The Vitali Kravtsov era has begun.
After clearing COVID-19 protocol, Kravtsov skated with the Rangers’ extras on Tuesday while the regulars had the day off. The hope is that the 21-year-old Russian will practice with the main group Wednesday.
The Rangers’ ninth-overall pick in 2018 will likely need a few practices to get up to speed on the team’s systems, acting head coach Kris Knoblauch said Monday. Kravtsov hasn’t played in a game since his KHL Traktor Chelyabinsk team lost 3-2 in the conference finals on March 11.
“I anticipate with him being here, he’s going to make the team better,” said Knoblauch, who coached Kravtsov for 39 games with AHL Hartford last season. “What his role is in the future, I don’t know. There’s going to be some practices and getting him up to game speed with the systems and just the speed of play. But I think he’ll be a big benefit for the team in the future.”
The 6-foot-3 winger enjoyed a breakout season while on loan in the KHL to start this year, recording 16 goals and eight assists in 49 games. He also added two goals and two assists in five playoff matches.
Kravtsov will carry a $925,000 cap hit plus an $800,000 bonus package.
In addition to Kravtsov, Igor Shesterkin skated with the extras on Tuesday as he continues to work his way back from a groin strain. Monday’s 5-3 win against Buffalo counted as the 10th straight game that No. 31 was unavailable.
Knoblauch said during his pregame availability Monday that the hope was for Shesterkin to make his first start since March 4 on Thursday in Philadelphia.
Knoblauch said following Monday’s win that he believes the resurgence of Mika Zibanejad is the reason for the Rangers’ significant uptick on offense.
Zibanejad has tallied nine points (four goals, five assists) in the last four games and 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in the last six. Of the 20 points he’s registered this season, 17 have either been a goal or the primary assist on a goal.
On Monday, Zibanejad recorded an assist on Adam Fox’s score at the end of the second period. He also had four shots on goal and led all skaters with 12 faceoff wins (12-for-22, 54.5 percent) in 21:33 of ice time — which led all forwards.
After outscoring the Sabres 3-1 in the second period Monday, the Blueshirts have now posted a plus-15 goal differential in the middle frame this season — which ranked as the best in the NHL entering Tuesday. The Rangers have combined for 10 goals in the second period of their last two home games.