Rangers enter 2021 NHL season with a more settled situation in net - but that could easily change

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The Rangers enter the 2020-21 season with a settled goaltending situation, as compared to the complicated three-headed netminding carousel of last season.

It will be up to a pair of Europeans in their mid-20s, Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev, to cement their status as high-caliber shot stoppers following the 15 years of stability offered by future Hall of Famer Henrik Lundqvist.

Last season, the Rangers divided the starts as follows: Georgiev (32), Lundqvist (26), and Shesterkin (12). An impressive late-season cameo propelled Shesterkin into position as the Rangers’ no. 1 netminder, as the former KHL standout finished the 2019-20 regular season with a 10-2 record, a 2.52 goals-against average, and a .932 save percentage.

Ideally, the Rangers would probably like to start Shesterkin between 35-40 games in the shortened 56-game 2020-21 season. That’s certainly within the realm of possibility if Shesterkin matches the confidence and composure shown during his 12-game introduction.

When Lundqvist played his first full season in 2006-07, he appeared in 70 games – taking about 85 percent of the pie. A 40-game workload would place Shesterkin at 71 percent, though his potential number of starts could eclipse that estimate if he’s on a roll and the Blueshirts are pushing for a playoff berth.

Should Shesterkin suffer from second-year syndrome or be sidelined by injury, Georgiev is ready to assume the starter’s net either in the short-term or long-term.

Georgiev appeared in 34 games during last season’s abbreviated 70-game schedule. His 32 starts represented roughly 45 percent of the goaltending workload. Since his NHL debut on Feb. 22, 2018, he’s recorded a 35-31-7 record with a 3.00 goals-against average and .913 save percentage.

His performances playing behind makeshift and poor-performing defenses add a layer of belief that Georgiev can provide reliability when called upon. I don’t think he possesses the upside of Shesterkin, but he would challenge for the lion’s share of ice time on a different team in a different situation. For the Blueshirts, he’s a solid Plan B.

The Rangers could have opted to trade Georgiev leading up to last February’s trade deadline, or ahead of the 2020 NHL Draft. Despite plenty of interest from rival clubs, the decision to keep him around was a wise one.

Former New Jersey Devils netminder Keith Kinkaid was assigned to the Rangers’ six-man taxi squad. His best years with the Devils came in 2016-17 and 2017-18, where he posted a 34-23-6 record with a 2.72 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage in 67 combined games.

Kinkaid, who will be able to practice and travel with the Rangers and be available to dress on short notice, is a career 65-56-20 goaltender with a lifetime 2.95 goals-against average and .905 save percentage. The 31-year-old is subject to waivers and cleared before being assigned to the taxi squad.

Shesterkin will start Thursday’s season opener against the rival New York Islanders. If he replicates last season’s sparkling play, he’s going to make it difficult for head coach David Quinn to resist riding him for spells of consecutive games. A strong sophomore showing could put Shesterkin in contention for the Calder Trophy, and he could be a dark horse candidate for the Vezina Trophy.

Follow Sean Hartnett on Twitter: @HartnettHockey

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