Alexandar Georgiev has had an excellent season for the Rangers so far, establishing himself as a quality goaltender who looks like a player that will have a nice, long career in the NHL. The question the Rangers have to ask themselves is: Will Georgiev’s future be on Broadway or elsewhere?
There had been speculation for the last few weeks that Georgiev, who has appeared in 58 career NHL games, might be sent down to the minor leagues before he reached game No. 60, at which point he would need to pass through waivers in order to be sent down. But general manager Jeff Gorton shut that speculation down Monday when he said Georgiev, 23, had “played well enough to be here.’’ The Bulgarian-born Georgiev, who grew up in Moscow, is 9-5-1 this season, with a 2.69 goals-against average, .923 save percentage and two shutouts.
The question now is whether his standout play means he will stay with the Rangers, or fetch a handsome return when he is traded away to a team in need of goaltending help, such as the San Jose Sharks, whom he beat, 6-3, on Thursday.
The Rangers’ goaltending situation, and his place in it, is a touchy subject with Georgiev, an undrafted free agent who was signed by the Rangers after a tryout in 2017.
“What is it?’’ Georgiev said, with a straight face, when asked about his place in the Rangers’ goalie hierarchy. “I don’t know what the goalie situation is.’’
Entering the season, Georgiev appeared to be the man in the middle in the Rangers organization, sandwiched between franchise icon Henrik Lundqvist and another 23-year-old goaltender, Igor Shesterkin, who was drafted in 2014 to be Lundqvist’s heir apparent. Shesterkin, who came to North America for the first time this year, is dominating the AHL with the Rangers’ Hartford Wolf Pack farm team. On Friday, he earned his second shutout of the season in a 4-0 win over Lehigh Valley, and he entered Saturday with a record of 11-3-3, with a league-leading 1.81 GAA and .936 save percentage that was second-best in the 31-team league.
Georgiev claims to be totally ignorant of what Shesterkin is doing.
“I just – I’m in my own bubble, I guess,’’ Georgiev said. “Just improve on my last season, be better every day. The rest, I don’t really try to pay attention to it.’’
Gorton said the Rangers tell their prospects to play well and let the Rangers make the decisions as to who ends up where. But since two is company and three is a crowd, as far as hockey goalies are concerned – and because Lundqvist, who is under contract for this year and next at a salary cap hit of $8.5 million, isn’t going anywhere – it seems that the Rangers are going to have to choose between Georgiev and Shesterkin at some point. That point could be the Feb. 24 trade deadline, when it’s possible Georgiev, who is in the final year of his three-year entry level NHL contract, could be moved to a playoff contender in need of a goaltender.
Georgiev insists he’s not thinking about any of that. And he said he’s not reading any of the speculation about his future.
“No. I’m trying not to read any of the stuff,’’ he said. “I used to read quite a bit. The last, maybe, year, not really. Whatever happens, I’ll hear it from the guys, right? So, no point to really focus on anything like that.
“I mean, obviously, I want to have a great season and show that I’m the guy to trust in the net.’’
Kakko making positive strides
Entering Saturday’s road trip finale in Anaheim, 18-year-old Kaapo Kakko hadn’t scored a goal since Nov. 12, a span of 13 games. But since coach David Quinn elevated him to the top six forwards, the No. 2 pick overall in the NHL draft this summer has looked a lot more lively, and after passing up a couple opportunities to shoot the puck early in Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to the Kings in L.A., the Finn flipped the switch and started firing from everywhere. He ended up with a team high eight shots on goal that night.
Kakko said he was frustrated by the one shift early in the game where he passed up a chance for a shot, hoping for a better shot, then passed up a second chance for a shot, then ended up taking a weak slap shot from the blue line that was easily saved. After that shift, he just decided he had to be more aggressive.
“The boys on the bench, and maybe ‘Quinnie’ said, ‘Just shoot the puck,’’’ he said. “Yeah, I should shoot, and I didn’t do that. Maybe, I think before games, I should shoot more. And it’s coming.’’
Quinn was certainly pleased with the attitude, and Gorton, speaking about Kakko early in the week, said Kakko, who overall had six goals, eight assists, 14 points, in 29 games entering Saturday, is doing well in his first NHL season.
“Having two teenagers, I can relate to how hard it must be to walk into the best league in the world and make an impact,’’ Gorton said. “And I think that, definitely, before he got sick (Kakko missed two games with the flu, Nov. 14 and 16) he was really coming on. And now I feel, again, he’s starting to come back again.’’
Kakko, who is staying with a billet family near the Rangers’ Westchester County practice facility, said his parents are not coming over for Christmas. As of right now, he has no special plans for the holiday, and the three-day NHL break surrounding it.
“I think I’m just with my billet family,’’ he said. “Or maybe going to Smitty’s (Brendan Smith) house. He asked me. So maybe.’’