New York Rangers’ prospects thriving in Europe as North American rinks remain empty

Jim Bay
Vitali Kravtsov skating at the New York Rangers summer camp 2019. Photo courtesy of

With the sports world and the NHL in a state of flux, the New York Rangers‘ brass made a very wise decision when they decided to loan some of their prospects to teams in European leagues that are currently playing. A wise decision when you consider that the Rangers’ NCAA prospects haven’t played since early March, which also holds true for their minor leaguers.

Enter the leagues in Europe that are currently playing hockey. It was widely known that most of the Rangers’ prospects playing in Europe were going to play there regardless of the pandemic, such as Nils Lundkvist, Yegor Rysev, and Vitali Kravtsov.

“Especially for young players who really at this point are yet to be established, not only in the NHL but in North America, to get them in games, to get them playing, to get them on a team at this stage of their career, to continue their development, is important,” said Rangers assistant GM Chris Drury.

Recently the Blueshirts put a video up on social media that highlights the promise of Lundkvist.

This fueled speculation that the young swede might be donning a Blueshirt when the NHL season likely opens in January.

As Lee Corso is famous for saying “Not so fast, my friend.”

While many scouts feel that Lundkvist could be NHL-ready by the end of the Swedish season, he remains unsigned by the Rangers and under contract in Sweden, which means that he will not be coming to New York until the end of the Swedish league season or the start of the 2121-22 season.

Even if somehow Lundqvist could come over, it might not be that simple when you take into consideration that some of these prospects would play 30-40 games overseas, then come over to an NHL season that might begin in January and play in something resembling an 82-game season plus playoffs. That may not be the best course for young players.

Lundkvist, the 2019-20 European Player of the Year, has tallied two goals and an assist in eight games for Lulea of the SHL and has looked every bit of the gifted right-handed offensive defenseman that should soon be an integral part of the Blueshirts sometime in the near future. But not likely in the 20-21 season.

Playing overseas has also helped Vitali Kravtsov, who struggled in the 2019-20 season. It is well known that Kravtsov signed his entry-level contract, came over to the states, had a good camp but didn’t make the team, then got himself loaned out of Hartford to Traktor of the KHL. Even though he did finish the year at Hartford, many feel that it might be better for him to play out this year in the KHL.

Kravtsov has started the season very well, scoring six goals and two assists for eight points in 11 games.

Another prospect who could come across the Atlantic is defenseman Tarmo Reunanen, who has attended prospect camps and last season’s training camp. While he will likely start at Hartford (or the NHL’s version of baseball’s “alternative sites” for young players) Reunanen is currently playing in TUTO Turku in his native Finland where he has posted two goals and an assist in his first three games,

Reunanen is an offensive-minded blueliner who eliteprospects has stated that he ” can carry the puck, dangle through traffic, and set up his teammates. While he relies on his offensive skills, he is not a defensive liability.”

Yegor Rykov suffered an injury during training camp and it took a toll on the big defenseman for much of last season, but he did post two goals and nine assists in 27 games in Hartford. He was obtained from the New Jersey Devils in the 2018 deadline deal that sent Michael Grabner to New Jersey and was a fifth-round pick in 2016.

This year Rykovhas appeared in 16 games and has five assists for CSKA Moscow in the KHL.

So at a time when hockey should have started up in North America, at least some young New York Rangers are seeing some valuable ice-time.