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Kakko not only Rangers prospect aiming high

No. 2 pick in Draft could be joined by Kravtsov, Fox in NHL next season

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

STAMFORD, Conn. -- Kaapo Kakko was decked out in red just like the other forwards in his group, the New York Rangers logo on his chest, No. 45 and his surname stitched on his back.

This wasn't the dream come true for the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, but it was a step closer to it becoming reality.

"My next goal is to play in the NHL next season," Kakko said. "That's it."

Kakko is one of at least three and potentially more players in attendance at the weeklong Rangers prospect development camp, which started Monday, who have a realistic chance of playing in Madison Square Garden next season.

Kakko is expected to be a top-six or top-nine right wing. Vitali Kravtsov, the No. 9 pick in the draft last year who signed his first NHL contract on May 3, could be in the same role. 

Video: The crew on Kaapo Kakko going second to the Rangers

Adam Fox should be one of the Rangers' top three or four right-handed defenseman. Fox was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, given to college hockey's top player, after scoring 48 points (nine goals, 39 assists) in 33 games with Harvard this season. The Rangers acquired him in a trade from the Carolina Hurricanes on April 30.

Goalie Igor Shesterkin could get some games with the Rangers too. The Rangers' fourth-round pick (No. 118) in 2014 also signed his entry-level contract on May 3.

"I think a lot of guys have come in here thinking they've got a chance to make our team, which says a lot about how far this development camp has come," Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton said. "I hope there's a lot of guys in the rink today thinking I've got a chance to make this team sooner than later."

Kakko was welcomed to New York on Sunday by a small contingent of Rangers season ticket holders waiting for him at Newark Airport, chanting his name and seeking pictures and autographs.

From there, Kakko went into New York City for the first time. 

"I was walking in downtown last night," Kakko said. "Was so big."

Video: Fans greet Kaapo Kakko at airport

Kakko said it made him think about living in New York next season.

Kravtsov is thinking the same thing, preparing for the chance to prove himself in training camp, including learning English enough to use it in interviews. He answered questions in English from a dozen reporters and in front of cameras from the Rangers' website and MSG Network on Monday.

Kravtsov did not speak English in front of the media at the draft last year. He said he learned from talking with the four North American players on his Kontinental Hockey League team, Traktor Chelyabinsk, as well as with billets and his sister, who attends the University of Toronto.

"An impressive young man on and off the ice," Gorton said. "Today you could see that. He came here to show you guys he can speak English and he wanted to speak to you all in English. I think that says a lot about who he is and where he's going. He's come over early, been working out with our group and I think his eyes are on the right thing."

Kravtsov arrived in New York two months ago.

"I'm so excited," he said. "It's a big step in my career."

Kravtsov, 19, led all KHL players younger than 20 years old in goals (eight), assists (13) and points (21) in 50 games. Columbus Blue Jackets forward Artemi Panarin, a pending unrestricted free agent, also had 21 points as a 19-year-old in the KHL in 2010-11.

Video: Rangers draft F Vitali Kravtsov No. 9

"I can play better," Kravtsov said. "Every year you need to be better than last year. I work with my English, work with my weight. I need to be bigger."

Gorton said Fox should be thinking a roster spot is available for him, because it is.

"After everything he's done and accomplished, I think he's staring at our team and saying, 'Why can't I make this team?' " the GM said. "We're going to give him a chance."

He didn't rule out the same for Shesterkin even though the Rangers have Henrik Lundqvist and Alexandar Georgiev ahead of him on their goalie depth chart.

The more likely scenario, barring injury, is for Shesterkin to start next season in Hartford of the American Hockey League. The 23-year-old went 88-16-7 record with a 1.68 goals-against average, .935 save percentage and 27 shutouts in 117 KHL games from 2013-19 with SKA St. Petersburg.

"It's just the beginning," Shesterkin said. "I will do everything I can to play as well as I can and then it will be up to the coaching staff to see where I fit. No matter what I have to prove quite a bit. I'm very far from the pinnacle that I envision for myself."


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