Larry Brooks is providing player evaluations daily in the NY Post, an exercise that began the past Monday. The order is by last name, and while he is not giving a grade, he is giving a sort of high-level assessment. Since it's my hope that we will have hockey, I thought it might be interesting to take one or a few aspects of his daily column along with his closure - the latter in italics - and provide my view, then receive yours in the comments. I will try and do this daily, and have covered Lias Andersson, Pavel Buchnevich, Filip Chytil, Tony DeAngelo, Jesper Fast, Adam Fox, Alexandar Georgiev, Brett Howden, Kaapo Kakko and Chris Kreider, Brendan Lemieux, Ryan Lindgren, Henrik Lundqvist, Greg McKegg and Artemi Panarin. Today, it's Igor Shesterkin
The Rangers haven’t had very many flamboyant players throughout their history. But the Blueshirts have one now and if he is not necessarily the linear descendent of Jacques Plante, Igor Shesterkin plays the position with a touch of showmanship that also recalls another French-Canadian goaltender by the name of Patrick Roy.
A touch of showmanship, a pinch of competitive arrogance, and a heaping amount of talent. Plante. Roy. Shesterkin.
Now wait a second. I don’t have the 24-year-old Russian joining the pair of French-Canadians in the Hockey Hall of Fame just yet. But there is that aura that radiates from Shesterkin. Not only is he going to beat you, he is going to beat you with style.
Something in the way he moves attracts me like no other goalie. Thanks, George Harrison. When Shesterkin goes side to side, it’s as if he’s on a bed of air and his pads sort of hover over the ice. He is lightning quick post-to-post, just as he is with his glove. His ability to handle and move the puck is a transformative asset. His ability to think the position is rare.
We are talking about a player who has 12 NHL games to his résumé. There is still much to learn. He has never been tasked with carrying his team through a season, obviously not here and certainly not previously in the KHL, where he never played more than 39 games in a year while honing his craft. We don’t know how he would respond to a slump. Not only didn’t he encounter one here — won his first two starts, lost one, won his next seven, lost another one that he followed immediately with a victory — but he has encountered a slump almost exactly never.
In five years with SKA St. Petersburg, Shesterkin was 79-14-13. He was 17-4-3 during his AHL apprenticeship, and 10-2 with the Rangers after his Jan. 6 promotion. Add it up. The goaltender’s transcontinental career record is 106-20-16. No sir, we do not know how No. 31 would handle a slump.
Shesterkin is no kid. Neither was Lundqvist when he came over in 2005. Each arrived on the scene as a world-class goaltender, the NHL rookie designation aside. Still, the poise Shesterkin displayed after landing smack-dab in the middle of a three-goaltender wheel — no, a carousel — that included franchise icon Lundqvist was as impressive as his talent.
When is the last time the Rangers waited five years for a player, as they did for Shesterkin, whom they drafted in the fourth round, 118th overall, in 2014? That would be never. The front office was patient, because there essentially was no other choice. There might be a lesson in here somewhere that can be applied to some draft choices when the organization does have a choice.
Until Shesterkin made his debut with that Jan. 7, 5-3 victory over the Avalanche, the sum and substance of the Blueshirts’ seven-player 2014 draft class had amounted to this: second-rounder Brandon Halverson’s 12:33 of mop-up work in relief of Lundqvist on Feb. 17, 2018. Not one of the other five players made it to the NHL.
By the way? The Rangers have gotten no games and no minutes but plenty of nothing from their seven 2015 draftees. The 2016 class accounts for only nine games (and one assist) from fifth-rounder Tim Gettinger, but third-rounder Tarmo Reunanen could change the equation.
True, the Blueshirts did not have a first-round choice in those three drafts, but please. Which is essentially what general manager Jeff Gorton had been saying for years to the Russian: Please come to North America. Please.
Shesterkin’s arrival on Broadway infused the Rangers with energy. It just did. At the moment it seemed as if the promotion was about the future, but the goaltender made it about the present. The team elevated its game and charged into the playoff race by going 16-6, though Alexandar Georgiev got eight of those starts and Lundqvist three. That distribution of labor was caused in large part by the pair of injuries Shesterkin sustained, one an ankle issue that sidelined him for three contests, and the other a non-displaced broken rib he suffered in an automobile accident that forced him to miss six more opportunities.
The opportunity is there for Shesterkin to become what the Rangers have envisioned since 2014. And that is, the heir to Lundqvist’s throne. The flamboyance, that’s the cherry on top. Plante would be proud.
A good goalie gives a team a chance to win. An elite netminder allows a team to steal a game they shouldn't win. In his prime, Lundqvist was that elite netminder. New York may have a true successor to that moniker of elite goalie in Igor.
His career to date has been nothing short of spectacular. The question of how he would handle the move from Russia to North America, including a difference in rink size, was answer emphatically. Any debate on how his game would transition from Hartford to New York was answer similarly.
Granted, as Brooks noted, he is just 12 games into his NHL career. But he sure looked like the part of a true #1 goalie when between the pipes. Excellent rebound control. The ability to softly swallow up the hardest of shots. Quick lateral movement. The ability to recover and also make the spectacular save. Lats but not certainly not least, a sublime talent to handle the puck. Add all those components up and toss in a desire to be great and you have a possible elite goalie replacing an elite goalie.
As a heads up, I will be out of pocket starting on Wednesday night through Saturday night due to the first two days of Passover and the Sabbath. The following week, I am off the grid from Tuesday through Thursday night. I don't expect to miss much given the current situation, but will resume the blog when i return.