If yesterday’s news is legitimate, then it seems like Vitali Kravtsov will be held out of the lineup again again tonight, despite apparently making the trip to Buffalo. Naturally, this has a bunch of folks up in arms. Kravtsov has been practicing with the team for a week, or at least skating with the team for a week. It makes you wonder when he is going to get into the lineup.
I asked if it's important to: A) See him in several games; B) Play him in the top 9.
"He's a guy that's created offense his whole life. He's not that fourth-line type player, so when he does get in, we're aware of that. We know we need to put him in a position to succeed."#NYR
— Vince Z. Mercogliano (@vzmercogliano) March 31, 2021
There’s a lot here. The first is the important piece – that Kravtsov has earned the opportunity to get into a game. That is a significant difference from last season, where Kravtsov was passed over for far significant players. That does include the forward of Brendan Smith.
The other piece is that DQ specifically called out that Kravtsov needs to be in the top-nine. This is less about roster construction and more about ice time and linemates. There are a bunch of logical reasons for this, and to be frank, these all jive with what many have complained about over the years.
A common complaint over the last decade –yes decade, that’s how long we’ve been doing this– was getting skill prospects with skill players to put them in a position to succeed. This is what DQ wants to do, but I completely understand if you are skeptical of Quinn at the moment. There’s a case for that.
Position to succeed
Much like with any prospect, it’s important to put Kravtsov in a position to succeed. Will he be fine with Brett Howdeon or Kevin Rooney as his center? Or will he be better off with any of the other three centers on the Rangers? Clearly the answer is the latter.
Therein lies the rub. If you think Julien Gauthier’s flashes of brilliance have earned him a longer look in the top nine, then there is no one else to take out of the lineup. On the flip side, how can you justify keeping a top-ten pick out of the lineup for Julien Gauthier? That is a very tough sell.
To get the most out of Kravtsov, the Rangers might need to shake things up. Tom Urtz had a stats based lineup thought, and it was pretty interesting.
This won't happen, but here's what I think would be fun for when the team is completely healthy. Top 9 pretty much plays the same 5v5 when possible. Lean on top two pairs. Smith gets extra minutes on PK. CK and Zibanejad get them on PP. Obviously room for tweaks. pic.twitter.com/uWNeSXcYtv
— Tom Urtz Jr. (@TomUrtzJr) March 17, 2021
Given the recent struggles to generate sustained offense, shaking things up might not be a bad idea. Any combination of the top nine Tom lists results in three legitimate scoring lines. It also results in a fourth line that, while lacking top-end skill, can put the puck in the net and play 200 foot hockey.
If the question is who to take out of the lineup, none of the four players in question (Rooney, Howden, Blackwell, PDG) should keep Kravtsov from being in the lineup. There is also no reason that Gauthier should keep Kravtsov out of the top nine. There is also no reason why a journeyman should keep Gauthier out of the lineup. See where this is headed?
There is a quality lineup that can be made here, with Vitali Kravtsov in the lineup. It’s only a matter of time before he’s in the lineup. Realistically, it’s only been two games that he’s been held out. There’s no need to panic yet. But there is always a need to question.