There was a lot of hype. Expectations were through the roof. That was due to how well Igor Shesterkin performed for St. Petersburg SKA in the KHL. Taken by the Rangers with the 118th pick in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Draft, the Moscow, Russia native proved to be one of the best goalie prospects in the game.
From 2016-17 through ’18-19, Shesterkin went 71-12-10 with SKA. That translates to 71 victories in 95 games. He put up remarkable numbers to dominate the KHL. That included 25 shutouts over that span with 10 coming last year. A season that saw him post a 1.11 GAA and. 953 save percentage.
At that point, the Blueshirts had to sign him. They finally did to get Shesterkin over to North America last summer. The anticipation for him was maybe higher than it was for a kid by the name of Henrik Lundqvist, who the team took in the seventh round in 2000. Fast-forward and everyone knows how great a goaltender he became in New York City. Now, the elder statesman is nearing the end of his career at least with the Rangers. It’s a complicated situation.
For the younger 24-year old Shesterkin, there were still questions he had to answer. How quickly would he adjust to the smaller rink in the AHL with Hartford? Not long at all. All he did was continue to win games consistently by going 17-4-3 with a 1.90 GAA, .934 save percentage and three shutouts with the Wolf Pack. He was named an AHL All-Star, but skipped the event with the Rangers opting to let him get extra work instead with a bye week during the break.
Since his recall, Shestyorkin or Shesty has proven he is capable of performing well against NHL competition. During last night’s 5-3 win at MSG, he made 27 saves to defeat the Maple Leafs. One of the league’s best offenses, the Russian showed good composure by making several big saves. None better than going post to post to deny Auston Matthews of a sure goal early. Even though Matthews would get him twice later on two great shots, Shesterkin prevailed to improve to 4-1-0 in five Ranger starts.
With a defense that can sometimes be shaky, he has proven he can come up with the clutch stops. Possessing a quick glove that is like a whipping motion, he is a fun player to watch play the position. He’s also very athletic and strong down low which good goalies need at this high level to be successful.
So far in five games all at home, he’s won four starts with a 2.61 GAA and. 922 save percentage. Respectable numbers on a young team that isn’t consistent at five-on-five. It’s not just the defense. The forwards play a important role too. That’s the misconception in other spaces.
Take a look at the big Leafs stars and their plus/minuses from last night. They shared responsibility along with the putrid Toronto defense while getting victimized by the trio of Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich.
For Shesterkin, he already is hearing the “Ig-or, Igor!”, chants from the Garden crowd. And for good reason. There is reason to be excited. The hype so far is real for the young Russian netminder, who seems to have a keen sense of humor. He understands.
Whatever happens regarding Alex Georgiev, whose name will continue to be mentioned even with the Maple Leafs out after wisely getting Jack Campbell and Kyle Clifford from the Kings, Shesterkin looks like the Rangers goalie of the present and future. If Lundqvist was ever open to waving his no-trade clause, that would make things a lot easier. That is up to him.
For now, Shesterkin remains one of three NHL goalies in a complicated rotation. Maybe the picture becomes clearer on Monday, Feb. 24. The date of the NHL trade deadline. However, we know Shesty isn’t going anywhere. That’s a good thing for everyone.