From afterthought to anomaly, New York Rangers’ goaltender Igor Shesterkin has come a long way. The future is here and he is here to stay.
Drafted 118th overall, the 28th pick of the fourth round of the NHL Entry Draft, there were virtually no expectations for Igor Shesterkin. There were 13 goaltenders taken ahead of the Moscow native in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, including Brendan Halverson, who was selected 59th overall by the New York Rangers.
The search for Henrik Lundqvist’s heir apparent had begun.
Posting a 12-6-1 record and 2.96 goals-against-average for the Soo Greyhounds of the OHL, Halverson, the third goalie taken in that draft, was supposed to be “the guy.” But with two fourth-round selections and three more in the fifth, Glen Sather intelligently decided that it wasn’t wise to put all of his eggs in one basket.
New York’s front office decided to take a chance on another goalie, Shesterkin, who boasted a 14-5-4 record and a 1.42 goals-against-average while playing in the MHL, a junior league in Russia.
Five and a half years later, things look a little different. Halverson is no longer with the Rangers organization and has spent his season shuttling back and forth between the AHL and ECHL. On the other hand, Shesterkin finds himself on Broadway, looking like the undoubted successor to Henrik Lundqvist. Times have changed.
Unlike many of the Rangers’ other success stories between the pipes, Benoit Allaire isn’t responsible in this instance. Instead, Shesterkin, whose work-ethic is off-the-charts, has nobody to thank outside of himself. Once an unheard of Muscovite, the newly nicknamed “Prince” is already a Madison Square Garden icon.
While the 24-year-old has finally made it, he wasn’t always destined for stardom. Shesterkin’s long road to the NHL didn’t have a particularly eventful start. He struggled to find a home throughout the 2014-2015 campaign, bouncing around between Russia’s top leagues. The Blueshirts’ draftee spent time in the MHL, VHL and KHL, but posted solid numbers.
The 2015-2016 season was more of the same for Igor. In his first two post-draft seasons, “The Prince” made an unimpressive total of 13 KHL starts. None of the other top goaltenders that had come out of Russia, such as Sergei Bobrovsky and Andrei Vasilevskiy, struggled to transition from junior hockey and find a spot in the KHL in the same way that Shesterkin did. With his trouble sticking in the KHL, Shesterkin’s future with the Rangers looked rather bleak.
However, the young netminder finally got his chance during the 2016-2017 season, as he became the starting goalie for SKA Saint Petersburg, the powerhouse of the KHL. He never looked back, emerging as one of the top goaltenders in Russia. Shesterkin ended his campaign with a 27-4-6 record, a 1.64 goals-against-average, and a .937 save percentage. The rise had begun.
Shesterkin was still putting up gaudy numbers a season later. This time he had a 20-4-4 record, a 1.69 goals-against-average, and a .933 save percentage. By this point, Igor had cemented himself as one of the NHL’s top goalie prospects. Nonetheless, questions remained about whether his stats were deceiving, considering he was essentially playing on the KHL all-star-team.
The 2018-2019 season, Shesterkin’s last in the KHL, was no different from the others in that it was pure dominance: A 24-4-0 record, a 1.11 goals-against-average, a .953 save percentage, and 10 shutouts. He left the KHL with a record of 79-14-13 and 26 shutouts. “The Prince” was posting a clean-sheet approximately every four games.
After signing his entry-level contract this summer, it was inevitable that Igor was Hartford-bound. The Blueshirts wanted to give him some time in the minors to adjust to the North American game, plus there was supposedly no room for the 24-year-old with Alexandar Georgiev and Henrik Lundqvist already in the fold.
But with his magnificent play for the Wolfpack, Shesterkin forced the Rangers to find room for him. With a 15-4-3 record, a 1.93 goals-against-average, and a .932 save percentage, the organization decided it was time to give Igor a shot with the big boys.
As he has done all throughout his career, he received an opportunity and has run with it. Though he has only made two starts, Shesterkin has solidified the franchise’s belief that he will ultimately be the man to replace Henrik Lundqvist.
It was a bittersweet moment on Monday night when chants of “Igor!” rang through the hallowed halls of Madison Square Garden, rather than the customary “Henrik!” cheers.
Shesterkin’s long-awaited, highly-anticipated debut truly signaled the end of an era on Broadway, as Monday finally felt like the passing of the torch from the old to the new in between the pipes.
Fortunately, the Blueshirts have a very bright future ahead of them.
Unfortunately, “King Henrik” will always have a better ring to it than “Prince Igor.”