GREENBURGH, N.Y. — It was not the opening chapter of Igor Shesterkin’s NHL career. That will come soon enough. It was the prologue.
The franchise’s heir apparent in goal was recalled from AHL Hartford on Monday, and after practice at the MSG Training Facility, coach David Quinn announced that Shesterkin will start Tuesday against the Avalanche. He will be backed up by Henrik Lundqvist, and Alexandar Georgiev will be scratched.
“It’s so important to me,” said Shesterkin, who said general manager Jeff Gorton told him Sunday that he was being called up. “It’s a really good day.”
According to the team, Shesterkin will be the first Russian-born goalie to play a game as a Ranger. But the decision to have his NHL debut come against the highest-scoring team in the league was not about making franchise history. It was about a player whose performance had left them no choice but to promote him.
“He’s played his way into this opportunity,” Quinn said. “It had nothing to do with Hank or Georgie. Those guys have really given us a chance most nights. It’s really more about Igor taking subjectivity out of it, really.”
That is an understatement.
Shesterkin, 24, has been a significant reason that the Wolfpack’s 21-8-2-5 mark through 36 games is third-best in the AHL and leads the Eastern Conference. In 23 games, he is 15-4-3 with a league-best 1.93 goals-against average, and his .932 save percentage ranks behind only Florida prospect Chris Driedger. Shesterkin also has recorded three shutouts.
“He’s just so calm,” said center Steven Fogarty, who played with Shesterkin in Hartford before being recalled on Dec. 28. “So even-keeled no matter the circumstances.”
Which could be a significant trait as the franchise goes through an awkward period with Shesterkin, Lundqvist and Georgiev all on the roster. Lundqvist and Shesterkin received the majority of the work in practice, which was attended by Gorton, senior adviser Glen Sather and team president John Davidson.
Before the season, Davidson and Quinn said separately that Lundqvist and Georgiev would split time, and that is what has transpired in the first 41 games. Lundqvist is 9-9-3 with a .910 save percentage and 3.10 goals-against average in 24 games. Georgiev is 10-9-1 with a .909 save percentage and 3.17 goals-against average in 20 games.
Quinn had not spoken with Lundqvist and Georgiev about rotating Shesterkin into the mix when he spoke with reporters, saying the organization will take it “day-by-day.” Which has an element of uncertainty.
“To be honest,” Lundqvist said, “I don’t know how it’s going to play out.”
Added Georgiev: “I don’t really know what the plan is.”
The Rangers selected Shesterkin in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Draft, 118th overall, and he signed with the organization last May after his contract with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL expired.
Shesterkin participated in developmental camp in June and was at training camp. He played in two preseason games, compiling an 0-2-0 mark with a .906 save percentage and 3.45 goals-against average, before being assigned to Hartford on Sept. 30.