Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant said he always tells his players: “Play me against you. Let me keep you in the queue.
It looks like Vitali Kravtsov hasn’t achieved that goal lately.
Kravtsov looks set to be eliminated healthy Wednesday night against the Maple Leafs after playing 17 straight games, which is by far the most he has played in a row this season. Part of that is due to his injury-riddled start to the season, while the other part has been coaching decisions. Will Cuylle’s call-up on Tuesday could knock Kravtsov out of the lineup again.
“He’s fine,” Gallant said after practice at Tarrytown on Tuesday. “But again, he’s not a fourth-line player. When Cuylle arrives, whether it’s Kravy who comes out or [Julien] Gauthier comes out, Kravy played well, he played well. But he is not cut out for a fourth line. He is built to play in the top nine. If we decide it’s something that’s going to rock tomorrow, then we’ll see. He’s fine, I wish he scored more, I wish he finished more checks and stuff like that.
In Monday’s 6-2 win over the Panthers, Kravtsov skated on the fourth line for the sixth time this season. He started in the bottom six a total of 13 times, while flanking one of the top two units 14 times. It’s been a mixed season for Kravtsov, who has scored one goal in his previous 14 games and just six points in 27 games.
Kravtsov has had limited ice time on the third and fourth lines. The Russian wing was also unable to make an impact with the opportunities presented to them.
Despite playing those 17 straight games, Kravtsov said he still feels the same about adjusting to the lifestyle of an NHL player on a daily basis.
“It’s definitely better than at the start of the season, but I still want more,” he told the Post.
It’s obvious that Kravtsov’s skill set is better suited for a top-six role, or at least a top-nine role. The play of other young players, such as Filip Chytil, Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafrenière, however, made it difficult for Gallant to make room for Kravtsov on the front three lines. The stability of guys like Barclay Goodrow and Jimmy Vesey also affected his time.
Kravtsov said he doesn’t see himself as a player who shouldn’t play on one line or should play on another. No matter where he skates, he says, he just wants to play the best hockey he can.
“Just focus on each shift and don’t think about the next shift,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of ice time, but that’s how it is.
The Rangers take on the Maple Leafs on Wednesday night in Toronto before facing the Golden Knights on Friday in their final game before the All-Star break. They are expected to return to practice on February 5 in preparation for the Flames’ arrival at the Garden the following night.