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Shesterkin, Kravtsov Shine in Rangers Development Camp Debut

Former KHLers make long-awaited debut in New York sweaters

by Jess Isner

STAMFORD, Conn. - Five years ago, in June 2014, the New York Rangers selected Igor Shesterkin in the NHL Entry Draft. 

On Monday, for the first time, Rangers GM Jeff Gorton got a glimpse of him in net stateside, wearing a Rangers sweater. 

And it felt good. 

"It's always a great day when you draft a bunch of guys and you see them on the ice for the first time," Gorton said following Day 1 of Rangers Development Camp at Chelsea Piers in Connecticut. "But obviously we've made a number of picks, and high picks, over the last few years. They're just doing skills and just getting acclimated, but to see them all in the same place, and to see the level of players that I think we've acquired, it's exciting for everybody." 

Shesterkin and countryman Vitali Kravtsov were two of the marquee names among a talented group of 37 players who reported for camp this week. The group also features all eight of New York's selections in this past weekend's draft, along with 2018 first-round pick K'Andre Miller, recent NCAA signee Adam Fox and many more. 

Shesterkin has been under the proverbial microscope for quite some time now after building an almost cult following overseas for his work between the pipes with the KHL's SKA St. Petersburg. He finished the 2018-19 season with a 1.11 goals-against average - the second-best mark in KHL history - and 10 shutouts, the third-most in league history. His career 1.68 GAA over parts of six seasons in the KHL stands as the best in league history among goaltenders with 50 or more games played. 

In May, he and Kravtsov signed their entry-level deals with the Rangers on the same day, providing an immediate and powerful boost to the organization's depth. 

"I'm very honored to sign a contract with a club like the New York Rangers - it's a great honor for me," Shesterkin said through a translator. 

But he was quick to add that he is not making any assumptions about his future. Yes, he has had tremendous success already at the pro level, but he understands he still has plenty to prove on the North American stage. 

"It's just the beginning," he 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."

Shesterkin stepped foot in New York for the first time three days ago. Already, he has made an effort to get to know his new city, particularly its museums. The best advice he's received thus far, though, has come from fellow Ranger and fellow Russian Pavel Buchnevich. 

"I've talked to Buchnevich quite a bit, and he told me that it's a great city, but you need to walk, not drive," he said with a grin. "Two days ago, I walked 22 kilometers, so I'm getting used to it." 

Today was only the first time Gorton has seen Shesterkin on North American ice. Clearly, it is too soon to make projections for the netminder's future.  

But from the body of work he has seen thus far, Gorton hopes it bodes well for what's to come. 

"I think he's coming here to try and make it," Gorton said. "I'm not going to be in someone's way and tell him, 'You have no chance of making our team.' Again, he's had a lot of success where he's been at, and at high levels, and he's won, so I don't think I'm in the place to tell these guys that they don't have a chance. So we'll let that work itself out when training camp comes around. 

"Again, he's new here. He's trying to get acclimated. It feels like a long time since we were able to get him over here, but he's here, and we're excited to have him."

Shesterkin has familiarity with plenty of players on the Rangers roster, particularly those with Russian heritage, including Buchnevich, Vladislav Namestnikov, and fellow development campers Kravtsov and Yegor Rykov. 

"Hopefully they don't take anything away from my ability to learn English," he quipped, one of the many one-liners he dropped during his post-skate availability. 

Shesterkin is also friendly with current Rangers netminder Alexander Georgiev. And although he has yet to meet the other goalie, it's something he can hardly wait to do. 

Playing with them? That would be a dream come true. 

"Henrik Lundqvist has been my idol since I was a little boy, so I very much look forward to seeing him on the ice and learning what he does on the ice, and playing with him someday on the same team," he said. "Obviously, there's some work to be done. It's difficult to get to know a goalie from television, but I know they're both very quick, very fast and I look forward to playing with them." 

Shesterkin - who will return to his native Russia after camp to train before permanently relocating to the U.S. in late July - was quick to brush aside questions about how quickly he expects to make the jump to the NHL level. 

"I need to get a lot stronger - Kaapo [Kakko] said he needs to get a long stronger, too, and look at him," he joked. "So I have a long way to go."

In his eyes, there is plenty to accomplish before he can even begin to think about when his NHL career will officially begin. 

"No matter what, I have to prove quite a bit and I'm very far from the pinnacle I envision for myself," he said. "So I have a lot of work to do."

Kravtsov, who is also expected to compete for a roster spot in September, wouldn't put any undue pressure on himself, either. 

When asked whether he expects to be on the 2019-20 roster, he smiled and simply said, "Ask the coach." 

Selected with the ninth overall pick in last year's draft, Kravtsov, too, embarked on an impressive 2019-20 season in the KHL, finishing with 21 points, the ninth-most by a player 20 or younger in league history. 

Since finishing his KHL career and signing with the Rangers, he has spent two months in the U.S. to focus on training and getting a better grasp on the English language. 

"He's an impressive young man, on and off the ice, and I think today you could see that," Gorton said. "He obviously came here to show you guys he could 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."

And humble as Kravtsov may be, Gorton isn't going to stop him if he wants to compete for an NHL roster spot come September. 

In fact, he welcomes it.

"I think he's going to be right there," Gorton said. "He's going to come in and try to win a job like a few of these other guys, and why shouldn't he think like that? He's played in the KHL for a couple of years and been successful, and he's doing all the right things to try to make himself a good player, so I hope there's a lot of guys in that rink today and in that room today thinking, 'I've got a chance to make this team sooner than later.'" 

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