It has been exactly a year since the Rangers called Igor Shesterkin up from the minor leagues, and so much has changed since then.
There has been a worldwide pandemic that forced the shutdown of professional sports around the globe, including the NHL, and that supersedes everything else. On the ice, though, it’s been a big year as far as Shesterkin and the Rangers are concerned.
A fourth-round draft pick in 2014, Shesterkin came over from Russia before the beginning of last season and quickly went from the club’s goalie of the future to the goalie of now. He started last season with the Rangers’ Hartford farm team and was chosen for the AHL All-Star Game before being called up by the Rangers on Jan. 6, 2020.
In 12 starts with the Rangers, he went 10-2, with a 2.52 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage, and that was good enough to displace franchise icon Henrik Lundqvist in the Rangers’ net. The Rangers bought out the final year of Lundqvist’s contract in the offseason, effectively making Shesterkin their new No. 1 goaltender.
Shesterkin, who turned 25 on Dec. 30, won’t give himself that label just yet.
"I don’t consider myself No. 1,’’ he said Tuesday, through the translation of Rangers’ Director of European Scouting Nick Bobrov. "I think we have two really good goalies who will do whatever it takes to help the team win.’’
He was referring to himself and fellow Russian Alexandar Georgiev, with whom he will move forward this season as the goalie tandem. Most everyone, though, expects Shesterkin to be the lead partner, even if team brass has to be careful how they describe the goaltending situation.
"In this season, every team in this league's going have to rely on their two goalies,’’ coach David Quinn said. "We're fortunate, because we have two number 1 goalies. I'm not just saying that. Georgie's’ had a good career so far; I think he's ready to make the next step. Shesty's, in a small sample, certainly proved that he can be really good goalie at this level . . . We're going to lean on both of them during the course of the season.’’
It was Georgiev who stood out in Tuesday’s practice scrimmage. A minute or so in, he made a save on a penalty shot by Julien Gauthier, and a couple minutes later made another save on a clean breakaway by No. 1 pick overall Alexis Lafreniere. And on the last play of the first half of the scrimmage, Georgiev made a glove save on another breakaway by Filip Chytil.
Still, it is Shesterkin (who also stopped a penalty shot Tuesday, from defenseman Libor Hajek) who is expected to take up the mantle as the next great Rangers goaltender. Mike Richter and Lundqvist have dominated the Rangers goal crease for 30 of the last 31 years, and Shesterkin seems excited to have the opportunity to follow in their footsteps.
"Obviously, it would be quite an experience to be the face of the franchise,’’ Shesterkin said. "I take it very seriously. But much work has to be done in order to get there.’’
Many people are speculating that Shesterkin is the favorite to win the Calder Trophy this season, as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year. Most believe he’ll be battling Lafreniere for the award.
Shesterkin said his own expectations are a little more modest.
"My expectations are to work even harder to increase the win column for the team, to increase all the goaltending statistics that are trackable, and try to become the No. 1 goalie on this team,’’ he said.
Shesterkin was asked what was the biggest thing he learned last season.
"Catch the puck, and you will stay on the team,’’ he said with a smile.