The Russians are Coming! Rise of the Red Rangers
Red has a deep cultural meaning in Russian culture. The Russian word for red, “krasni” in the past was used to reference something good and honorable. Looking at the Rangers future, there certainly is a “red” hue to it.
The Rangers haven’t had this kind of Russian talent in their system since the days of Alexei Kovalev, Sergei Zubov, and Sergei Nemchinov. That was also a very successful time in Rangers history.Note: This post was co-authored by Kevin Crupi
Pavel Buchnevich has turned into a top six winger on Broadway and seems primed to take on a bigger role as this rebuild continues. He has an excellent shot, great on-ice vision and already has formed fantastic chemistry with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider (who might I add speaks Russian himself). Buch will become even more important on the team going forward. With potentially a new development-first coach and more born Russian players, natural chemistry and more minutes could be the spark Buch needs to become a star in the league.
Let’s not overlook the acquisition of Vladislav Namesitnikov. Even though many analysts and fans just credit his improved season to the success of the Tampa Bay Lightning with linemates such as Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, he still carries the puck with confidence and power. Also a lot of comparisons have been made to a player that was also involved in the blockbuster trade, and that is J.T. Miller. They’re roughy the same size, both shoot left, and score at the same rate. The important thing to note with Namestnikov is that he is a natural center whereas Miller is not and was forced into that role due to lack of center depth on the Rangers.
The recurring theme, or motif (thanks High school English) of this article is Russians (if you couldn’t figure it out by now). So let’s add something different to this mix. The Boxford, Massachusetts native Chris Kreider speaks what he calls “broken Russian”. It’s known to some that he helped Pavel Buchnevich become accustomed to New York and helped translate and communicate with other teammates. Why is this important you ask? Kreider will act as a bridge from Russian players to non-Russian players which will ultimately build team chemistry. Though Kreider’s tenure with the Rangers isn’t in immediate jeopardy, it’s still possible he can be moved if the Blueshirts believe he has plateaued.
Now for some players that will be coming here in the coming seasons, or at least players we have a shot to bring here.
Igor Shestyorkin is going to be the future of the Rangers in net. The Czar is currently dominating in his 28 games in the KHL with a 1.70 GAA and a .933 SV% with SKA Saint Petersburg. He was apart of that gold winning Olympic team but did not appear in a contest. While he has not signed an official contract with the Rangers, it is believed that after this next season in the KHL he will join the Blueshirts. This is a perfect timetable to gauge Henrik Lundqvist’s ability to play for another whole season as he reaches the north-end of his 30s.
As The King starts to lose some shine on his crown and before the rule of the Czar comes to Broadway, there may need to be a bridge in the organization. Though Benoit Allaire does wonders with almost all goalies that comes his way, there are some misses that need to be taken into account, like the signing of Ondrej Pavelec.
Luckily, another young player appears to be a legitimate backup. Alexander Georgiev has only started four games (1 win) but has a respectable 2.65 GAA and a .930 SV%. This Russian raised net-minder (born in Bulgaria) has shown that he can be a difference maker on a depleted team. Imagine what he can do on a team with a solid defense in front of him. Only at 22 years of age the Rangers should realize that they could have a potential one-two punch with him and the Czar in the coming years.
Yegor Rykov was acquired from the New Jersey Devils at the trade deadline as part of the Michael Grabner deal and it’s clear the Rangers have seen a lot of him over the past few years as he plays on the same team as super prospects Igor Shestyorkin, SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL. The outlook on Rykov seems to be he has a second pairing ceiling and could turn into a nice complimentary piece to another one of the Rangers puck moving defensemen.
Though his stats aren’t sky high, for a teenager to play in one of the toughest leagues in the world and succeed at playing defense is very good for his development. By the time he hopefully comes to America he will already be well versed in playing with and against men rather than just kids like most prospects do. Ryan Kennedy of the Hockey News has great things to say about the young Rykov:
“In Rykov, the Rangers acquire the rights to a big defensive prospect with a lot of offensive upside. I saw Rykov play for Russia at the world juniors and he was particularly noticeable in Montreal, tallying a point per game from the back end. He’s great with the puck and can be very effective on the power play. My concern came on the defensive side, where he needed a lot of improvement.”
It’s in the Rangers best interest to get Rykov as well as Shestyorkin over here as soon as possible so they can begin getting more used to the North American ice surface.
Russians in the Draft
The Rangers have three picks in the first round in this upcoming 2018 entry draft and sticking with our Russian theme here, there are some quality Russian prospects that the Rangers could opt to draft. Let’s start with the cream of the crop of Russian prospects in this year’s draft and that is none other than Andrei Svechnikov, who is currently playing with the Barrie Colts of the OHL.
We’ve written about him on the site before but if you need a quick run down he’s probably the best pure sniper in the draft, alongside Filip Zadina of the Halifax Mooseheads. He will be going either 2nd or 3rd overall so the Rangers will have to hope to get lucky with a chance at drafting him.
As we move further down the first round of the draft, we get to players like Grigori Denisenko who at 17 years old, looks like he can turn into an elite offensive player down the line. He is projected to go in the middle of the first round and with the Rangers most likely having a mid first round selection to begin their draft there is a good shot that Denisenko could be available to them. Denisenko currently plays for the Loko Yaroslavl in the MHL (the NHL is essentially Russia’s youth hockey league).
One last note, is that Sergei Zborovsky and Alexei Bereglazov are still in the Rangers system and both will be given hards looks as this Rangers rebuild goes on. Both are young defensemen that could help the Rangers in the future. Zborovsky is currently in the ECHL with the Greenville Swamp Rabbits and Bereglazov is on loan to Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL.
It’s no secret that Ilya Kovalchuk has expressed interest to return to the NHL next season. It’s also no secret he wants to stay in the Metropolitan area and join a New York team, and I’m almost positive he doesn’t want to go to Long Island.
Now you may be asking “why sign this player?” He’s 35 in April, left his former team to go to the KHL and has some personal issues off the ice that affects his play on the ice.” Well thank you imaginary person those are all good points but have you thought of the fact that he’ll take a pay cut to come back and play for the New York Rangers who play out of the most famous arena in the world? He could constantly score against his former team and be a positive role model to all these young Russians. And even better he’s playing on SKA Saint Petersburg! What does that mean?! He’s playing with the future goaltender of the Rangers, Igor Shestyorkin.
Having veteran leadership, a possible pay cut, a connection to the young Russian talent on the team and still can score (Ilya won gold this year with the Olympic Athletes from Russia) is a huge upgrade on a team that will have a good chunk of cap space coming next season and a surplus of young Russian players.
The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming! And some are already here.
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