Vitali Kravtsov, the first of three first-round picks by the Rangers in 2018, is leaving their Hartford farm team and returning to the KHL, a person with knowledge of the arrangement confirmed. The news was first reported by the New York Post.
Kravtsov, 19, is signing a one-year contract with his old team, Traktor Chelyabinsk, and the Rangers have the right to recall the right wing at any time. If they don’t recall him, he could return after the KHL season is over. The KHL regular season ends at the end of February and the playoffs run through the end of April. Traktor (9-15) is second to last in its division and would not make the playoffs if the season ended today.
The native of Vladivostok, Russia, failed to make the Rangers out of training camp and was assigned to the team’s AHL affiliate in Hartford. He was scratched for the second game of the season there, reportedly because he was upset about his assignment to the minor leagues. He had no goals, one assist and two shots on goal in five games.
If Kravtsov is unhappy in Hartford, the Rangers are OK with him going back to Russia for a year. He did have a European assignment clause in the entry-level contract he signed with the Rangers this past summer that allows him the option to return to his old club. The Rangers will reassess him at the end of his season there.
He spent the summer in the United States working out, improving his English and getting ready to make the Rangers in training camp. But they opted not to keep him on their final roster, sending him to Hartford to get more seasoning and to learn the North American game at the AHL level.
Though he played well in the preseason, the Rangers didn’t see a spot for him on their top three lines and didn’t want him to play limited minutes on the fourth line, so he went to Hartford with Russian rookies Igor Shesterkin and Yegor Rykov. It was thought they would help each other acclimate to the smaller rinks and faster pace of North American hockey.
The 6-3, 189-pound Kravtsov was the ninth overall pick in the 2018 draft after earning Rookie of the Year honors in the KHL that season. He stayed one more season with Traktor, in 2018-19, before signing with the Rangers as soon as last season was over.
Reports that Kravtsov was considering a return to Russia first surfaced last week and gained traction when he posted a photo of himself with some of his Traktor teammates on social media. He had eight goals and 13 assists in 50 games last season for Traktor. The previous season, he had four goals and three assists in 35 games (and six goals and five assists in 16 playoff games).