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Vitali Kravtsov is surely not the same player who struggled through his first pro hockey season in North America in 2019-20, but his chance to prove it is already on the horizon.
This time, there will be no training-wheeled start in the AHL with the Hartford Wolf Pack. This time, Kravtsov is expected to ride straight into the Rangers lineup.
The 21-year-old has been going through the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols since his arrival in New York, shortly after his KHL Traktor Chelyabinsk team’s first-round elimination in the playoffs this month. Should he clear his cardiac screening scheduled for Monday, Kravtsov could be on the ice with the Rangers as soon as Tuesday.
Kravtsov, the ninth-overall selection in the 2018 entry draft, is coming off a reassuring KHL season in which he recorded 16 goals and eight assists in 49 games. He also added two goals and two assists in five playoff matches.
However, that was all in Russia, his home country. Kravtsov’s last stint in North America wasn’t as encouraging.
“I think there was definitely disappointment in the beginning of the year, he had his heart set on being with the Rangers and that wasn’t meant to be,” said Rangers acting head coach Kris Knoblauch, who coached Kravtsov for 39 games in Hartford last season. “But when he rejoined [the Wolf Pack] in December, he was great, did everything we asked him to do, played hard, he was blocking shots.
“I anticipate with him being here, he’s going to make the team better. What his role is in the future, I don’t know. There’s going to be some practices and getting him up to game speed with the systems and just the speed of play. But I think he’ll be a big benefit for the team in the future.”
Registering six goals and nine assists in the AHL last season, Kravtsov was still adjusting to the North American game, which comes with a smaller rink and less open ice. The Rangers were able to get a closer look at his progress when Kravtsov joined the Rangers for summer camp and was included on the expanded roster that traveled to Toronto for last season’s playoffs.
But the 6-foot-3 winger enjoyed a breakout season while on loan in the KHL to start this year, regularly showing off his offensive prowess and playmaking abilities. It made the organization’s decision to bring him right to the NHL club that much easier.
In the second year of his entry-level contract, which he signed in May 2019, Kravtsov will carry a $925,000 cap hit plus an $800,000 bonus package. It’s worth mentioning that fellow big-bodied forward Morgan Barron is under the same contract, but will remain in Hartford as the Rangers evidently favor Kravtsov and cannot afford both.
“He’s great, I love Kravy,” Knoblauch said Monday ahead of the Rangers’ game against the Sabres. “His attitude in the second half was good. … As a person, as a player, I’ve got a lot of respect for him and think he’s going to be one heck of a hockey player in the future.”
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