The Rangers have had their fair share of experience dealing with the hype and anticipation of a prospect. It’s something that comes naturally when you land the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the last two NHL Drafts.
But with Vitali Kravtsov, the Rangers want to pump the brakes.
Kravtsov practiced with the team for the first time Wednesday since accompanying them to the Toronto bubble for the 2019-20 playoffs in August. He skated with the bottom six for a bit, but primarily watched while the team took line rushes ahead of Thursday’s matchup in Philadelphia. As of Wednesday, Kravtsov is listed on the team’s taxi squad.
Acting head coach Kris Knoblauch confirmed Kravtsov wouldn’t be in the lineup against the Flyers and added that he doesn’t think he will be “in the immediate future.”
“Whether he’s ready for the lineup, that’s not my decision,” Knoblauch said. “I don’t know what the timetable is, that’ll be for [general manager Jeff Gorton] and [head coach David Quinn] to decide.”
Knoblauch noted that there haven’t been many discussions with Quinn regarding where Kravtsov will be inserted into the lineup. The real coaching staff has been inquiring about how the 21-year-old is doing and if he’s happy to be there.
“I think they’ll want to see him, they’ll want to have communications with him, they’ll want to review the systems with him before they make a decision of throwing him into the lineup,” Knoblauch said.
Kravtsov, who is coming off a stellar season in the KHL, is considered a top-six player. But there is an abundance of top-six talent on the Rangers roster already, which may land the 2018 ninth-overall pick on the third line to start.
The third line is currently named ‘the kid line,’ with Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil and, as of Wednesday’s practice, Julien Gauthier. Considering Gauthier had found himself out of the lineup before Brett Howden was designated to the COVID-19 protocol list, it’s possible Kravtsov could be slotted on the right wing of Lafreniere and Chytil.
Players like Lafreniere, Chytil and Kaapo Kakko – who was on their right wing for a handful of games before another promotion to the second line – have shouldered an enormous amount of expectations that come with being a trio of first-round picks. That’s something the Rangers would like to avoid with Kravtsov in a perfect world.
“Our team’s been playing pretty good hockey right now, so if we can add a little bit that’d be nice but we’ll see what happens,” Ryan Strome said.
“I think it’s important that everyone takes things slow and expectations slow,” he continued. “Often times, especially to jump in the middle of the season when we’ve got a system and all these things going, it’s tough to learn on the fly. It’s not an easy thing that he’s going to have to do, but he’s got the skill level to do it. We’ll see what happens and how the games go, looking forward to seeing what he can do.”
Strome and Ryan Lindgren, who briefly played with Kravtsov in AHL Hartford last season, noted that they’re still getting to know the Russian native. But even if there is a language barrier, both said they’ve already learned that Kravtsov has high-end skill.
That will translate onto the ice no matter what.