Surprise! Vitali Kravtsov returns to Rangers lineup vs Maple Leafs

new york rangers vitali kravtsov
Rangers prospect Vitali Kravtsov and other Rangers prospects practice at the Rangers training facility in Greenburgh Sept. 5, 2019. Credit: © Frank Becerra Jr./The Journal News, Rockland/Westchester Journal News via Imagn Content Services, LLC

In an unexpected turn of events, young forward Vitali Kravtsov will return to the New York Rangers lineup against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Kravtsov last played in the team’s third-period comeback win against the St. Louis Blues ten days ago. He was a +1 in that game with 1 shot on goal in 13:59 of ice time.

“You want him playing,” Gerard Gallant said in his pregame presser. “He’s worked hard in practice. He’s done the right things so I’m giving him an opportunity.”

Vitali Kravtsov in against Maple Leafs

new york rangers vitali kravtsov
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Kravtsov, who will turn 23 years-old on December 23, has just two points (1G – 1A) this season. For his career, he’s amassed six points (3G – 3A) in 30 games dating back to 2020-21.

The former first round pick (9th overall) has had a tumultuous few years since being drafted in 2018. Twice he bolted back to Russia after failing to make the team out of camp and even asked for a trade prior to the start of the 2021-22 season.

“I’ve definitely made a lot of noise previously so there’s this necessity to redeem myself a little bit,” Kravtsov said in September. “I just want to do what everyone else is doing. Put in the work, get on the team, and do my part.”

He now will get another chance to impress Gallant and try to earn an extended stay in the lineup.

Another surprising move is journeyman defenseman Ben Harpur will make his Rangers debut against the high-powered attack of the Leafs.

“I don’t know much about him,” Gallant admitted. “He played in the league obviously. He’s a big guy and he’s moved the puck well in practice. He’s played well in Hartford and the coaches talked about him so he’ll get his chance tonight.”

Harpur, 27, registered three goals and five points in 17 games in Hartford with 24 penalty minutes. The 6-6, 231 lbs defenseman is a big man that doesn’t mind mixing it up. He initially signed to a Professional Tryout with the Wolf Pack on October 13 and then parlayed that into a one-year deal. The lefthander is a veteran of 156 NHL games.

Gallant did not mention which two players are coming out but it’s possible that Julien Gauthier and Libor Hajek might be scratched. Another possibility is Barclay Goodrow dropping down to the fourth line center spot and Jonny Brodzinski being taken out of the lineup.

Igor Shesterkin is confirmed to start. He’s 14-4-4 with a GAA of 2.52 and SV% of .916. The reigning Vezina winner is 3-1-0 lifetime versus Toronto with a GAA of 2.23 and a .935 save percentage.

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Anthony Scultore is the founder of Forever Blueshirts and has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL... More about Anthony Scultore