Vitali Kravstov & the Expanded Roster
With the uncertainty that the COVID-19 pandemic poses to this year's NHL playoffs, the NHL has proposed an expanded roster consisting of 28 players per squad. This number is subject to change based on further negotiations with the NHLPA, but it seems as if an expanded roster is becoming more and more likely. The reason for this proposal is multi faceted. The first reason being that having an expanded roster allows replacing injured/sick players much easier. Having an extra 5 players in the "bubble" prevents teams the headache of trying to find a replacement player that is safe enough to introduce to the rest of the squad without risk of spreading the corona virus. The second reason is that the NHL is allowing players to opt out of competing, on the basis that they do not feel comfortable playing hockey amidst a global pandemic. I would assume not many players would want to sit out on a run at the cup however, players with pre-existing medical conditions, such as Kaapo Kakko, who possess an increased risk of health complications because of the virus, might want to sit this one out for obvious reasons.
The idea of an expanded roster introduces some interesting developments to the Rangers squad. The biggest and most exciting, Vitali Kravtsov.
The Russian forward, Vitali Kravstov, was drafted 9th overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft and has been one of the highest touted prospects since. Ranked #11 in top NHL prospects by The Hockey Writers, Kravtsov is "an incredibly creative player that has a pass-first mentality. He’s a high-end playmaker and has the ability to change the course of a game". Vitali has already been invited to attend training camp which is taking place in late July and even without an expanded roster, he might be able to crack the lineup. With that being said, I do not quite know what type of an impact Kravtsov will make if he does get the chance to play this postseason.
There have been plenty of players that have taken the NHL by storm in their first season and made immediate impacts. However, most of those rookies usually play some regular season hockey before being thrown in the momentum driven playoffs. This won't be the case for 20-year old Vitali. Being thrown into playoff hockey as a "beginner" can result in one of two ways. Either your nerves overtake you and the pace of the game swallows you whole or your naivety to the situation helps you settle down and play your game no matter the situation. Chris Kreider in the 2011-12 playoffs adopted the latter of the two outcomes. His inexperience in the playoffs actually benefited him by showing him that the situation was not as grave as a veteran fighting for his last chance at the cup might think it is. The young Chris Kreider, playing third line minutes, put up 5 goals and 7 points in 18 playoff games leading us through 3 grueling series. That high intensity hockey that Kreider was fortunate enough to experience so early in his career set him up to be one of the Rangers most mature and driven leaders on the current roster. A youngster, such as Kreider at the time, has the ability to tune out all the noise that comes with playoff hockey without even knowing it and that is why a young player can be so valuable to a team in the playoffs. This is obviously going against many speeches at the end of long and arduous cup runs where the coach explains how experienced his group was and how that experience helped them overcome obstacles throughout the season, but I do think that some youth within the core can prove to be extremely beneficial. With that being said, some youngsters might not have the ability to deal with the swings of momentum and might crack under the pressure, which is why it is so hard to predict how the Kravtsov situation will play out.
Having played some North American hockey this season with 39 games in Hartford, Kravtsov has gotten some much needed exposure to the American game which will only aid him in his transition to the NHL game.(something Kakko lacked). Taking all things into consideration, I do not think that Kravtsov's production this off-season, to a certain extent, does not matter. At this point in his young career, I think that giving him this opportunity, especially because he already understands the American game, will put him at an advantage come next training camp. Throwing Kravtsov into the fire will not be detrimental. No, he might not put up crazy numbers (I've given up on seeing huge offensive rookie campaigns from our young forwards), but the chance to play alongside and against the world's best is going to be huge for the youngster and the Rangers organization for years to come.