NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers. Flyers-Rangers stream coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
The Rangers always seem like a rotating door of dramatic events. There’s always something ready to shake things up.
The next shake up though might be pretty fun, if 2018 first round pick Vitali Kravtsov is going to be a part of things.
The 21-year-old winger saw his KHL team, Traktor, eliminated earlier this week. That could mean Kravtsov will be ready to join the Rangers soon. He’s in New York quarantining, so all signs are a go.
He finished this KHL season with 16 goals and 24 points in 49 games, and added four points in the postseason before Traktor was defeated in five games.
The question becomes, and they have a few days, how does he fit in their lineup when he’s ready to go.
That won’t be Wednesday night against the Flyers (6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) or any other time this week, but some decisions will have to be made with current players to shuffle around and fit in Kravtsov. At the start, he might even see some time with the taxi squad.
How fast is Vitaly @Kravtsov?#GagarinCup pic.twitter.com/3RbO0uSDpv
— KHL (@khl_eng) March 3, 2021
Kravtsov’s talent is undoubted; the 6-foot-3 scorer tied for eighth all-time in KHL goals for players under 22 with 30 of them; the player he’s tied with is Rangers forward Artemi Panarin. It took 13 fewer games for Kravtsov.
He made a stop in the AHL last season before returning to the KHL. Kravtsov was a 2018 first rounder, but the hype surrounding him feels like it’s been happening for a long time. Since drafting him, they added Panarin and drafted two more first rounders — Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafrenière — who have already begun to make an impact.
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Kravtsov’s addition to the latter two would be a solid draft haul for three seasons picking in the top 10. He would become the 28th first rounder from 2018 to make an NHL debut, joining his Rangers teammate K'Andre Miller, who was selected 22nd overall (Kravtsov was ninth).
Shot location for all 16 goals tells a story. #NYR https://t.co/1evGc7aNF7 pic.twitter.com/VZ3uWOIovM
— Alex Nunn (@aj_ranger) February 27, 2021
Things didn’t go great with AHL Hartford; frustration on the organization and the player side resulted in him heading back to Russia before this season. All indications now, though, are that those have been cleared up and they’re ready for him to debut at the NHL level.
Rangers head coach David Quinn has been careful giving younger players too many minutes, including Filip Chytil with the two first rounders. That might indicate it’ll be a while before Kravtsov has the opportunity to be an impact player.
When he does get a chance, it might be with Chytil and Julien Gauthier, a line that’s already young but those two have at least had ample NHL experience. The Rangers have wanted him to develop the defensive part of his game, though, so perhaps they’ll use him in a checking fourth line role to get his feet wet. Lafrenière, of course, could end up on that line as well.
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It becomes interesting to think how they spend these next two weeks shuffling things around in anticipation of Kravtsov joining them in practice in less than two weeks. Someone could play themselves out of a role, injuries and now, COVID, could play a part in who could be out. Panarin is back in action, and those on the COVID list — Pavel Buchnevich, Phil Di Giuseppe, Adam Fox — are expected to be back by then.
If they do put Kravtsov on the fourth line to start, that could stunt his immediate offensive development. If a plan is in place to expect that, though, perhaps it will help round out his game.
The overall depth at winger, something they didn’t have when they drafted him many moons ago in 2018, means they make his adjustment to the NHL a little easier. They won’t be relying on him or his ninth overall pick status to play an offensive savior role.
An organic development opportunity for Vitali Kravtsov could give the Rangers just another young winger who can do some offensive damage. For a guy some have wondered if he’ll make that leap over to the NHL so easily, there really couldn’t be a better situation for him to debut soon.
Marisa Ingemi is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop her a line at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Ingemi.