Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant said he always tells his players, ‘Let me play you. Let me keep you in line.”
It seems Vitali Kravtsov has missed that goal lately.
Kravtsov appears to be a healthy scratch Wednesday night against the Maple Leafs after playing in 17 straight games, which is by far the most he has run in a row this season. Part of that can be attributed to his injury-plagued start to the season, while the other part can be attributed to managerial decisions. Tuesday’s call-up of Will Cuylle could knock Kravtsov out of the lineup again.
“He’s fine,” Gallant said Tuesday after practice in Tarrytown. “But again, he’s not a fourth-row player. If Cuylle shows up, whether Kravy comes out or [Julien] Gauthier came out, Kravy was OK, he played OK. But he’s not built for a fourth line. He’s made to play in a top 9 position. If we decide it’s something that will be shaken up tomorrow, then we’ll see. He’s fine, I wish he would score more goals, I wish he would do more checks and stuff like that.”
Vitali Kravtsov runs for Rangers against Panthers on January 23. NHL via Getty Images
Kravtsov ran on the fourth line for the sixth time this season in Monday’s 6-2 win over the Panthers. He started in the bottom six a total of 13 times while flanking one of the top two units 14 times. The season has been mixed for Kravtsov, who has scored one goal in his last 14 games and just six points in 27 competitions.
Kravtsov has had limited ice time when standing in the third and fourth rows. The Russian wing also failed to make an impact with the opportunities presented to them.
Though Kravtsov has played in those 17 straight games, he said he still feels the same way when it comes to settling into the lifestyle of an everyday NHL player.
“It’s better than it was at the start of the season for sure, but I still want more,” he told the Post.
It’s obvious that Kravtsov’s skills are better suited for a top 6 role, or at least a top 9 role. However, play by other young players such as Filip Chytil, Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere made it difficult for Gallant to give way to Kravtsov on the first three lines. The consistency of the likes of Barclay Goodrow and Jimmy Vesey also influenced his time.
Kravtsov said he doesn’t see himself as a player who shouldn’t play one line or another. Wherever he skates, he said he just wants to play the best hockey he can.
“Just focus on each shift and just don’t think about the next shift,” he said. “I don’t have that much Ice Age, but it is what it is.”
The Rangers face the Maple Leafs Wednesday night in Toronto before taking on the Golden Knights in their last matchup before the All-Star break on Friday. They are expected to return to training on February 5 in preparation for the Flames’ arrival at the Garden the following night.