The saga of Vitali Kravtsov took another turn today when it was reported that he is returning to North America. That has to be seen as good news for the New York Rangers.
The Russian website Sports-Express reported that Vitali Kravtsov is returning to the United States to play in the Rangers system: “As it became known to SE, the Traktor forward Vitaly Kravtsov is returning to the Rangers and will play in the New York club system. Tomorrow, the hockey player flies to North America.”
While there has been no official announcement from the New York Rangers, Kravtsov posted a message on Instagram, thanking the fans for their support.
It’s been a tumultuous few months for the Rangers first round draft pick. He moved to North America after signing his Entry Level Contract. He spent the summer in Connecticut, working on his conditioning and learning English. He had a very good showing at the Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, but that didn’t translate into success at the Rangers training camp.
When he was sent to Hartford to start the season, he played five games with the Wolf Pack, notching one assist and was a healthy scratch in one game. At that point, he decided to exercise his European Assignment Clause and return to the KHL where he signed a contract with Traktor, his former team.
He didn’t have a lot of success with Traktor, scoring two goals and adding one assist in 12 games. He spent to stints with Chelmet Chelyabinsk of the VHL, a lower Russian league. The first time was for conditioning, but the second time was due to his play and that was apparently the last straw for him.
The key thing to keep in mind is that Kravtsov was on loan to Traktor and subject to recall. He wanted to play in Russia as he could make a lot more money. Per the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement, a player on an Entry Level Contract ($925k) gets paid only $70,000 if in the minor leagues. Kravtsov was due to make a lot more money in Russia.
For all of those reasons, the Rangers negotiated his departure with Kravtsov’s agent so the relationship with the player remains amicable.
There’s no real explanation of what went sour in his time with Traktor. The team is one of the worst in the KHL, so you cannot argue that they didn’t need his offense. There had been speculation that Kravtsov didn’t fit well with the coach, former NHL goalie Peter Skudra. The reports were that Skudra favors a trapping, defensive style and that was an issue.
No matter what, the ball is in Kravtsov’s court now. He will no doubt be assigned to play in Hartford and it will be up to him to show that he deserves a shot in the NHL. The Rangers put Ville Meskanen on waivers yesterday to clear room on the Hartford roster. It’s unknown if that was in anticipation of Kravtsov’s imminent return.
He’s still a kid, only 19 years old. He turns 20 on December 23rd. He was drafted ninth overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft and his stock was rising after solid performances with Traktor last season and in international play including the World Junior Championships. He is nine days too old to be eligible to play in this year’s tournament.
He will have plenty of Russian company in Hartford. Igor Shesterkin is playing lights out and defenseman Yegor Rykov has finally returned to action after being out with an ankle injury. Keep your eyes on his Instagram account. When he returned to Russia he deleted all of the entries related to the Rangers. Let’s see if he restores them.