Quinn Hughes.
I have written about Hughes previously with high praise and for good reason. Quinn is a machine to say the least, but this is a piece about Miller’s game. I just want to make it known that some of Miller’s play is limited because of Quinn. Miller was pretty limited in the tilt against the Russians on Friday night. He was not on the ice for much time, and I do not believe he played any minutes on the power play.
As I have covered Miller throughout this tournament, I have talked about his can’t miss size, and phenomenal skating ability. Those two things again were on full display Friday, but the dynamic Russian forwards showed a bit of Miller’s deficiencies. While with the USNTDP, Miller was originally a forward and only within the last two years was put on the back end because his coaches saw something.
Miller is lighting up the NCAA, Friday night displayed that Miller is a recent change to defense. Yes, his tremendous skating ability was on full display, but the highly skilled Russians showed just how “raw” Miller still is. He has a lot of things to work on in terms of d-zone coverage, transition, neutral zone play, and gap control. Miller did not do much to “wow” me in this game.
He made a few nice plays in his own zone, and was only really involved with maybe one or two offensive pressures. The young Wisconsin Badger is far ahead of the curve of where his development is, but he still has a ton to work on. I am very excited about him as a prospect moving forward as he has a tremendous ceiling; a reason why Jeff Gorton and NYR brass made the deal to move up to get him.
Kravtsov has lit this tournament up from the moment he first stepped on the ice. He has been putting up points at a rapid pace and is constantly involved with offensive zone pressures. Before I dive into Kravtsov’s game against the Americans, I want to discuss something that I think has limited him.
When Gorton drafted the crafty Russian 9th overall, they drafted a true winger; a player who did not have to play 200 feet of the ice, had far less defensive responsibilities, and was able to flash his skills more at the position. Kravtsov for the entirety of this tournament has centered the top line, something he is not necessarily familiar with. My point is there are far more responsibilities that come with playing center, and it limits the risks a player can take…..ones that a player on the wing can take.
Kravtsov in my opinion did a wonderful job playing down the middle in this tournament, but he would have been able to flash his skills even more so if he had been on the wing (which is a scary thought because he has probably been Russia’s best player).
Let’s see how he did in the match-up against the stars and stripes. The game did not have much flow in the first period, and Kravtsov was not really jumping off the page. At the end of the first period, the Russians had a power play and were on it as time was expiring in the first. The 19-year-old Russian had the puck on his stick on the goal line and took a shot just as the horn sounded.
US defenseman Dylan Samberg came over and crosschecked Kravtsov across the face and instilled the fear of god in Rangers fans. Luckily, he was ok and was on the ice in the second period. Similarly to the first period, Kravtsov was relatively quiet until the last couple of minutes. Kravtsov first missed a wide open net on a beautiful feed that he fanned on and would have been a sure goal.
Also, with about 12 seconds left, he walked right down Broadway (pun intended) and received a pass right on his tape during a US scrum in front of their own net. Kravtsov had a WIDE OPEN net and rifled the puck on. It was unfortunately blocked and sent into the netting. Vitali slammed his stick in frustration, but headed back to the dot preparing for the next faceoff. As the second period was expiring in a 2-1 game in favor of the US, the Americans took a penalty late in the period.
The horn sounded, and the Russians started the third period on the power play. Here is where number 14 flashed the skills. He played along the half wall and between the dots creating what I counted were four chances on the two-minute man advantage. He had 3 shots on goal in that time, and a beautiful pass that almost ended up as a goal. The rest of the game he was held in check as the Russians lost the game 2-1 to the United States.
Vitali Kravtsov is someone Rangers fans should be VERY excited about. He is a big-bodied kid (who needs to put on a few more pounds) with an unbelievable set of hands, great skating ability, and most importantly a tremendous hockey IQ. Kravtsov constantly finds himself in the right place at the right time, creating chance after chance. When his team is on the man advantage is really where he shows off what he is capable of. Kravtsov is going to be a tremendous play-maker for the Rangers in the near future and someone who can also bury the puck.