Like it or not, the future is here for the New York Rangers.
Top goaltending prospect Igor Shesterkin made his NHL debut just a day after being recalled from the organization’s AHL affiliate in Hartford and made 29 shots in a victory over the Colorado Avalanche.
He lived up to the hype built in the KHL, Russia’s top league, where he developed into a can’t-miss goaltending talent that Rangers fans have tabbed to be the next Henrik Lundqvist.
“Everybody’s been talking about Igor for a long time and for good reason,” Rangers head coach David Quinn said of his newest netminder. “He’s earned the accolades and he earned this opportunity.”
While Shesterkin’s arrival was long-awaited, the timing of it remains peculiar.
Lundqvist and Alexandar Georgiev are both healthy and are poised to remain on the roster. Neither netminder — mostly Georgiev — can be demoted to the AHL without having to go through waivers.
That currently leaves the Rangers with three goalies on the roster with the introduction of Shesterkin, which is a recipe for unrest within the locker room.
It’s difficult enough for NHL coaches to satisfy two goaltenders on the roster. Now Quinn is tasked with finding suitable playing time for a trio of goalies that run the gamut of reputation and expectation.
Lundqvist — who already started a career-low 22 first-half games this season — is nearing the end of his reign as Rangers franchise goalie.
At 37 years old, his numbers aren’t nearly what they used to be, but the former Vezina winner is still the No. 1 man in New York and a franchise legend. Relegating him to an even further limited role will not be easy.
The larger workload hasn’t been the most kind to Georgiev, who has experienced a downturn in production from his solid 2018-19 campaign when he emerged as Lundqvist’s bonafide No. 2.
At 23 years old, there’s plenty of development left in the Bulgarian’s game, which will only be stunted by Shesterkin’s presence.
It leads those outside the organization to raise the question of why the Rangers decided to make such a move right now.
Shesterkin, who has dominated at the AHL level during his first North American season, has a contractual out-clause that would allow him to play in other top leagues internationally. The promotion ensures he’ll stay with the organization stateside.
“He never whined. He never bitched and complained about being down there,” Quinn said. “He just went down there and did the best he could. He was the best goalie in the American Hockey League.”
The Blueshirts could send Shesterkin on the proverbial merry-go-round between the Big Apple and Hartford, but that would be a tough sell for such a promising prospect that could fracture his relationship with the organization.
For now, tomorrow’s problems should be saved for just that: tomorrow.
“I’m just going to catch my breath,” Quinn said of his future juggling act. “Just go day by day.”
The Rangers are back in action Thursday night against the last-place New Jersey Devils where Quinn has yet to commit to a starting goaltender.