Draft day, as I touched on in my post in the week leading up to it, is a weird one. Although the Rangers wound up not trading any roster players (they might eventually this summer, however), it’s still an interesting mix of excitement, nervous anticipation, more excitement, and a general posture towards the future. On the one hand we’re fueled by a desire to see our team do the best they can do and make smart decisions, and on the other there’s the simple joy of watching teenagers hug their moms, put on those jerseys, and embark on the journey of a lifetime.
There’s a certain tearing between the “name on the front of the jersey/name on the back” dynamics in that sometimes, as some of us find ourselves upset that the wrong kid is going to wind up on our preferred hockey team years down the road. I realize that’s reductionist to a certain extent, and that there’s a lot more to it, but I think it bears repeating: this is only a game, and these are just kids. Grown men audibly screaming the F Bomb in a crowded theater filled with children underscores how serious some people take the draft, despite the cloak of agnosticism that hangs over all of it. We simply don’t know how things are going to pan out, so let’s not scream obscenities or get into Twitter fights about it quite yet, OK?
Not unlike the almost immediate controversy that sprung up around Lias Andersson’s selection at last year’s draft, the picking of Vitali Kravtsov to be a future New York Ranger has rankled some, particularly given that Oliver Wahlstrom, a widely regarded top-notch goalscorer, was right there on the board and was instead sent to the Islanders. To those Wahlstrom boosters this is yet another sign that the Rangers brass have no idea what they’re doing, that the rebuild is going to stall, and that we’ll never see a Stanley Cup again (this too is reductionism and perhaps a bit of a strawman fallacy, but you’d be surprised at how upset some people are about this whole thing). Given the apocalyptic tone of the folks who didn’t want Kravtsov to be our number 9 pick, and given the often overly bright optimism on the part of certain bloggers (mostly just talking about myself here), I figured it’d be worth doing some more level headed analysis of things.
Below you’ll find a chart that I made for myself in the preliminary stages of writing this post using data from Elite Prospects that I then realized would probably just be better to share. I’ve got the name, age, team and league of each of Vitali Kravtsov, Evgeni Kuznetsov, and Pavel Buchnevich followed by their games played for each team listed, their goals/assists, and how many points per game that calculates out to. This chart spans each player’s 16/17 year old season to their 18/19 year old season; Kuznetsov and Buch each stayed longer in Russia than Kravtsov, who says he plans on coming over to North America following the expiration of his KHL contract a year from now (although he has the option to buy out the remainder of it, which he presumably would do on the off chance that he makes the big team out of camp), most likely will.
Apologies for my handwriting, the use of whiteout, and whatever calculation errors may be in there (I don’t think there are any, but if you catch one be sure to throw out everything I’m saying, or just mention it in the comments, whichever you prefer is fine with me). Also, please note that I included playoff games/points in with the regular season, and that I was going to do NHLe equivalencies but opted not to (I’ll get to that shortly). All of this will be elaborated upon further, I promise.
So the first big takeaway here, to me at least, is that young Russian players get bounced around a lot between various teams in their system over there. This isn’t all that crazy, but just something worth noting for context – the most games Kravtsov played with any one team was 51, while it was 44 for Kuznetsov and 55 for Buchnevich. Accordingly the numbers vary quite a bit as well, both because of the obvious changes in level of competition and the more low-key fact that it’s hard to get into a rhythm, find chemistry with line mates, and so on when you’re constantly being shuffled around.
Still, this is all for your purposes of comparison; what I would say is that broadly, Kravtsov seems to be tracking somewhere between Kuznetsov and Buchnevich, and while we obviously would all prefer more of the former than the latter it’s not bad company one way or another.
Now, for some background, there’s a great article on Elite Prospects that expands on what’s gone on behind the scenes of Kravtsov’s development, with the most important bit being his wrist injury. That injury kept him out of the action for seven weeks and put a damper on the end of his club season, but he quickly rebounded in the playoffs, notching 6 goals and 11 points in 16 games, and finding his way onto Bob McKenzie’s list at 12 with a notable mention of one scout out of the ten polled by TSN who had Kravtsov in the top 5 of his draft board.
Now, to address the Wahlstrom issue head on, I’m going to lean on the tool developed by our very own Josh Khalfin to illustrate my point that Vitali Kravtsov is going to be more than fine on the New York Rangers. Below you can find a screenshot of Oliver Wahlstrom’s profile from Josh’s Tableau,
And Vitali Kravtsov’s…
These two charts have an NHLe equivalency component that lists Wahlstrom at 34.03 points and Kravtsov at 24.24, but this, like all things, requires context. Wahlstrom was playing for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program (he’s committed to BC next season), while Kravtsov was playing in the second best pro league in the world. Another gigantic caveat is that Wahlstrom has many more data points involved in this calculation than Kravtsov, and at one point Wahlstrom’s points per game translated to an NHLe of 26.09 (you can’t get the individual NHLe data points on the image I don’t think, but if you go over to Josh’s Tableau and hover your mouse over the individual data points it shows).
Most stat heads would also tell you that NHLe, especially for young players is inherently fraught, so I’ll end this component of my argument with this: suppose Kravtsov didn’t have a wrist injury that kept him out for 7 weeks and lingered beyond that, suppose he played in a program specifically designed to develop young players instead of a pro league where he’s fighting for a spot among men (as you can imagine, he wasn’t on the top line in Chelyabinsk), and suppose Wahlstrom were in Kravtsov’s shoes instead – would we be having this same conversation about what a huge mistake the Rangers made by taking Kravtsov over Wahlstrom?
Let’s even take a looser, less counterfactual position – if Kravtsov had as much data to input into an already imperfect equalizer as Wahlstrom did, is it at least possible that they’d have closer point totals and be considered more comparable?
So here’s what I’m saying: Vitali Kravtsov is going to be more than just alright. His ceiling is sky high, so we may be all kicking ourselves for ever freaking out about how the Rangers passed on Wahlstrom in three years when our 2018 9th overall pick wins the Rocket Richard (ok, maybe that’s a bit hyperbolic). At minimum, he’s an NHLer that you can build around, just like how you’d build around Oliver Wahlstrom, and at the end of the day, given how widely hockey varies and the amount of chance and other mitigating factors at play in determining who winds up hoisting the Stanley Cup, it’s really not worth getting worked up about.
I could also get into the irony of a fanbase that refers to itself as “the Garden Faithful” going bonkers over the selection of one high-quality teenage scoring talent instead of another high-quality teenage scoring talent, but I’ll save that for another day. For now, I’ll just leave you with this video of some Kravtsov highlights, and this news that broke on Twitter as I was writing this. Happy Tuesday, everyone.
https://twitter.com/RickCarpiniello/status/1011303276174893056"The Kid is (More Than) Alright",