Hartnett: Vitali Kravtsov Turning Rangers' Risk Into Reward In Russia

Vitali Kravtsov
Photo credit USA TODAY images

Back in late June, the Rangers stirred debate when they opted to select Vitali Kravtsov with the ninth overall pick of the 2018 NHL Draft.

The Blueshirts could have gone with “safer” options still on the board – including forward Oliver Wahlstrom or defensemen Evan Bouchard and Noah Dobson. Conservative, low-risk drafting isn’t going to propel the Rangers from a rebuilding franchise to Stanley Cup contention.

By drafting Kravtsov, the Rangers took a big swing. Sometimes you miss and other times you hit the ball out of the park. They viewed Kravtsov as the best player available on the board and chose him because of his top line potential.

Drafting isn’t a perfect science, but it’s hard to argue with the thought process of selecting the player with the most upside. Though Kravtsov is a wing, he has garnered comparisons to Washington Capitals superstar center Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Kravtsov’s high-end skill, playmaking vision and scoring touch have led to the comparisons between him and Kuznetsov. At 6-foot-3 and 184 pounds, his frame is similar to an 18-year-old Kuznetsov, who was 6-foot, 172 pounds on draft day in 2010.

Kravtsov turned 19 on Dec. 23 and is putting up splendid numbers for Traktor Chelyabinsk of the KHL. He has begun the 2018-19 season with 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) through 33 games.

Notably, Kravtsov leads all KHL players younger than 20 years old in goals, assists and points in 2018-19. He also has recorded more than twice as many points as any other KHL player younger than 20 years old has this season, and he has more assists than any other KHL player younger than 20 years old has points (seven) at this stage of the season.

Traktor currently rank fifth of six teams in the KHL’s Kharlamov Division. The club’s struggles and pileup of injuries have made Kravtsov’s contributions all the more impressive.

“On a struggling team, filled with injuries and coaching changes, Vitali has been a bright light,” Rangers Director of European Scouting Nickolai Bobrov said earlier this month. “His vision, playmaking ability, and dynamic skill and skating style are on display every game.”

Kravtsov has been appointed as an alternate captain for Russia at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship. Russia’s first game of the tournament against Denmark will be broadcast live on NHL Network on Thursday at 4 p.m. Eastern Time.

Rangers fans will be able to get a close look at several of the team’s top prospects throughout the tournament including Kravtsov, K’Andre Miller of the United States, Nils Lundkvist of Sweden and Nico Gross of Switzerland – as the majority of their games will be shown live on NHL Network.

Follow Sean on Twitter – @HartnettHockey