On the official first day of school for most people, the first sneak peek of what’s to come was on display at the Rangers practice facility.
Here is 2018 first round pick Vitali Kravtsov showing off the skating and skill that convinced the Rangers to select him 15 months ago. The Russian forward will be part of an exciting young core that’ll include top pick Kaapo Kakko, Adam Fox along with second-year centers Filip Chytil, Brett Howden and Lias Andersson.
Eventually, Igor Shesterkin will be joining them. That all depends on how Henrik Lundqvist performs along with sophomore Alexandar Georgiev. How much of an adjustment will pro hockey be in North America for the top Rangers goalie prospect? The good news is they don’t have to rush him. Not with Lundqvist signed through 2021. Georgiev is a good insurance policy. The goalie position will be interesting to follow.
It’s strange that they’re so close to having the first rookie prospect tournaments while such big restricted free agents as Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Mitch Marner, Brayden Point, Mikko Rantanen, Matthew Tkachuk, Charlie McAvoy, Ivan Provorov and Zach Werenski still don’t have new contracts. To be blunt, it’s not good for the league. Especially when the Coyotes overpay Clayton Keller by inking their leading scorer to a big extension worth an average of $7.1 million per season kicking in for ’20-21.
The aforementioned Group II players are more established stars than Keller, who got paid. Arizona has almost $30 million committed to their defense. They also are slightly over the cap with a couple of unproven players making significant money. And you wonder why the current CBA isn’t working. The NHL is perfectly satisfied with it and won’t opt out. The players aren’t due to issues with the escrow. Something Jonathan Toews alluded to recently.
Between that problem and the ridiculous nature of how long it’s taking for teams to get key RFA’s re-signed, there are major concerns going forward. Will the players pay back Gary Bettman and the owners by opting out of the CBA next year? Stay tuned.
In the meantime, let’s try to stay positive about the continued infusion of youth coming into the league. Kakko and Jack Hughes enter for the Rangers and Devils, adding much needed spice to what’s been a dull rivalry. Quinn Hughes and Cale Makar are two young defensemen to watch as part of an exciting rookie class.
There is a lot to like about the direction some teams are going. Youth will indeed be served. The Flyers are banking on Carter Hart to be their starter in net while looking for improvement from former number one pick Nolan Patrick. He will not have as much pressure as big addition Kevin, who’ll be asked to provide consistent offense as their number two pivot behind do everything center Sean Couturier. They have plenty of scoring led by Claude Giroux, Couturier and Jakub Voracek. Alain Vigneault has to like the new situation he’s in. On paper, the Flyers look like a playoff team.
The rebuilt Rangers and Devils are hoping they can compete for the postseason thanks to strong offseasons. P.K. Subban and Wayne Simmonds join up with Hughes to strengthen their chances. Plus former MVP Taylor Hall is healthy and motivated in a contract year. Jacob Trouba and Artemi Panarin are the big additions for the Blueshirts along with Kakko, Fox and possibly Kravtsov. Chris Kreider is still on the roster while Tony DeAngelo and Brendan Lemieux must decide whether to accept their qualifying offers. It would help the cap and they could get paid next summer with good seasons.
Which goalie tandem will do better? The Rangers’ duo of Lundqvist and Georgiev or Devils tandem Cory Schneider and Mackenzie Blackwood.
How much will the loss of captain Justin Williams hurt Carolina? He decided at age 37 to take some time off to be with his family. He’s well respected and a real leader who’s had a very good career. I hope it’s not the last time we see him. Congrats to former Cane Cup hero Cam Ward on a good career. He signed a one day contract and retired a Hurricane.
There will be much more to get to in the coming days. The end of the US Open and beginning of football is when you know hockey’s around the corner. Hopefully, some contracts are signed and things clear up.