Sports

Vitali Kravtsov saga raises concerning Rangers questions

WASHINGTON — Would this be admissible as evidence of a pattern in a court of NHL law, or would a judge find the link between 2017’s seventh-overall Lias Andersson walking out on the Rangers and 2018’s ninth-overall Vitali Kravtsov essentially doing the same too prejudicial to present to a jury?

The more pertinent question for president-general manager Chris Drury to ponder, as the Rangers embark on the 2021-22 season that commenced Wednesday night in Washington, is whether there is a common factor tying together these situations, other than each having been drafted on the recommendation of then-director of player personnel Gordie Clark.

Perhaps this represents a superficial analysis and perhaps this is unduly harsh, but at first blush, the Rangers seemed to have drafted a pair of entitled teenagers with inflated opinions of themselves. Neither were willing to put in the work in the AHL to force themselves onto the varsity, each choosing instead to look for a way out of the organization.

You know who has a pretty high opinion of himself, or so we’re told by those who know? Trevor Zegras, selected ninth overall by Anaheim in 2019. But when assigned to the Ducks’ AHL team last year, Zegras earned himself a promotion by recording 13 points (4-9) in eight games. And then when he was sent down again after 17 games with the Ducks, Zegras earned himself another recall less than four weeks later. He did not walk away. He did not seek permission for his agent to canvas the league for a trade.

If Andersson and Kravtsov came with character flaws, then Drury must learn why the organization’s scouting and personnel departments and upper management itself were unable to detect them. There has been a turnover within the club’s personnel department since these picks — Clark is now a pro scout and former director of European scouting Nick Bobrov was dismissed over the summer.

Vitali Kravtsov
Vitali Kravtsov
Robert Sabo

So perhaps the transition to new people in positions of authority — Drury; John Lilley as director of player personnel and director of amateur scouting; Ryan Martin as assistant GM and GM of the Wolf Pack; Chris Morehouse as director of North American scouting; Jed Ortmeyer as director of player development — will provide a guard rail against making similar mistakes.

Of course, there is this, too: It is impossible that of the, say, 100 top-10 draft picks over the last 10 years, Andersson and Kravtsov are the only two teenagers with disproportionate egos. So again, Drury must determine what, if anything, the Rangers did wrong in working with these young athletes.

Lias Andersson with the Rangers in 2019.
Lias Andersson with the Rangers in 2019.
Anthony J Causi

If Andersson was rushed to North America — and there is no evidence that played a role in his saga — it is clear that Kravtsov was not. What is most clear of all is that neither wanted anything to do with Hartford and the AHL. Drury must determine whether the Rangers fell short in nurturing these players and giving them their best opportunity to succeed.

There is no better person for the job given that Drury was GM of the Wolf Pack when Kravtsov exercised his European assignment clause to leave Hartford and return to Russia at the end of October 2019, and held that same position when Andersson skedaddled to Sweden two months later.

The Rangers seem to have recovered on Andersson by acquiring a second-rounder that became Will Cuylle in a trade with the Kings. It remains to be seen whether Drury will be able to gain commensurate return for Kravtsov barring a change of heart and a return to the organization.

The Post reported on Tuesday that Kravtsov, who recorded four points (2-2) in 20 games last year after joining the Rangers following his KHL season, had a contentious exit meeting with management. The hierarchy has had issues with his offseason training program. Kravtsov believed he should have been elevated in the lineup rather than playing primarily on the fourth line.

We have also learned that at least one teammate advised Kravtsov that ice time must be earned in the NHL and is not bequeathed on draft position alone. The fact is that Kravtsov did not earn a spot on the opening roster off his training camp performance.

It is not that Dryden Hunt beat him out, or even Julien Gauthier. It is that Kravtsov, set back somewhat by an injury that kept him off the ice for almost a week, did not seize the moment. Talent alone is not enough, especially if it is not apparent enough to dominate in scrimmages or practice.

The Rangers seem poised to emerge from the 2018 first round pretty well despite Kravtsov, with K’Andre Miller selected 22nd and Nils Lundkvist 28th that season. Still, teams should not swing and miss consecutive years on 7 and 9. It is up to Drury to figure out why it happened so that it never happens again.

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