Where to fit Vitali Kravtsov, and which right wing will be scratched going forward

Vitali Kravtsov skated yesterday with the extras and was moved to the taxi squad last night. The 21 year-old cleared all his COVID protocols and is ready to go. Today he’s expected to be a full participant at practice with his NHL debut possibly this weekend. The big question is where should he play?

Where to fit Vitali Kravtsov

It wasn’t too long ago that the New York Rangers 2018 first round pick wasn’t even sure if he had a spot in this lineup. In a feature on Traktor’s website back in November 2020 he said, “Count how many players they have at my position. There’s plenty to chose from. Right now there’s no place on paper for me.”

That may have been true at the time, but here we are with the Rangers ready to open up a spot for him. Two things are certain:

  1. They will not break up the KZB line; leaving Pavel Buchnevich as the first line RW
  2. Kravtsov will not play on the fourth line
new york rangers
Kravtsov picks up KHL play (Getty Images)

So that leaves the Rangers with two other lines to consider. Will they play Kravtsov will fellow Russian Artemi Panarin to ease his transition? Although it would be wise to let Kaapo Kakko stay on that line. New York’s prized 2020 pick had his first taste of real success in the Blueshirts last win over the Sabres scoring twice.

Another option is an updated version of the kid’s line. Alexis Lafrenière on the left with Filip Chytil in the middle. Vitali Kravtsov could play trigger man to Lafrenière’s set ups as he had 16 goals in the KHL this past season. Of the two options this seems like the most likely starting point, with playing on the second line as a fallback.

Julien Gauthier will remain the odd man out

When it comes to which current right wing will pay the price the answer seems pretty obvious. Julien Gauthier for all his size and speed continues to make careless mistakes. There’s no doubt he has the offensive ability to play in the NHL, but can he be trusted in his own zone and can he keep his stick from clipping player’s faces? That remains to be seen, but it won’t be the main reason why he’s not in the lineup.

Currently he is sitting because Colin Blackwell has been in the top 9 and the organization does not feel Gauthier is what they need as a fourth liner. Blackwell on the hand could play that checking role and has experience as a center to give them that additional versatility.

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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

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