This certainly was a busy week for the Rangers’ prospects in Hartford. The Wolf Pack, the Rangers’ AHL affiliate, is leading the Atlantic Division of the AHL. Of course, players coming and going is one of the results of an AHL affiliate developing young NHL prospects (and this year the team has a plethora of prospects on the roster). But there has been more than the usual reassignment shuttle between Connecticut and Maine (the Rangers ECHL affiliate) and Hartford and New York that has taken place recently.
The unusual up and down movement of players actually started at the beginning of the season. Two players who arguably could have been kept on the NHL roster (Filip Chytil and Ryan Lindgren) opened the season in the AHL. Both of those players worked really hard while they were reassigned, were highly successful with the Pack, and were up in New York within a month to the big club.
However, although another young prospect, 18-year-old Vitali Kravtsov, was also reassigned to Hartford to being the season, Kravtsov took another route. After a very undistinguished training camp and an even less distinguished pre-season, he was assigned to Hartford to hone his North American game. Instead of the taking this as a challenge, he publicly expressed his unhappiness on social media, and then proceeded to put forth as little effort as possible until the first day his contract option to return to Russia kicked in. Kravtsov then “negotiated” a loan to his old KHL team—Traktor Chelyabinsk. Well, it did not work out so well in Russia either (Kravtsov was not the KHL scoring phenom and even spent time in Russia’s equivalence of the AHL). So, he decided (or that is what we have been told) that, after less than two months in Russia, to come back to Hartford. As of last week, Kravtsov was back in a Wolf Pack uniform. And maybe this story has a happy ending. According to sources, Kravtsov is now giving it his full effort in Hartford, and he even scored his first North American pro goal this past week. It remains to be seen whether he can gain the confidence of his teammates, but maybe this was just a young player overestimating his importance. Maybe.
Unfortunately, to make room for Kravtsov’s return, the Rangers put 24-year-old Ville Meskanen on waivers and then released him from his contract. Granted, Meskanan was not having a great year, but he was very much respected by his head coach and other teammates, who valued his experience and attitude. With no room at the inn due to Kravtsov’s impending return, Meskanen quickly signed with Ilves in the Liiga (he already scored his first goal of the season in his first game there).
But, as it turns out, he did not have to be waived to make room for Kravtsov, as Lias Andersson was about to jump ship. New York did not know this at the time, but this week, Andersson decided that he was not getting his best deserved opportunities within the organization and asked for a trade. Additionally, the young Swede left the team.
Admittedly, I was not a big fan of the player when he was drafted and even less of a fan when he threw his silver medal into the crowd in disgust at the end of the World Juniors. But, there was no question that he was a very talented two-way player. Frankly, even now, it is too soon to say whether he will make it in the NHL, but Andersson has never shown that he could use that talent to further develop since he arrived from Europe.
As for his lack of development, you could blame the Rangers some, as many fans do (I do admit to not being able to see how playing a young prospect less than 10 minutes per game at the NHL level helps him develop his game), but, Andersson did not blow away the AHL last season before he was brought up, and, frankly, he was even spotty in this preseason. Most importantly, he did not earn top six or even top nine minutes with his play this season when he got the chance. So, he was rightfully demoted to Hartford in November; more importantly, he did not have a stellar month since his reassignment.
We can argue whether Andersson deserved more, that the Rangers deserved more, or whether this is just an impulsive move by an immature 21-year-old, but what is clear is that two top prospects having so much trouble adjusting is trouble for the Rangers. Hartford is trying to build a winning culture—for itself, and for the Rangers’ young players’ futures. Knowing how to win, how to shut the door, is extremely important, especially in this time of NHL league parity. The Rangers can’t afford to be drafting players and sending them to Hartford only to have them leave their teammates and the organization (even if their leave is only temporary).
It is just a thought but, perhaps, the team should think twice about using very high picks to draft very talented European players whose adjustment to North America is iffy, especially when they can make so much money in their own country.