Thoughts on Vitali Kravtsov staying in the KHL this season

In some relatively expected news, the Rangers confirmed that Vitali Kravtsov will not be recalled from the KHL this season, and will be staying in Russia. He will play the full season there before the Rangers make any decisions. This is something that had been rumored, but now officially confirmed. As per usual, I have thoughts.

1. This is the best plan for Kravtsov. He had a really rough season as a 19 year old playing in a foreign country last year. He needed a year to get his game back together and regain confidence. Kravtsov is doing just that, and is having a very strong season in the KHL. Why interrupt that? Let the kid play.

2. The plan is still to have Kravtsov come over. However with the NHL season still without a start date, why force things? The KHL season ends in February, and the playoffs end in April. At the very latest, Kravtsov would be over by then. That’s at most halfway into the season, and at least two months into the season, depending on start date. Finishing the season in the KHL and playing in the NHL this season are not mutually exclusive.

3. This also gives the Rangers some time to figure out what’s going on with their forward group. Kravtsov is a RW, where the Rangers have Pavel Buchnevich and Kaapo Kakko penciled into the top-six roles. Julien Gauthier and Brendan Lemieux will be in those bottom-six roles, likely swapping lines a lot. (Lemieux plays LW as well). The Rangers will need to make a long-term decision on Buchnevich soon, and how Gauthier/Lemieux play will impact that decision.

4. More on Buchnevich – it’s a numbers and a cap game. Back in July we mentioned he could be the next big trade chip. If Kakko and Kravtsov are the 1-2 on RW, can the Rangers afford Buchnevich at $5+ million as the 3RW? They already have Chris Kreider at $6.5 million as the eventual 3LW, and at this point it’s cap mismanagement to have Buchnevich play a depth role for a large chunk of the cap. Buchnevich is criminally underrated by many, and brings a lot to the lineup. He’s a true top-six winger, but it is again a numbers game. Much like how the Rangers will need a decision on Tony DeAngelo, it applies to Buchnevich as well.

5. There’s also the Ryan Strome situation. He can also play RW, but the Rangers are thin at center at the moment. If Filip Chytil shows he can take the 2C role and Brett Howden takes a major leap forward, what will the Rangers do with Strome? The answer is easy if a RW or C struggles. But if the plan is to play the kids, and they all show they can play up to the next level, where does that leave Strome?

6. It is safe to assume the Rangers will take the same approach with Yegor Rykov. They will leave him in the KHL for the season before bringing him over to the AHL/NHL in April. This again gives the Rangers time to evaluate their LD option. They have K’Andre Miller, Libor Hajek, and Tarmo Reunanen fighting for what amounts to a pair of lineup spots this winter. Why shoehorn a fourth LD?

7. Both Vitali Kravtsov and Yegor Rykov staying in the KHL this season should have been expected. The lack of a confirmed NHL start date, plus exponentially rising COVID numbers, means more uncertainty. Just let the kids play.

8. This is a big year for a bunch of kids in the NHL. Same with next year. We’ve been clamoring for the kids to get ice time. Now we have it. It will be a bumpy ride.