Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant said he always tells his players, “Let me play you. Let me line you up.
It seems that Vitali Kravtsov has failed to meet that goal lately.
Kravtsov looks set to become a healthy scratch against the Maple Leafs on Wednesday night after appearing in 17 straight games, which is by far the most he’s skated in a row this season. Part of that is due to his injury-plagued start to the season, while the other part has to do with coaching decisions. Will Cuylle’s call-up on Tuesday could take Kravtsov out of the lineup again.
“He’s doing well,” Gallant said after training in Tarrytown on Tuesday. “But again, he is not a fourth-line player. If Cuylle comes forward, whether it’s Kravy coming out or [Julien] Gauthier comes out, Kravy did well, he played well. But it’s not made for a fourth line. He is made to play in the top nine. If we decide that this is something that will shake up tomorrow, then we’ll see. He’s doing well, I wish he scored more, I wish he completed more checks and things 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. The season has been a mixed bag 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 when on the third and fourth lines. The Russian wing has also not been able to make an impact with the opportunities that have been offered to it.
Despite playing in those 17 straight games, Kravtsov said he still feels the same about getting used to the lifestyle of an everyday NHler.
“It’s certainly better than the beginning of the season, but I still want a little more,” he told The Post.
It’s clear that Kravtsov’s skills are better suited to a top-six role, or at least a top-nine role. However, the play of other young players such as Filip Chytil, Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere has made it difficult for Gallant to give way to Kravtsov on the first three lines. The steadfastness of guys like Barclay Goodrow and Jimmy Vesey also influenced his time.
Kravtsov said he doesn’t see himself as a player who shouldn’t play on one line or play on another. Wherever he skates, he said, he just wants to play hockey the best 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 on Wednesday night in Toronto before taking on the Golden Knights in their final game before the All-Star break on Friday. They are expected to return on February 5 to practice in preparation for the Flames’ arrival at the Garden the following night.