When the Rangers signed Igor Shesterkin to his entry level contract, it was clear the Rangers had their heir-apparent to Henrik Lundqvist. The only concern with Shesterkin was whether his stellar KHL numbers would translate to the NHL. After the first two months of the AHL season, all signs are pointing to him truly being the next great Rangers goaltender.
Through 11 starts, Shesterkin has put up equally ridiculous numbers in the AHL. He has a 1.89 GAA and a .931 SV% and one shutout. It’s not just the numbers either, as Shesterkin is making the same crazy saves as well.
The assumed plan for the Rangers has been to give the 23-year-old (24 in December) a full season in the AHL. The Blueshirts would then most likely trade Alex Georgiev in the offseason and promote Shesterkin to the NHL to back-up/split time with Lundqvist before taking over full time duties once Lundqvist’s contract is up. That was the assumed plan. Reality, though, often goes to plan. And no, I’m not advocating for a Lundqvist trade. That was Justin. Please direct all hatred of that to him.
The Rangers face two critical decisions: When to trade Georgiev and when to officially make Shesterkin the starter. On the surface those are the only two decisions, but there are other factors in play. The first is Georgiev’s waiver status, which he will no longer be waiver-exempt after he makes another 8 starts. He will hit that before the calendar year is out. The second is the expansion draft, in which the Rangers must expose a goalie. The latter wild card isn’t overly concerning though, as there are ways around this.
What there is no way around is that Shesterkin is far exceeding expectations in Hartford and isn’t long for the AHL. In a perfect world, the Rangers continue to move forward with the plan, perhaps finding a trade partner at the trade deadline and calling up Shesterkin for the final six weeks of the season. But with Shesterkin performing the way he has, perhaps this means moving the timetable up a bit.
San Jose, with Stanley Cup aspirations, has had absolutely miserable goaltending, and it’s preventing them from truly competing. They are, of course, long term committed to Martin Jones, but that isn’t working out. Georgiev and his controlled salary might be a good fit. This is just spitballing, but with San Jose’s playoff hopes slipping away, a deal sooner rather than later may be in order.
Beyond the Georgiev situation, this impacts The King. Lundqvist is having, given the circumstances of the Rangers being historically bad defensively, a decent-to-solid season. But he’s getting older, and we’ve all seen that even given the circumstances, he’s not the Lundqvist of old. He’s still got it, but at some point the difficult decision to move the starting role to Shesterkin is going to need to be made. If Shesterkin gets his cuppa soon, and he performs at this same level, how can the Rangers justify not keeping him around and giving him the starts he needs? Plus who better to learn from than one of the greatest of all time?
The decision is looming and we know it’s coming. Shesterkin’s performance could make the decision come much sooner than anticipated. It is certainly a good problem to have.
"Igor Shesterkin is going to force the Rangers into tough decisions",