This summer is make-or-break time for Vitali Kravtsov
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
By Noah Strang8 months ago
When the Canucks traded for Vitali Kravtsov earlier this season, there was a sense of cautious optimism in the air. Just a few years ago Kravstov was one of the most highly regarded prospects on the planet after being picked ninth overall in the 2018 NHL Draft by the New York Rangers.
While Kravtsov didn’t work out in New York, he scored just 10 points across 48 NHL games over the course of two seasons before falling out of favour with the organization, and he’s still just 23 years old. The Kravtsov trade was the exact type of gamble on a high-upside player that non-contending teams should be making.
However, since being acquired, Kravtsov hasn’t exactly impressed. The 6’3″ winger has just a single point in 13 games with the Canucks and has struggled to make an impact on the ice. While 13 games is not the largest sample size, he has the worst Corsi For% of any forward to wear the Vancouver jersey this season and is ahead of just Tanner Pearson and Jack Studnicka in expected goals percentage.
With every passing game, Kravtsov is wearing out his welcome in Vancouver. The Canucks have plenty of wingers that can play in the NHL as the position is an organizational strength. Since he doesn’t kill penalties, Kravtsov needs to be driving offence to be worthy of ice-time. He hasn’t shown that yet. This summer is going to be a massive one for Kravtsov to prove that he deserves a spot on the Canucks next season, or even in the NHL at all.
What was the scouting report on Kravtsov as a prospect?
As a prospect, Kravtsov was seen as a future top-six NHL contributor. He really did a lot for his draft stock when he scored 11 points in 16 games during the KHL playoffs as a teenager. In a league that’s known for being low-scoring and tough on kids, that level of production caught the attention of scouts.
“Playing his off-wing, Kravtsov has a very impressive set of hands. He can shoot in tight spaces and with a lightning-quick release. Kravtsov comes with a strong hockey IQ and can work his way into the soft spots in the defense. Reads plays and situations well.” – NBC Sports Scouting Report on Kravtsov in 2018 before the NHL Draft
Some of the qualities that Kravtsov possessed that scouts thought would translate well to the NHL included his puck skills and shot. He was expected to be a strong offensive player, yet he has yet to score even at a 0.5 points per game rate in North America.
Fast forward a few seasons and Kravtsov will need to show that his hands and shot are above NHL average to stay in the league. He doesn’t kill penalties and isn’t especially known for his defensive game. Being an offensive contributor is key to his NHL longevity.
Kravtsov’s 13 games with the Canucks
Since he arrived on the team, Kravtsov has the lowest goals-for percentage at 5-on-5. He’s been on the ice for a single Canucks goal during that time while the team has conceded four. Beyond those goals, the Canucks also control 44.74% of the shots and 41.75% of the expected goals during those minutes, neither great rates.
While it might be possible to dismiss some of the concerning stats surrounding Kravtsov’s time with the Canucks due to the sample size only being 13 games, that is about 15% of a full season. In addition, the tape hasn’t exactly given much to be encouraged about. While there have been flashes here and there, the overall body of work has fallen short of expectations.
Take a look at the following shift where Kravtsov uses his body to separate the defender from the puck, gaining possession after a successful forecheck. He then manages to shield the puck while controlling play in the offensive zone, wins another puck battle against the 6’6″ Jordan Greenway, and makes a dangerous pass to the middle of the ice.
These shifts have been far and few between for Kravtsov. Even though that type of play doesn’t show up on the scoresheet, it’s memorable and impactful. It’s through efforts like this that Kravtsov can carve himself a spot on the depth chart, even when the puck isn’t bouncing his way. At 6’3″, you would hope to see the winger have many physical plays like the one above.
“Kravtsov has to really understand that he’s got some talent but we need him to really dial it in and want to be an NHL player,” head coach Rick Tocchet said. “He’s given us some good moments, don’t get me wrong, he’s just got to get stronger. He’s got to get in shape to play at this level.”
Kravtsov’s future with the Canucks organization
This summer is going to be crucial for Kravtsov to claim his position as a Canuck going forward. He’s going to be a restricted free agent and his pedestrian NHL production means that if the Canucks do decide to offer him a new contract, it’s not going to break the bank.
“This is a big summer for him,” Tocchet commented. “I know I keep saying it but I haven’t seen enough from him to be in the lineup and want it.”
Kravtsov has an NHL-level shot and good hands, he just needs to add some way to impact the game away from the puck. As a bottom-six winger, there’s no room for lackadaisical play. There needs to be 100% commitment and effort at all times in the mold of someone like former beloved Canuck Tyler Motte.
“You got to be on the right side of the battles and win some of those,” Tocchet continued. “You can’t be two-for-eight. You know, like, I’ll take .500 right now on that. But I think for those guys [including Kravtsov] getting stronger and really body position [is important].
If Kravtsov continues to struggle in the NHL, there’s no doubt that heading back to the KHL will start to seem more appealing. However, the fact that he’s still here means he clearly wants to make this work, and that’s got to start with using his body to become a better forechecker and driver of play. This summer is the time to work on those skills, something he’s currently doing with the Sedin twins, so that he can come back next year ready to go.
“Your bottom six has to change the game, not always by scoring, but whether you keep the puck in the other end and making the other team’s best players play in their own end,” Tocchet said, emphasizing the need for Kravtsov to impact the game beyond the box score. “And that’s the key for those guys if they want to be an NHL player.”
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