While the NHL is still wrapping up its 2019-20 season, with its final four teams battling in the conference finals in the bubble in Edmonton, hockey leagues around Europe are already starting their 2020-21 seasons. And with so many of their young, developing players not having played since the coronavirus prompted the NHL and AHL to shut down in March, the Rangers are in the process of loaning some of their better-known prospects to European teams, just so they can play some hockey.
"We just want our guys to play, especially young guys,’’ Rangers assistant general manager Chris Drury said. "When the American League season stopped and the NHL season stopped there wasn’t a lot of hockey for these guys . . . so it’s just an opportunity to continue to get guys games, and (have them) be on a team and continue to develop.’’
Former first-round pick Vitali Kravtsov was loaned back to his old team, Traktor Chelyabinsk, in Russia where he has already played three games and scored one goal. Lias Andersson, who already had been loaned to Swedish team HV71 late last season, had his loan to that team extended, and goaltender Adam Huska, who played for AHL Hartford this season, was loaned to Slovak team HKM Zvolen. Defensemen Libor Hajek and Tarmo Reunanen are still in discussions about loan agreements, but are expected to be placed on other European teams soon.
In all cases, Drury said, the terms of the loan allow the Rangers to recall each player at any time. So they’ll be able to bring all the players in for training camp, whenever that is.
The NHL hasn’t announced when next season will start, but Drury said the league has given teams "rough estimates’’ on when training camp might start, based on a season opening date of Dec. 4. Recent published reports, however, have suggested that the season may not be able to start on that date.
Drury said the team has considered loaning some of their non-European prospects, such as defenseman K’Andre Miller and forward Morgan Barron, to European teams, but that is a trickier proposition, given that most European teams have limits on the number of import players they can have on their rosters. It is easier to loan a player to a European team if that player has a European passport, he said.
Kravtsov, especially, figures to benefit greatly from his loan situation. The No. 9 overall pick in 2018 – and first of three first-round picks the Rangers had that year – had a rocky first season in North America in ’19-20. He sulked when he failed to make the Rangers’ roster and was assigned to AHL Hartford at the beginning of the season and ultimately left Hartford to return to Russia. The Rangers loaned him to his old team, Traktor, but things didn’t go well there either, and Kravtsov eventually got demoted to their minor league affiliate. The Rangers recalled him, and he finished the season in Hartford.
But Kravtsov was invited to the Phase 3 training camp in July and played well there. He went with the Rangers to the Toronto bubble for the club’s qualifying series against Carolina and though he didn’t play in any games there, Drury said the time in the Toronto bubble benefited the 20-year-old.
"He obviously didn’t get in any games, but I think he saw a lot, learned a lot, and he looked at it, I think, as an opportunity to grow as a person and a player and to learn more about the Rangers and what we’re trying to accomplish as a team and trying to get him to accomplish as a player,’’ Drury said. "I think everything progressed nicely, and once the league starts back up again, we’re looking forward to getting him back here.’’