The 2017-18 season was a major step in the right direction for the New Jersey Devils, with the team playing past the conclusion of the regular season for the first time since 2012. While making the playoffs was nice, the team still needs some more pieces to be true contenders both now and in the future. With the 17th overall pick in what is being touted as a deep draft, New Jersey will be looking for a player that can bolster their prospect pool. If they want to go by areas of need, as well as players that can contribute sooner rather than later, the Devils should take a look at Vitali Kravtsov.
Who is Vitali Kravtsov?
Kravtsov was born on December 23, 1999 in Vladivostok, Russia; he stands 6’2” (189 cm) tall and weighs 183 pounds (83 kg) according to his KHL bio page. While he is a left-handed shot, he is a right winger, which is currently an area of need for the Devils. His youth career began in the Traktor Chelyabinsk system, playing for their affiliates before making the jump to the KHL for the 2016-17 season. Here’s a link to his full stats courtesy of Elite Prospects.
His regular season was unimpressive in 2017-18 with just 4 goals and 3 assists in 35 games played, but he roared to life in the postseason, with 11 points (6 goals and 5 assists) in 16 games. His postseason performance has certainly increased his draft stock, especially when you consider that he is playing in a men’s league as a teenager.
Where is he Ranked?
NHL Central Scouting: #3 (European Skaters)
Hockey Prospect: #18
Dobber Prospects: #16
The Draft Analyst: #20 (as of January - up from #28 in September 2017)
As a note, he isn’t ranked by TSN’s Craig Button, but as Button still spoke highly of him, saying in his most recent draft list, “If I haven’t seen a player at least four times, they don’t get evaluated. That’s why highly rated players like German winger Dominik Bokk and Russian forward Vitaly Kravtsov aren’t in this month’s ranking”
Based on where he has been ranked so far, Kravtsov projects as a mid/late first round choice and will more than likely be available when the Devils first head to the podium.
What Others Say About Vitali Kravtsov
Heading right back to Elite Prospcets, they published a blurb about Kravtsov to accompany his stats:
A big, skilled winger that can play up and down the lineup and provide scoring in a number of roles. He brings grit and physical size, but could be more assertive in throwing his weight around more. Displays excellent speed on the rush and in zone entry, but could backcheck quicker. Plays well in his own end and takes away lanes. Very good hands and awareness. Kravtsov has the potential to develop into a staple top six forward that can produce at the next level.
Most of the assessment seems spot on here, but with limited viewings, it’s difficult to assess the backchecking and throwing weight around comments. It could be conditioning (in that he exerts so much in the offensive zone that he’s gassed trying to get back), his style of play (not wanting to throw a big hit and possibly put himself out of position) or perhaps he just needs to spend more time developing those areas of his game. In any case, the warts aren’t large enough to merit passing on him if the Devils believe he’s the best player available at #17.
Benn Kerr of Last Word on Hockey also spoke highly of Kravtsov, noting similarly that he has the potential to be a top six NHL winger:
Kravtsov has the potential to be a top-six winger in the NHL but has some areas of his game that need refinement. The natural skill is definitely there and makes him a real boom-or-bust prospect. He’s shown his high-end offensive ability and has had one of the best KHL playoff runs by a teenager, ever. Kravtsov’s game is reminiscent of Alex Kovalev, but this is a style comparison only and not one based on talent or potential.
The comparison to Alex Kovalev should be a flattering one for Kravtsov, but the words “boom-or-bust” along with the above critiques of his game from EP could be cause for hesitance. The Devils already have a player who seems to be moving into “boom-or-bust” territory in Pavel Zacha, and with just one pick in the top 100 (after #17, Jersey doesn’t draft again until #110), someone who is more of a surefire thing might be the safer pick.
His draft profile from NHL.com gives us a bit more information about him:
• KRAVTSOV SKATED MOST OF THE 2017-18 SEASON WITH CHELYABINSK OF THE KONTINENTAL HOCKEY LEAGUE, WHERE HE RECORDED 4-3—7 IN 35 GAMES DURING THE REGULAR SEASON AND EXCELLED IN THE PLAYOFFS WITH 6-5—11 IN 16 CONTESTS.
