Kravtsov signs with Chelyabinsk Traktor for one year, Early observations on Kakko


Vitali Kravtsov returned to Chelyabinsk Traktor of the KHL. It’s not a big deal. Plus some hard hitting thoughts on Kaapo Kakko and Igor Shesterkin. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy tsn.ca

On Monday, Vitali Kravtsov made it official. He re-signed with his KHL team Chelyabinsk Traktor for one year.

The 19-year old New York Rangers top prospect will rejoin Chelyabinsk and likely play out the rest of the season in Russia. This likely scenario had been rumored for a while. It is a two-way deal, which means the Rangers can recall the forward at any time. That isn’t realistic until sometime next year.

After spending training camp in New York, Kravtsov got a good look in preseason. He scored one goal and showed off some of the potential that made him a first round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. The Rangers took him ninth ahead of current Islander forward Oliver Wahlstrom. He isn’t getting a lot of ice time under coach Barry Trotz either.

Development takes time. That’s a harsh reality many fans and even some in the NYR blogosphere don’t want to face. You can’t rush kids who aren’t ready for the NHL. It’s the best league in the world. If you’re one of those impatient fans unhappy with what coach David Quinn is doing with the lineup, take a closer look at second overall pick Kaapo Kakko. I watched his shifts very closely on Sunday night at the game. He looked lost.

And for those doubters which have even included yours truly in this space, Kakko played on the top line against the Bruins. We saw what happened. They got completely exposed by a much better team that could win the Stanley Cup. It wasn’t just Kakko, who struggled mightily. Even Jacob Trouba had issues against the vaunted Boston top line. I don’t feel like repeating their names. It’s tiresome.

If you want further proof, look at Kakko’s numbers. Through nine games, the highly rated Finnish right wing has one goal and one assist. He’s a team worst minus-12. Some will argue that he hasn’t been put in position to succeed. However, that would ignore his defensive issues. Like most first-year players, it’s taking him more time to learn on the job. He’s only an 18-year old teenager. Playing in North America is way different than dominating in Europe. The smaller ice surface and faster speed means less time to make plays. Decisions must be quick and instinctive. Especially in the defensive zone.

I fully understand why Quinn originally had Jesper Fast penciled in with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. The veteran alternate captain is a two-way player, who’s defensively responsible. Not having him or Zibanejad after the first period left the Blueshirts fragile. They were out of their depths.

The truth is while it’s easy for us to sit on the sidelines and criticize the second-year coach, he was right to protect Kakko against such quality competition. Looking to get favorable match-ups can work well and help improve the rookie’s confidence. Even if he doesn’t lack it, he has to realize by now how challenging the league is.

Don’t forget when he sees the uber talented Lightning tonight, Steven Stamkos once went through similar growing pains in his rookie year. That was as the number one overall pick of the Bolts in 2008. He improved as the ’08-09 season went on, finishing with 23 goals and 23 assists for 46 points with a minus-13 rating over 79 contests. The next year, Stamkos erupted for 51 goals and 95 points to become one of the game’s brightest new stars. He had a dominant three-year stretch where he scored 156 goals from age 19 thru 22 by the conclusion of ’11-12.

We should be so lucky. I won’t be dropping Kakko anytime soon in my keeper league. I know better. Plus my team is off to another hot start. 😬

All of this is why nobody should be upset over Kravtsov. There’s nothing wrong with going home to play in a pro league he’s more familiar with. He’s young. He won’t turn 20 until December 23. Let him regain his confidence. Let’s see where he is in a few months.

That goes for Kakko, Lias Andersson and just recalled center Filip Chytil. It certainly applies to young defensemen Adam Fox, Libor Hajek and Ryan Lindgren. We’re still seeing Tony DeAngelo progress and he just turned 24. He’s on his third organization with the difference being he’s listening to Quinn and maturing.

I also want to finish this post by taking the anti Henrik Lundqvist fanclub to task. Sure. In a perfect world, our proud 37-year old goalie would’ve accepted a trade to a contender. He had that opportunity presented to him after the purge in ’17-18. He doesn’t have any interest in moving on. So, they’re stuck with his $8.5 million cap hit through 2021.

I’m friendly with one of the Lundqvist detractors on Twitter. He has his own blog. We exchange our posts following games. The difference between us is I’m realistic about the situation. It’s not a good idea to rush Igor Shesterkin up right now. I understand how good the 23-year old Russian is. The 2014 fourth round pick is off to a great start with the Wolf Pack. In his first five starts, he’s a perfect 5-0 with a 1.18 GAA, .953 save percentage and a shutout.

Before you crown him, how about we remain patient? There’s nothing wrong with letting Shesterkin continue to get acclimated in the AHL. Especially when the team in Hartford is much better than the current state of the Rangers roster. Or did these experts forget about Dan Blackburn? That was another brilliant job of management during the Dark Ages.

Besides, it’s better off with Lundqvist and steady backup Alexandar Georgiev take the bulk of the remaining 73 starts. If something happens to one of them, then by all means they can call up Shesterkin. I don’t want him too exposed to the current roster. There isn’t much talent and not any consistency. That’s why they’ve lost five of six.

Like the Guns N’ Roses hit song “Patience,” our fans must “use a little patience.” It’s a process. There are going to be more stinkers like we witnessed the other day. That’s part of it.

I’ll have more later.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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