Vitali Kravtsov
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

New York Rangers HC David Quinn still has a few unanswered questions including the opening night status of Vitali Kravtsov. 

Frank Curto

New York Rangers right winger Vitali Kravtsov scored his first goal of the preseason on Tuesday night in a 3-1 victory over the New York Islanders.

The first-round pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft has had a fairly good camp. He survived the cuts the team announced on Wednesday, and now, with just two preseason games remaining, head coach David Quinn is forced to address one of the biggest questions as he forms the opening night lineup.

Is Kravtsov better off starting the year as a Ranger or as a member of the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack?

The 18-year-old has appeared in three preseason games, recording two points (1G, 1A). He scored his first goal Tuesday night on the left side playing with Brett Howden and Kaapo Kakko.

Since May, when he and the Rangers agreed to terms on his entry-level contract, there was never a true consensus of where he would end up when the season began.

Kravtsov has great hands, evident in the goal he scored against the Islanders on Tuesday. He is also extremely fast on the puck. Yet, he has shown that he has plenty to learn and adapt to playing on an NHL size rink. The smaller rinks allow the opposition to get on him faster than he is used to.

On the defensive side of the puck, he has struggled with his assignments. NHL players are faster and have been able to get to Kravtsov, forcing him to give up the puck and make poor decisions.

It’s a fine line on determining where he can develop his skills. Can he achieve the tools needed by playing 10 minutes per game on the third line in New York or playing on the top two lines in Hartford, where he would average 16-18 minutes per game, but with players not as skillful as those in the NHL or even his former league, the KHL?

The confidence level the club wants him to gain is the utmost importance to a team exiting the rebuild phase of its program.

Mixed Messages

Added to the conflicting messages coming from the coaching staff was the practice lineup announced on Wednesday morning.
Kravtsov was on the second line of the first practice with Boo Nieves and Gregg McKegg.

The first practice session included:

Artemi Panarin-Mika Zibanejad-Paval Buchnevich
Chris Kreider-Ryan Strome-Kappo Kakko
Vladislav Namestnikov-Brett Howden-Filip Chytil

It seemed apparent that Kravtrsov was in jeopardy of being sent to Hartford. Then, in the continuing stay-and-go game that comes at training camp every year, Quinn had this to say about both of Wednesday’s practice sessions, via Colin Stephenson of Newday.

 

“DQ says don’t read too much into today’s practice lineups. It’s more a function of who played last night.”

Will He Stay Or Will He Go?

Kravtsov would benefit from playing up with the Rangers. Learning from veterans such as Zibanejad, Kreider and Buchnevcich, while hearing coach Quinn preach the system he wants to be implemented to the other rookies like Kakko and Adam Fox, would benefit the kid tremendously.

The bottom line is the Rangers need Kravtsov’s offense at even strength and on the power-play, especially with a team that could have its difficulties on the blueline.

The Rangers scored 226 goals as a team last season. With the new faces and scoring finesse suddenly evident, Kravtsov absolutely needs to be on this team come Oct. 3.

The age-old hockey question is again upon the Rangers. The answer will be revealed following Saturday’s preseason finale against the Islanders in Bridgeport.

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