Scouting the Pack: Yegor Rykov healthy and making noise
When Michael Grabner was traded to the New Jersey Devils on February 22nd, 2018, one of the pieces that came to the Rangers in return were the rights to a Russian defenseman by the name of Yegor Rykov, a 5th round, 132nd overall draft pick in 2016. At the time of the trade, Rykov was an established young defenseman with an SKA St. Petersburg team coming off a Gagarian Cup win led by Igor Shesterkin in goal and with the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk and Nikita Gusev up front.
Rykov is considered a stay at home defenseman, with only 9 assists to show during the team’s Gagarian Cup season while playing 47 games. He found an offensive spark the following year posting his best offensive numbers in the KHL in 2017-18 with 2 goals and 12 assists in 53 games. Things began to sour between Rykov and SKA at the beginning of the 2018-19 season as he had seen little to no playing time and was traded to HC Sochi and finished the year playing 47 games scoring 3 goals to add to 6 assists for 9 points playing for former Ranger Sergei Zubov. Rykov was also accomplished internationally having won silver in the 2016 World Junior Championships and was also teammates with current Ranger goaltender Alex Georgiev.
Up and Coming
Despite all of that, Yegor Rykov was still considered an up and coming prospect with a potential future with the New York Rangers. That thought came to fruition as on May 20th, 2019, Rykov was signed to an entry level contract. Through that offseason, many had predicted Rykov to compete for a spot with the Rangers top 6 defensemen and challenge other players such as Brendan Smith and fellow rookie Adam Fox. This also with the uncertainty of whether Tony DeAngelo would hold out of training camp or sign a new contract to stay on Broadway.
It all came to a halt after Rykov had sustained what turned out to be an ankle injury early in the Traverse City prospect tournament in early September which was re-aggravated later during training camp. By then, Adam Fox had shown flashes of what was to come and Tony DeAngelo had re-signed with the Rangers thus leaving Rykov the odd man out despite the injury.
While Rykov remained with the Rangers on paper at the start of the season, he reported here to Hartford to continue his rehab and was skating again by the time November came around. Even with all of that, there were still questions surrounding his whereabouts and when he would return. When the Wolf Pack held their season ticket holder skate with the team event on December 3rd, one of the first players to hit the ice was none other than Yegor Rykov. A tweet from yours truly that evening generated a lot of responses and more questions about how soon he would play as there was speculation he could’ve played as soon as the previous weekend. The very next day, it was announced that Rykov was activated from injured reserve and was officially sent down to Hartford and made his North American debut that Friday with the Pack when they visited Springfield. In a game the Pack would eventually win, Rykov notched his first North American point on a Patrick Newell goal and would finish the game as a +2.
Getting on Track
Even during the game, Rykov did show signs of rust having not played in a game of any sort since Traverse City but has seen gradual improvement since his return to game action. In 14 games prior to Wednesday’s game in Hershey, Yegor Rykov has 7 assists and is a -1 with 4 PIM. Having hit a rough patch of 3 games in which the Pack lost 3 in a row in Lehigh Valley and Charlotte, Rykov netted an assist but went -3 against the Phantoms and -1 and -3 respectively in back to back games against the Checkers.
Rykov has since found stability on the 3rd defense pair with Nick Ebert and the pair have done well with getting plays set up, moving the puck and putting it where it needs to be. The last 4 games alone have seen Yegor Rykov net the majority of his season point total with 4 assists in that span while also seeing time on the penalty kill and on the 2nd power play unit with defense partner Ebert. He has a good sense of where the puck needs to go, isn’t the fastest defenseman on the ice but puts himself on a good position most of the time to be able to break up rushes and keep pucks in the zone to keep a forecheck going.
While Yegor Rykov isn’t anywhere near a regular spot in the Rangers top 6 as of right now that could change. With a logjam of young defensemen such as Ryan Lindgren, Adam Fox and, to a point, Libor Hajek, his play here in Hartford is making himself known. He’s also making a case as to why he should and will be part of the Rangers’ future plans.