Coming into this season, it seemed fairly likely that Igor Shesterkin would need enough seasoning in the AHL following his KHL career that the Rangers could comfortably navigate their goalie situation. Alex Georgiev has been a perfectly capable backup goaltender for the Rangers, who may be capable of more, but it was fairly clear that Shesterkin was the future in goal.
Fast forward to January, the young Russian has made it far more complicated for the organization than many might have envisioned. Suffering from almost no acclimation issues to the North American game, Shesterkin looked confident and solid in training camp, and although he was assigned to Hartford, he left many with the impression he would be knocking at the door sooner than later.
In 25 games with the Wolf Pack, Shesterkin has approximated and even bested his video game-KHL numbers, with a 17-4-3 record, 1.90 GAA and a .934 save percentage in the AHL. His performance obviously forced the organization’s hand a bit, given the management debacles of Lias Andersson and Vitali Kravtsov.
I believe under normal circumstances, the club would have continued to provide encouragement and acknowledgment of the player’s performance, but reminded him his NHL career was likely to start next season, but after those incidents, the organization made the right decision to reward the merits of his play with an NHL call up, even if it created a sort of awkward 3-headed goaltender situation.
At the NHL level, Shesterkin has put up a very respectable 2.68 GAA and .929 save percentage. Small sample sizes aside, he has looked incredibly poised and comfortable with the speed of the game. His movements are explosive and efficient, he is tracking the puck well and not getting jittery/overwhelmed by the NHL game.
Dave has mentioned on several occasions that the best return for Alex Georgiev would likely materialize at the Draft, rather than the trade deadline, so the Rangers are in a bit of a tough spot. The easy move would be to cash in Georgiev before the end of February and officially begin the Shesterkin era. Under the circumstances, I think the Rangers are exercising their best option by picking their spots with Shesterkin and riding out the end of the year to maximize the return for Georgiev.
By all accounts, this structure is a little awkward, not really providing the appropriate amount of playing time to any of the three goaltenders but given the fact that the Rangers are highly unlikely to make the playoffs this season, it lightens the impact of that issue. From an asset management perspective, I believe this is the best the Rangers can do to simultaneously reward Shesterkin for his play while not shipping Georgiev out for a lesser return or damaging his trade value by sending him to Hartford.
Is it possible teams will understand that the Rangers are in a no-win situation with their goaltending this offseason and wait them out for lesser value in a Georgiev trade? Sure, it’s possible. The ticking clock of the deadline or the Draft might help create the sense of urgency the Rangers are looking for, but only time will tell.
In the meantime, the Rangers needed a way to try to balance this situation in the most tolerable way possible. Against their historic track record in these types of situations, they seem to have found the best path forward, despite its limitations. I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to move Georgiev at the deadline if the return is right. Quite frankly, that would make the situation much easier to manage.
It’s possible that the Rangers decide that Shesterkin should stay in Hartford, post All-Star break to get the reps and playing time to continue his development. His cup of coffee in the show could have just been a little reward for his performance so far. He might also be back up for the Rangers game on Friday. It will be interesting to keep an eye on the club’s handling of the situation going forward.
At the end of the day though, maintaining flexibility and managing asset values are the most important considerations here, and the Rangers have been making the best of a challenging position.