Per Vince Mercogliano, Vitali Kravtsov will be a healthy scratch tonight, again. This was expected with Will Cuylle’s recall, as Cuylle is from Toronto and will play in his hometown tonight. Scratching Kravtsov was also expected, given the glut of wingers in the bottom six. That said, scratching Kravtsov seems off this time around.
Kravtsov was benched in the Rangers loss to Boston, then punted to the fourth line at the following practice. That fourth line, which looked like it was comprised of the “extras” that weren’t in the top nine, was (rightly) benched in the third period against Florida, which eventually turned into a blowout win.
It’s not on Gerard Gallant to give us answers, very few NHL coaches actually provide details on healthy scratches, improvements needed, what went wrong, or anything related to benchings or healthy scratches. We may think it’s part of his job, but it’s not. It’s a double edged sword though, as lack of transparency leads to frustration among the fans. Given the Rangers track record with poor communication, especially with Kravtsov, let’s hope they actually had a conversation with him about why he isn’t playing.
Communication aside, benching Kravtsov seems short sighted. Assuming there isn’t something glaring, and we would have caught it in the last two games, then there seems to be a shiny new toy syndrome going on with the Rangers. Jake Leschyshyn and Will Cuylle are the shiny new toys here, even if they are just fourth liners. It makes sense that Gallant wants to see what he has in Leschyshyn. He’s a 23 year old kid who perhaps could have just used a change of scenery. Same thought process with Cuylle, whom the Rangers essentially acquired in exchange for former 7th overall pick Lias Andersson. That’s a significant piece –even if he was a bust– to give up.
But if we are talking Kravtsov, isn’t there more value in also seeing what he can do? It’s hard to believe the Rangers have seen enough of him and his surprisingly good defensive metrics. He’s one of the only pure RWs on the roster as well, especially one that can and should play in a scoring role. Kravtsov is far from a net-negative on the ice. He’s also an important part of the Rangers immediate future as a cheap asset who can score and play two way, three zone hockey. These players don’t grow on trees.
It’s a delicate balance between winning and development. It’s just difficult to see how benching Kravtsov helps with both, especially without an explanation for the benching and punt to the fourth line.
We can start with what the fourth line’s role is expected to be. At least that can let fans decipher why Kravtsov was benched and what the Rangers potentially see in Leschyshyn as an option.