Igor Shestyorkin has had a sensational start to set himself apart from the other prospects, and that may start may carry him to Pyeongchang.
The New York Rangers best prospect may not be residing in Hartford, or has previously played in the Traverse City Tournament, but is instead dominating in a league across the Atlantic Ocean. He may very well be an Olympic netminder, as well the heir apparent to Henrik Lundqvist in the crease at Madison Square Garden, and that person is Igor Shestyorkin.
Shestyorkin was drafted in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Draft, the same draft that Rangers defenseman Anthony DeAngelo was selected in by the Tampa Bay lighting. Amazingly, the Russian netminder was the second goalie selected by the Rangers, the first being Brandon Halverson, in the second round. Although Halverson has had a cup of coffee in the NHL, he hasn’t impressed as much as Shestyorkin, who has been outstanding since he was drafted by the Blueshirts and has accumulated quite a few awards since then as well.
Shestyorkin has won a silver medal at the 2015 World Junior Championships and two bronze medals in the IIHF World Championships (2016, 2017). In addition, Shestyorkin was part of the SKA St. Petersburg team that won the Gagarin Cup, the KHL’s equivalent to the Stanley Cup, and proved to be an important part of that team during their playoff run. Shestyorkin filled in for SKA goalie and former New York Islander Mikko Koskinen during that playoff run while Koskinen was injured, putting up a 1.84 GAA and a .940 save percentage in five games.
There has been steady improvement in Shestyorkin’s game since he was drafted, but the 21-year old goalie has now developed into one of the best goalies in the KHL, and one of the best goaltending prospects in the NHL. After posting a .937 save percentage and 1.64 goals against average in 39 games last year for SKA, Shestyorkin has even better numbers this year, with a .947 save percentage, which is the top save percentage in the KHL this season, and 1.41 goals against average. Those improved stats shouldn’t be a surprise, given some of the highlight-reel saves that he has made, such as this one:
Igor Shestyorkin stops 25 of 26 for his 13th consecutive win. Made a big save on Enver Lisin's late coast-to-coast effort. pic.twitter.com/vcvyiwnvJq
— Alex Nunn (@aj_ranger) October 4, 2017
And if you wanted to see another one, here is a second example of Shestyorkin’s talent on display, also courtesy of Alex Nunn of the Hockey News:
— Alex Nunn (@aj_ranger) October 17, 2017
After seeing those saves, it’s pretty easy to tell that Shestyorkin is not only quite athletic but also effortlessly moves around the crease. Hockey’s Future states that the Russian netminder is an “agile” goalie with “great reflexes and outstanding lateral movement”. Shestyorkin has certainly proved that this is the case, as the Russian netminder is very athletic and able to move back and forth in the crease with relative ease. In addition, he has improved in regards to staying with opposing players and tracking down pucks. Given Shestyorkin’s overall improvement in his game since the start of the 2017-18 KHL season, it’s pretty clear that he has now cemented his place as the Blueshirts’ top prospect ahead of Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil who both look to be very good players at the NHL level.
With all of that said, it is pretty easy to imagine that Shestyorkin could pick up right where Lundqvist left off when he finally retires. But there is also another reason why Rangers fans should be excited about Shestyorkin, who has not only propelled himself the conversation of who is the best goalie in the KHL with his play this season but also into the consideration for the starter job for the Russian national team.
In Elliotte Friedman’s “31 Thoughts” for Sportsnet last month, the Rangers were “quietly thrilled” that Shestyorkin was making a strong push to be the starter for the Russian Olympic hockey team. Although Friedman acknowledged the presence of Islanders prospect and one of Shestyorkin’s former teammates at the World Junior Championships, Ilya Sorokin, and that he may be a threat to that, Sorokin (.916 SV% and a 1.79 GAA) not be able to get the starting gig given Shestyorkin’s strong play this season.
Something else that may work in Shestyorkin’s favor is the fact that the head coach of the Russian men’s hockey team is Oleg Znarok, who is also the current head coach of Shestyorkin’s KHL team, SKA St. Petersburg. Even though the Russian team would very much like someone such as Sergei Bobrovsky or Andrei Vasilevskiy on their team, the fact is that is just not a reality in 2018. Shestyorkin is shaping up to be their best bet in the Olympic Games this year.
If Shestyorkin is the starter for the Russian team, or even if he is not the starter, an opportunity to go and play at the 2018 games in Pyeongchang, North Korea, would be incredible for the young netminder. If he makes to the games, he will have the opportunity to showcase his talents against the top non-NHL players and receive yet another chance to add to the list of awards he already has accumulated in his young career. Rangers fans will also get the opportunity to see how he plays in a high-pressure situation, something he has done quite well in thus far.
According to Eliteprospects.com, Igor Shestyorkin’s contract with SKA is not up until the end of the 2018-19 KHL season, so he won’t be able to sign an entry-level deal with the Rangers until then. However, he will continue to play in a league that features many former NHL players and continues to work on his craft. He looks to be NHL-ready now, and he should definitely be ready to play in the NHL once his contract expires in 2019.