Since June of 2017, the Rangers have drafted 21 players, traded for five, and signed two as UFAs. Of those, four players—Kaapo Kakko, Lias Andersson, Adam Fox, and Libor Hajek—are current regulars on the Rangers roster, three others (Filip Chytil, Adam Huska, and Igor Shesterkin) are in Hartford, and Vitali Kravtsov has returned to Russia. Three weeks into the 2019-20 season, how are these players doing?
Kaapo Kakko (RW)—Kakko has played in every game so far this season—on the right wing, mostly on the second line. Although he has a goal and an assist so far in eight games, it feels like he has not gotten started on his season. There has not been a steady top six center on the line, and Chris Kreider, who for the most part has been the line’s left wing, has not supplied much support. Kakko played on the left side of a top line that included Kreider and Mika Zibanejad on Thursday night, but it did not seem to kick start Kakko. Patience with the 18-year old is imperative—he has all the skills, he just needs to put it all together, which will take time.
Lias Andersson (C)—Lias has not found a top six role on the team, which at this point is a disappointment. Generally toiling at the fourth line center position, in the last game against Buffalo, Lias played a mostly defensive role. He had the least amount of ice time (9:39), with four hits and two takeaways. It’s not clear whether the team has given up on the idea that Lias could be a top six center or they are just trying others at the position (on Thursday, it was Ryan Strome, on Tuesday, it was Brett Howden), but Andersson no longer gets any power play time and has no points in any of the eight games in which he has appeared.
Adam Fox (RD)—Fox was able to garner one of the defensive roster slots rather than go to Hartford to begin his professional career. This was somewhat of a mystery–his play in preseason was okay, but Fox does not have the professional experience, his college season was short, and the AHL may have been a good place to cut his teeth. However, in the last two games, he was on the top pair with Marc Staal and, particularly against Buffalo, he seems to be getting better and better. That he learns on the fly is not optimal, but the potential certainly is there and his play is on an upward swing.
Libor Hajek (LD)—Hajek has been playing on the left side with Jacob Trouba and although, like Fox, he is learning the ropes, Hajek looks to become a very responsible defenseman. Don’t look for him to score many points, but Hajek’s partner will be able to take more risks and make more plays because of his good play.
Filip Chytil (C)—Chytil spent the entire 2018-19 season with the Rangers, but he just did not have a good enough camp to stay in New York to start the season. But since joining the Wolf Pack in Hartford, he has been on fire. In seven games he has posted eight points (3G, 5A) and had a five-game point streak. He is playing better defensively and should get a call up to the Blueshirts shortly.
Igor Shesterkin (G)—Perhaps the most impressive young player in the organization, Shesterkin has dominated in his AHL games this season. As of this morning, he was 4-0 with one shutout. In his four games, Shesterkin has only given up five goals—in 97 shots. The rookie has been spectacular. However, during last night’s game, he seemed to sustain a left arm injury. As of this afternoon, the extent of the injury was uncertain, but hopefully Shesterkin will be seen in New York sooner rather than later.
Adam Huska (G)—With all the attention on Shesterkin, Huska has been somewhat forgotten, but he should not be. He was between the pipes at UConn before this season, so Huska is completely at home in Hartford—and it shows. With a 2-0-1 record, 2.57GAA, and .910 save percentage, Huska is carrying his weight. He certainly can be a number one in Hartford, and should get the number one spot when Shesterkin gets recalled.
Vitali Kravtsov (LW)—There has been a lot of attention showered on Kravtsov over the last 24 hours, and most of it is not good. After signing an ELC last May 2nd, Kravtsov came over to North America to participate in the Prospect Camp and then September’s Traverse City Prospect Tournament. In both, he looked promising, but not dynamic. Once the Rangers’ main training camp started, however, Kravtsov’s game fell off significantly. It was no surprise when he was assigned to Hartford to start the season, but apparently he was very upset with the assignment. Yesterday, was the first day that Kravtsov’s European Assignment Clause kicked in and, by afternoon, he was back to Russia. The “assignment” is expected to be to Traktor Chelyabinsk of the KHL. Although, he is young and there was a clause in the contract, the Rangers were hoping that he would ride out the adjustment period and play well enough in Hartford to get a promotion to the big club. However, Kravtsov’s play with the Wolf Pack could be called “lackluster” at best. This lack of effort is certainly concerning and, it remains to be seen whether Kravtsov will return either at the end of this season or next year.