• HIS IMPRESSIVE POSTSEASON RUN SAW HIM NAMED “BEST ROOKIE” FOR EACH OF THE FIRST THREE ROUNDS OF THE KHL PLAYOFFS. HE ALSO WAS AWARDED ROOKIE OF THE MONTH HONORS FOR THE MONTH OF MARCH.
• MODELS HIS STYLE OF PLAY AFTER WASHINGTON CAPITALS CENTER EVGENY KUZNETSOV.
EUROPEAN SCOUTING SERVICES GORAN STUBB:
“KRAVTSOV MATURED AND IMPROVED A LOT OVER THE SEASON AND WAS EXTREMELY STRONG IN THE KHL PLAYOFFS. HE IS A POWER FORWARD WHO PLAYS AN AGGRESSIVE, NO-QUIT STYLE OF HOCKEY.”
The NHL may be yelling in all caps to draw some attention to this kid; or it could just be their formatting, who knows. The three bullets helped to give a bit more background on him and coupled with Stubb’s quote about his growth, maturity and no-quit style seems to mesh with what the Devils are trying to build.
A Little Video
The first clip today comes from last year’s KHL’s Gagarin Cup playoffs, where Kravtsov’s Traktor Chelyabinsk trailed Barys Astana 5-0 in game 1 of the opening round:
It’s a bit dated of a clip, but it shows Kravtsov using his speed and size to his advantage here to get in good position and rifle a shot past Bary’s goalie. Additionally, it was apparently the all-time youngest goal scored in the Gagarin playoffs at the time, which speaks volumes for a teenager playing with and against grown men.
Video #2 is a bit longer than the first, but might give a better idea of the Vitali as a player; here are his 2017-18 season highlights:
A good overall view of what Vitali is capable of here; I like the effort that he shows in the offensive zone. He seems to be well aware of his positioning as well, which is helpful in spreading defenders out and opening up lanes.
An Opinion of Sorts
The Devils need to focus on drafting the best player available at #17 in my opinion, as the last time we drafted for need over BPA, the team lost out on some really good defensemen; however, it did lead to the team falling flat enough the next season to draft Nico Hischier, so I guess these things have a way of working themselves out. That being said, with the Devils starting to emerge from their rebuild, a right winger or left defender should top Ray Shero’s 2018 Draft Wish List.
If Jersey’s scouting believes he is the BPA, I say take Kravtsov and run; he already has a frame built for the NHL, and while he might not make the team for 2018-19, he could stay in the KHL one more year or get used to North American ice in the AHL, and then be ready by 2019-20 at the latest. If New Jersey does draft him, and Patrick Maroon chooses to go elsewhere in free agency, I could see the team attempting to use Kravtsov as a faster version of Maroon in a bottom six role to give him time to adjust.
I like his speed, and his shot, and again he’s not a perfect player, but outside of top choices, who really is? (And in some cases, even the top choices aren’t perfect!) If there was one thing we noticed with the Devils from the playoffs, it’s that they need size as well as more competent right wingers and defenders. Vitali Kravtsov checks off two of those boxes, and if the coaching staff can help him develop his game and use his frame to his advantage, then he could be an absolute steal if the Devils take him at #17.
His offensive increase from season to postseason in the KHL has to be encouraging as well; 11 points in 16 postseason games in nothing to scoff at in any league. If the Devils believe he can be a contributor sooner rather than later (as I do), then he’s worth taking at 17. The last time I suggested we pass on a player in a draft profile just for low scoring in another league, that wound up being David Pastrnak; my opinion here is take Kravtsov if he’s BPA so that I’m not wrong on my prediction of a player again.
Now I’d like to hear your thoughts on Kravtsov as a prospect; would you be in favor of seeing the Devils select him with their 1st round pick? Anything in particular that stands out about his game that you are a fan of? Anything you’re not a fan of? Leave any and all comments below and thank you as always for reading!