Revisiting The Rangers European Prospects
Another Thanksgiving holiday has come and gone. The turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and apple pie leftovers are long gone. The Hanukkah and Christmas decorations are ready to be displayed. It is time to turn our attention back to hockey, specifically, the New York Rangers European prospects.
We’ll start this week’s piece about the 2018 first-round draft pick from Russia, forward Vitali Kravtsov. General Manager Jeff Gorton’s selection of the highly skilled Kravtsov drew a ton of scrutiny at the time since most prognosticators had him going somewhere in the middle-to-late part of the first round. However, the gamble seems to be paying off as the right-winger (his position, not his politics) continues to impress and earn accolades as a teenager playing in the KHL.
Kravtsov was just named to the 2019 KHL all-star team. Amazingly, he was the only forward selected by journalists from the Kharlamov Division to compete in the contest. Kravtsov has had a wonderful season playing for Traktor Chelyabinsk. His stat line of five goals and ten assists in 30 games may not open too many eyes. However, when you put it all in perspective and compare his season to other KHL teenagers, you’ll see just why Gorton used his ninth overall pick on Kravtsov and not Oliver Wahlstrom, Evan Bouchard or Noah Dobson.
Media selects 12 more stars from 11 teams for #KHLAllStar: goalie, d-man, forward for each team. pic.twitter.com/agAflbqgaY
— KHL (@khl_eng) November 20, 2018
At the time this piece is being penned, Kravtsov currently leads all KHL teenagers in assists and points and is tied for first in goals. You think that nugget is impressive? Try this one on for size. Kravtsov, currently, has more than twice as many total points as any other KHL player under the age of 20. In European club hockey, it is very rare for teenagers to get the lion’s share of the ice time. That is usually reserved for the veterans. That is why we cannot compare the stat lines of teenagers across the pond to that of kids playing in Canadian Juniors. Instead, we have to compare goals and assists to others that are on the same playing field, or ice surface in this case.
We have to hop in our DeLorean, turn on the flux capacitor, and set the time controls back to 1991 for the last time a homegrown New York Rangers forward entered the league as a dynamic rookie and flashed the sort of offensive brilliance we are hoping to see from Kravtsov. 27 years ago, Tony Amonte flew up and down Mark Messier’s right side. Yes, it has been that long since a rookie forward set Rangerstown on fire. If all goes well with contract negotiations, there is a real possibility that Kravtsov could take his immense talents to the Big Apple for the 2018-19 season and give all of us Ranger fans a glimpse of the game-breaking skill this franchise has lacked and desperately needs.
The update on Kravtsov’s 2018 first round counterpart, Swedish defenseman Nils Lundkvist, is quite similar to the Russian. The fleet-footed, offensive defenseman has tallied just six points in 20 games playing for Lulea HF. However, when we examine his season through the appropriate lens, we will see that Lundkvist is in the midst of a terrific season. The 28th overall pick in the 2018 NHL draft currently leads all teenage defenseman in points playing in the Swedish Elite League. From a fan’s point of view, there has not been this much anticipation and excitement about the World Junior Championships, which take place in Canada at the end of December, in a very long time. We will be watching the WJC closely to see how well Kravtsov and Lundkvist play in what has become the gold standard for international prospects under the age of 20.
Of course, we are going to give an Igor Shestyorkin update. The 2014 fourth-round draft pick continues to roll along and dominate in the KHL. The heir-apparent to King Henrik’s throne has a 12-3 record with a 1.43 GAA and a .943SV%. Shestyorkin, who will turn 23 on the penultimate day of 2018, is unequivocally the best Rangers prospect anywhere in the world, and I for one, cannot wait until he dons that blue Rangers sweater so we can finally see him and his acrobatics in person.
It will be interesting to see when each member country announces their World Junior Championships rosters and if any other Ranger prospect will be included. If Lauri Pajuniemi makes Team Finland or if Olof Lindbom makes team Sweden or if Nico Gross makes the Swiss team, we will be sure to cover them and give updates on their progress. The tournament commences on Boxing Day in Vancouver (December 26) and ends a few days after the New Year. It should be must-watch TV for Rangers fans as we get a small taste of the future of the franchise.