The New York Rangers got one step closer to finishing their rebuild when one of their top prospects in Vitali Kravtsov made his NHL debut back on April 3 against the Buffalo Sabres. While he is only six games into his NHL career, he has impressed with his strong play. He earned his first career point, an assist, in his fifth game and while that is the only point he earned so far, it is safe to say plenty more will be on the way. He has only shown a sneak preview of what he is capable of, what we have seen so far is just a sign of what is to come.

Given how poorly his first experience in a Rangers jersey went, the strides Kravtsov’s game after just one season has been nothing short of outstanding. Despite his nerves, he already looks like he belongs in the NHL. (From ‘Vitali Kravtsov was ‘nervous’ before strong Rangers debut,’ New York Post, April 5, 2021).

A Strong Start to His Career

So far, Kravtsov has played primarily on the fourth line with Kevin Rooney and Brett Howden but he has seen some shifts up and down the lineup. Just last game against the New Jersey Devils he caught a few shifts with Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich while Chris Kreider was in the penalty box for his fighting major. It was not much time but the line did score the first goal of the game that eventually held up to be the game-winner. While he did not get an assist on the play it looked like he got a small piece of a pass from Buchnevich, deflecting it just enough for Zibanejad to pick it up and race up ice for the goal.

Even when he is down on the fourth line, Kravtsov has been making plays happen and has by far been the driving force of that line. Howden’s struggles this season are of little secret and while Rooney has been a very solid fourth-liner for the Rangers, he is not the most skilled guy. He with a little more talent around him could be a dangerous offensive force. For example, according to Natural Stat Trick, he has been out for two goals for with both Zibanejad and Buchnevich. With both of them, the Rangers have not allowed a shot, he also has positive shot for percent with Alexis Lafreniere and Filip Chytil. Six games is a small sample size but it is something to keep in mind.

Looking Towards the Future

Kravtsov has the ceiling of a top-six offensive winger, he will not be on the fourth line for long considering how good he has been. Possibly the most impressive thing about him so far is his play away from the puck. He has shown the ability to put good pressure on puck carriers using his hockey IQ and his strong skating skills. For such a young player, it is really encouraging to see him play so hard on the puck and show a commitment to playing a complete game. When he was playing in the AHL and back over in Russia. For a player of his considerable skill, adding extra layers to his game just makes him even more of a threat.

At only 21 years old, Kravtsov still has plenty of room to grow and the Rangers brass will no doubt want to unlock his full potential. He is easily on his way to earning a more permanent promotion if he continues to play the way he has been playing. He has played both right and left wing which makes him more versatile and it makes David Quinn’s job easier when he needs to shuffle lines. While he primarily plays on the right side, playing on the left a few shifts here and there could help him not only get a better feel for the NHL ice but also get him a little bit more ice time. He has found a new compete level over the past year and it would be wise for the Rangers to capitalize on that.

With the trajectory Kravtsov has shown, he could become an impact player on this team as soon as next season. He has been noticeable just about every time he is on the ice and in a positive way. As a former ninth overall pick, the expectations for him are quite lofty so they do not want to put him in any situations he may not be ready for, but he has looked very solid so far. (From, ‘Rangers don’t want pressure piled on Vitali Kravtsov,’ New York Post, March 24, 2021). At this point, it looks less like “will Vitali Kravtsov be an impact player” and more a matter of when he will be an important part of the team. That is what is going to make him a player to keep your eyes on in the coming years, he will be fun to watch grow and one day, excel.

This article first appeared on The Hockey Writers and was syndicated with permission.

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