The Vancouver Canucks have made it clear that they want to take on some reclamation projects as part of their don't-call-it-a-rebuild retool.
"My preference is when we make these deals it’s not necessarily for draft picks that may come in and help the team four years from now, five years from now," said Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford. "I’d prefer to get younger NHL players that maybe didn’t work out in their entry-level contract and, you know, bring them in and give them a second chance."
The Canucks did exactly that on Saturday, making a trade with the New York Rangers to acquire former ninth-overall pick Vitali Kravtsov.
The price to take a chance on Kravtsov is minimal for the Canucks, sending back 2016 third-round pick Will Lockwood and a seventh-round pick in 2026.
The 24-year-old Lockwood has shown sparks of being a decent two-way, fourth-line forward with speed and a willingness to play the body, but he hasn't shown much dimension to his game and has yet to fully stick in the NHL. This season, he had one point in 13 NHL games, his first-ever point in the NHL in 28 career games.
That said, Lockwood has shown growth at the AHL level with 12 goals and 18 points in 26 games this season, and could be a utility player for the Rangers this season.
Kravtsov was expected to be a major difference-maker when the Rangers drafted him ninth overall in 2018. He had already played 35 games in the KHL in his draft year and put up 11 points in 16 playoff games — incredible production for an 18-year-old in a difficult league. In fact, it was the most ever points by an 18-year-old in the KHL playoffs.
That production has yet to translate to the NHL. The 23-year-old right winger had 4 points in 20 games with the Rangers last season and 6 points in 28 games this season. The perception is that he plays too much on the perimeter and doesn't get the puck to the hard areas of the ice despite his 6'3" size. His 200-foot game has been questioned, even as he's been on the ice for one of the lowest rates of expected goals on the Rangers at 5-on-5.
Kravtsov simply wasn't a fit with the Rangers and there were concerns that he might bolt back to Russia if he remained unhappy with his situation in New York. That made him a prime buy-low candidate for the Canucks.
It's a great deal from the Canucks' perspective, taking a chance on a player with significant potential for a minuscule price. Kravtsov is signed this season for $875,000 and will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season, so he is unlikely to cost much against the cap.
The price could have been higher. Multiple people have reported that the Rangers were originally targeting Nils Höglander but the Canucks weren't willing to make that deal. They instead waited out the Rangers and lowered the price.
Of course, another way to look at it is that the Canucks paid a small price to jump up the waiver queue. It's entirely possible that if Kravtsov didn't get traded, he would have gone on waivers to be claimed for free by any team.
The Canucks also represent a comfortable landing spot for Kravtsov, with several other Russians already on the team, including multiple other players with the same agent, Dan Milstein.