Sports

Clock ticking for Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin plans

So Carter Hart, the goaltender the Flyers have been waiting for since Ron Hextall — no, make that Pelle Lindbergh; Uh, no, make that Bernie Parent — entered Thursday’s match at home against the Rangers ranked 53d and last in save percentage (.875) among the 53 NHL goaltenders to have played at least 600 minutes.

Which is to say that progression is not always linear and that projecting youngsters as immediate can’t-miss franchise goaltenders can be a little bit tricky. But at least the Flyers and Hart have some time on their side, with the netminder only 22 years old and on the final year of his entry-level contract. He is another five years away from becoming an unrestricted free agent.

The Blueshirts, meanwhile, have questions of their own to confront relating to Igor Shesterkin, so long touted as Henrik Lundqvist’s heir apparent that the Russian’s ascension to the throne seemed pre-ordained.

Shesterkin’s performance through his sophomore go-round (even as he is regarded officially as a rookie by NHL definition) has been pretty good for the most part, though he hasn’t yet reached the same peak he scaled consistently during his 2019-20 debut upon his midseason promotion from the AHL.

The netminder’s overall numbers have him in the top-third of most of the league’s statistical categories, though his early-season follies have had undue impact in placing him just 20th in five-on-five save percentage and 23d in GAA among goaltenders who have played at least 600 minutes of full strength hockey. That is somewhat disconcerting.

But the biggest issue regarding Shesterkin is his durability, or lack thereof. For 37 goaltenders have played more minutes than the Russian, whose start in this one against the Flyers marked his first appearance since sustaining a groin injury three weeks to the day earlier late in the third period in New Jersey on March 4.

Rangers Igor Shesterkin
Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin
Getty Images

Shesterkin missed 10 games through that stretch. Obviously no one is blaming the goaltender for being injured, but the fact is that this marked the third time in Shesterkin’s very brief career that he has been sidelined with a lower-body injury. The netminder has never started more than three games in a row in the NHL and has never played more than 39 games in a single season during a pro career that commenced with four seasons in the KHL.

Here is the thing about the dynamic between the Blueshirts and Shesterkin that is unlike the one between the Flyers and Hart, other than the fact that the New York goaltender does not share his last name with both the franchise’s Hall of Fame announcer and resplendent Anthem singer, as Philly’s does with Gene and Lauren, respectively:

And that is, the Rangers don’t have a lot of time with Shesterkin, who turned 25 on the final day of 2020 and is on the final year of his entry-level contract but also only two years away from unrestricted free agency.

This means the option of a one-or two-year bridge contract coming out of entry level to give the organization some time to measure Shesterkin’s truer value is not much of an alternative here. The Rangers surely will not want to usher the goaltender onto the open market. So a long-term deal is probably in the offing this summer. But at what price point? Two years away from free agency, Shesterkin has leverage he is likely to utilize. History and common sense tell us to expect that.

The threat of staying in Russia was enough to get the fourth-round, 118th-overall selection of the 2014 draft the maximum entry-level bonus package. This is all but unheard of for players selected later than the top of the first round.

If the Blueshirts are going to make a run at the fourth-place Bruins for the final divisional playoff spot, they are going to need Shesterkin at the top of his game and providing the same aura he did when he joined the squad last season. That is imperative.

And though the Rangers are not going to imperil Shesterkin’s physical well-being by piling games on him following this convalescence, it is also imperative for the goaltender to stay healthy and provide some evidence that he can, indeed, carry a team. Even last year, Alex Georgiev got 13 starts to Shesterkin’s 12 after the latter’s recall.

The Rangers need Shesterkin to be the heir apparent as projected. The clock is already ticking.      


Source link