When it comes to Vitali Kravtsov and the Rangers, never say never.
Because as the Blueshirts have lifted the 21-year-old winger’s suspension while loaning him to Chelyabinsk Traktor for the duration of the KHL season, sources have told The Post that both sides are leaving open the possibility of a reunion either after Kravtsov’s year ends in Russia or at next September’s training camp.
This is not a matter of general manager Chris Drury being lenient or yielding somehow to a recalcitrant Kravtsov, the ninth-overall selection of the 2018 entry draft who was suspended on Oct. 12 for refusing to report to the AHL Wolf Pack as one of the last cuts out of training camp.
For while this is a maneuver that optically might not flatter Drury or management, Kravtsov’s value as an asset was essentially nil while sitting out in Russia. If a number of teams called to inquire about the winger, whose agent, Dan Millstein, was given permission to broker a trade in conjunction with the suspension, we’re told not one came close to offering what the GM deemed fair value.
A season playing for Traktor — for whom he recorded 24 points (16-8) in 49 games last year before joining the Blueshirts for the final 20 games while posting four points (2-2) — should inflate his value.
But there is this reality, as well: Lacking in top-six/top-nine type players, the Rangers still believe — or at least, certainly want to believe — that No. 74 fits that profile. Drury surely was not going to give him away for free even if the dynamics between the athlete and organization over the last two-plus years does not exactly inspire confidence that the parties will live happily ever after.
“I want to thank the Rangers for working with me, and appreciate the open and honest conversations we have had during this process,” Kravtsov said in a statement released by the Rangers in announcing the assignment. “While this has been a challenging time for me personally, I believe having the opportunity to return to Traktor and work on my game is the best thing for me right now.
“My main focus is getting better every day to continue towards my goal of playing hockey for the New York Rangers.”
It is certainly fair to be skeptical about this in the wake of Kravtsov taking off — for the second time, having exercised his European assignment-clause in 2019-20 following a few weeks in Hartford — after missing about a week of training camp with a lower-body injury.
Though Kravtsov was advised that the Blueshirts wanted him to start the year with the Wolf Pack so he could work himself into prime condition and would be recalled quickly if his play merited it, The Post previously reported that the winger left because he saw no path to a permanent spot on the top six on a roster containing Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko. (PS: Lafreniere is currently on the third line.)
But Drury has not given up on Kravtsov, just as his predecessor in the president’s chair, John Davidson, did not give up on Lias Andersson until absolutely necessary. Remember, even after the 2017 seventh-overall draft pick walked out on the Wolf Pack and the organization just before Christmas of 2019, the Rangers loaned Andersson to his HV-71 SHL team before inviting him to the 2020 bubble training camp in advance of their qualifying round against Carolina.
It was only when Andersson rejected that invitation that management recognized that the breach was permanent. He was traded to the Kings in October of 2020 for a second-round draft choice that became Will Cuylle.
You don’t want to allow precedents to be set under which players can get what they want if they walk out on the Rangers, but there is little to be gained in this business by being vindictive. Perhaps there is something substantial yet to be salvaged from this relationship. Certainly little was on the table before this.
“After discussions with Vitali and his representation, we decided a loan to Traktor was in the best interests of both him and the organization,” Drury said in the statement. “We think very highly of Vitali and the Rangers development staff will continue to work with him to reach our mutual goal of him some day being a New York Ranger.”
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