The Vitali Kravtsov deal is a no-risk, high-reward trade for the Vancouver Canucks
Photo credit:© Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports
6 months ago
Right around noon on Saturday, February 25, the Vancouver Canucks announced their acquisition of Vitali Kravtsov from the New York Rangers in exchange for Will Lockwood and a 2026 seventh round pick.
The immediate result was something that almost never happens in this market: a universally positive reaction.
It’s not that hard to see why. While it may be a while before this transaction can be called a definitive “win” for GM Patrik Allvin, it’s already looking like a “no lose” sort of scenario. A real “no risk, high reward” situation.
Will Lockwood is a 24-year-old winger who the Canucks drafted in the third round back in 2016. Over the years, he’s struggled to stay healthy, but has developed into a somewhat consistent scorer at the AHL level. His primary reputation, however, is as a physical contributor. Lockwood skates like a Mazda and hits like a Mack Truck, and that’s what he’s made his name on. When he did make it into the Vancouver lineup 28 times over three seasons, hits are what he delivered, and that won him some recognition from the fanbase.
But let’s not mince words here. In those 28 games, Lockwood had managed just one assist to this point. Even his 12 goals and six assists in 26 games for Abbotsford this season marks him as a player whose ultimate upside is that of a short-term fourth liner.
With his skill level, his injury history, and the likelihood of him getting bypassed by younger prospects — as he already had been in Vancouver — the odds are stacked against him ever cracking the ‘100 NHL games played’ threshold. For the Canucks, the Rangers, or anyone else.
The 2026 seventh round pick is a 2026 seventh round pick. That player is currently 14 or 15 years old, and they’re already down to about a 5% chance of ever cracking 100 games themselves as a future seventh rounder. If they do play those games, they’ll be doing so in the year 2032 or something like that. There might not even be a New York by then.
As far as NHL assets go, these two were decidedly “dime-a-dozen.”
And then there’s Vitali Kravtsov.
With five goals and five assists across 48 NHL games through two seasons and only 15 points ni 39 career AHL games, Kravtsov might not look like that much better of a prospect than Lockwood at first blush.
But every other blush thereafter looks better.
Having just turned 23 in late December, Kravtsov is two draft years younger than Lockwood. Speaking of the draft, Kravtsov went 9th overall to the Rangers in 2018, just two spots after Quinn Hughes.
Now, obviously, things have gone a little better for Hughes than they have for Kravtsov since then. But it’s only been three-and-three-quarter seasons, and they’ve been tumultuous seasons at that. Kravtsov is still brimming with potential.
The first thing that stands out about Kravtsov is his size. He’s could still stand to add some muscle, but he has the frame to do it at 6’3”.
The second thing would be his skating. Kravtsov moves very well for a winger in general, and extremely well for a winger as large as he is. He does his best skating, it seems, when the puck is on his stick.
A big frame that can move the puck around the ice at high speeds? If you know anything about modern hockey, you know that’s the sort of thing that scouts obsess over. It’s not hard to guess why Kravtsov went as high as he did in the draft, and it’s also not hard to guess at why he’s failed to live up to that promise.
We don’t yet know much about Kravtsov’s personality, but it’s probably fair to at least say that his actions have been a little high-maintenance.
His North American debut in 2019 certainly did not go to plan. He was cut from the Rangers during training camp and assigned to the Hartford Wolf Pack, where he got but a single assist in his first five games. He and the Rangers mutually agreed to cut bait and that point and send Kravtsov back to Traktor Chelyabinsk in the KHL…but only for a few months. Somewhat unexpectedly, the Rangers brought Kravtsov back to Hartford in December.
He’d post 14 points in 33 games to close out the year.
The following season, Kravtsov made his own choice to stick with Chelyabinsk, signing a one-year contract with them in August. But when their season ended in April, he rejoined the Rangers and went straight to their NHL roster. Because of the delayed nature of the 2020/21 season, Kravtsov got in an additional 20 games for New York, notching two goals and two assists in that time.
It is at the outset of the 2021/22 campaign that the situation seemed to really fall apart, however. After Kravtsov failed to make the cut on what was a rather deep New York roster, he refused an assignment to Hartford. In response, the Rangers gave he and his agent permission to talk to other teams about a trade. When that didn’t materialize, Kravtsov sat, until in November the Rangers finally relented and loaned him back to Chelyabinsk, where he remained for the rest of the season. In 19 KHL regular season games, Kravtsov earned 13 points, and he added another ten in a 15-game playoff run. Traktor Chelyabinsk fell in the Eastern Conference final to Metallurg.
Then, in June of 2022, Kravtsov surprised many by rejecting an offer from Traktor and signing a one-year extension with the Rangers to return to the NHL. This time around, he made the team out of training camp and stayed in the lineup consistently, aside from multiple short-term injuries.
Through 28 games with the Rangers, Kravtsov scored three goals and three assists for a total of six points along with relatively strong defensive metrics. Those are fine results, but they’re nothing to write home about, and so it was no real surprise when Kravtsov was made a healthy scratch for six straight games in mid-to-late February.
Which brings us neatly enough to the present day, and his trade to Vancouver.
Yes, it is fair to say that Kravtsov’s play has been disappointing at every level — whether that be NHL, AHL, or even some KHL — since his draft day. And yes, Kravtsov himself may be to blame for much of it. But it is also fair to say that there have been countless off-ice factors and distractions at play that can at least partially explain his arrested development.
And it’s fair to say that there are reasons to believe those off-ice factors will be less so in Vancouver, where Kravtsov has several friends, five other co-clients of Dan Milstein, and multiple Russian-speaking teammates (and a coach).
It’s still entirely possible that Kravtsov doesn’t pan out as a long-term NHL player. But he’s got a lot better chance of doing that in Vancouver than he did in New York, at least by this point. And he’s got a lot better chance of doing it than Will Lockwood or a seventh round pick in the year 2026. For those reasons, this trade is already one that the Canucks can’t lose, and one they’re very probable to win.
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