It was something of a mild surprise when the New York Rangers took Russian winger Vitali Kravtsov with the ninth pick in the 2018 NHL draft, but the team couldn’t be more pleased with their selection.
The KHL’s rookie of the year last season, Kravtsov is having a fine sophomore year in the KHL and is expected to lead Russia’s contingent at the 2019 WJC in Vancouver. “What he’s doing is pretty impressive at his age,” said Rangers assistant GM Chris Drury. “He just came off a U-20 (Four Nations Tournament) where he was captain and played really, really well. All of us, I know, are very excited to see him in Vancouver.”
Kravtsov, who turns 19 on Dec. 23, has had an eventful past few months. After he was drafted, he considered buying out the final year of his contract with Traktor Chelyabinsk so he could come to North America. Ultimately, he and the Rangers decided one more season in Russia would be good for him. However, his Traktor team has been in turmoil, with coach German Titov getting fired and the club languishing at the bottom of its division in the Eastern Conference.
Despite the team’s struggles, the lanky 6-foot-4, 183-pounder with explosive speed and skill has four goals and 13 points through 29 games. At the Four Nations Tournament in the Czech Republic in November, he had five points in three games, including a four-point effort against the host squad where he was on the ice for all six of Russia’s goals in a 6-5 win.
The Rangers expect to bring Kravtsov to North America after the KHL season ends in April, if either they or their AHL affiliate in Hartford are still playing at that time. For now, the club is expecting Kravtsov and several other of its draft prospects to play at the WJC.
Drury said the Rangers place a high value on what the tournament can do to aid in the development of young prospects. “I can’t speak for the other 30 teams, but we look at it as a very important piece, not only for draft-eligible kids, but for seeing a player’s development,” Drury said. “There are a lot of good teams, there are a lot of games in a short amount of time, in high-pressure situations. So it’s a good tournament to gauge someone’s development and see where they’re at.”
This story appears in the January 28, 2019 of The Hockey News magazine.