Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant said he always tells his players: “Make me play you. Make me keep you in the lineup.”
It appears Vitali Kravtsov has fallen short of that objective recently.
Kravtsov looks primed to have a healthy scratch Wednesday night against the Maple Leafs after he’s played in 17 straight games, which is far and away the most he’s skated in in a row this season. Part of that is due to his injury-riddled start to the season, while the other part has been coaching decisions. The call-up Tuesday of Will Cuylle could edge Kravtsov out of the lineup again.
“He’s been fine,” Gallant said after practice in Tarrytown on Tuesday. But again, he’s not a fourth-line player. When Cuylle comes up, whether it’s Kravy coming out or [Julien] Gauthier coming out, Kravy did OK, he’s played OK. But he’s not built for a fourth line. He’s built to play in a top-nine position. If we decide that’s something that’s going to shake down tomorrow, then we’ll see. He’s been fine, I wish he’d score more, I wish he’d finish more checks and stuff like that.”
In the 6-2 win over the Panthers on Monday, Kravtsov skated on the fourth line for the sixth time this season. He has started in the bottom six a total of 13 times, while flanking one of the top two units 14 times. The season has been a mixed bag for Kravtsov, who has one goal in his previous 14 games and just six points in 27 contests.
Kravtsov has had limited ice time when he’s on the third and fourth lines. The Russian wing also has been unable to make an impact with the opportunities he has been afforded.
Despite playing in those 17 consecutive games, Kravtsov said he still feels the same way with regard to settling into the lifestyle of an everyday NHLer.
“It’s for sure better than the beginning of the season, but still, I want some more,” he told The Post.
It’s obvious that Kravtsov’s skill set is better suited for a top-six role, or at least a top-nine role. The play of other young players, such as Filip Chytil, Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere, however, has made it difficult for Gallant to make room for Kravtsov on the first three lines. Also affecting his time has been the steadyness of guys such as Barclay Goodrow and Jimmy Vesey.
Kravtsov said he doesn’t see himself as a player who shouldn’t be playing on one line or should be playing on another. Wherever he skates, he said, he just wants to play the best hockey he can.
“Just focus on every shift, and just don’t think about the next shift,” he said. “I don’t have that much ice time, but it is what it is.”
The Rangers will face the Maple Leafs on Wednesday night in Toronto before they take on the Golden Knights on Friday in their last matchup before the All-Star break. They’re expected to return to practice on Feb. 5 in preparation for the Flames’ arrival at the Garden the following night.