The Rangers struck gold when a seventh-round goaltender turned into a 15-year franchise savoir. That goaltender is, of course, Henrik Lundqvist.
It’s uncommon for a team to have the level of consistency and elite-level netminding that Lundqvist has provided for 881 regular-season and 128 career playoff games. Though a soon-to-be 38-year-old Lundqvist is still performing at a high level, eventually the torch needs to be passed to a younger successor.
The Rangers’ succession plan arrived in the form of 24-year-old debutant Igor Shesterkin, who made his NHL debut Tuesday. After years of dominant play against KHL pros and 23 games of splendid, All-Star-level netminding in the AHL, Shesterkin was deemed ready to test himself at hockey’s highest level.
He saved 13 of 13 third-period shots and demonstrated late-game poise. His point-blank pad save on Pierre-Edouard Bellemare protected a 4-3 advantage before Artemi Panarin’s late empty-netter sealed the win.
A moment that made the Garden ooh and ahh was a 70-foot saucer pass that Shesterkin put right on the tape of fellow rookie Kaapo Kakko. The inch-perfect pass put Kakko in on a scoring chance. In 15 years of watching Lundqvist, he never did anything quite like that. Puckhandling and passing weren’t his greatest strengths.
The moment was proof that Shesterkin is his own goalie, with his own style. There’s no point in measuring him by Lundqvist’s tendencies and accomplishments. Lundqvist was never going to forge his path to greatness by being a carbon copy of franchise icon Mike Richter. Nor should Shesterkin aim to emulate all the trademarks that made Lundqvist a generational goalie.
In time, Shesterkin will write his own legacy between the pipes. Tuesday’s showing whetted the appetite of the Garden faithful, who chanted “Igor, Igor.” As the season goes on, Shesterkin will have the opportunity to showcase why he’s a franchise goaltender in the making.
So far, so good.