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Despite return to Russia, Kravtsov a bet Canucks need to keep making

Vitaly Kravtsov will return to the KHL on a two-year deal with Traktor Chelyabinsk.
Vancouver Canucks winger Vitaly Kravtsov has signed a two-year deal with Traktor Chelyabinsk in the KHL.

Vitaly Kravtsov won’t be back with the Vancouver Canucks next season.

The Russian winger will be signing a two-year deal in the KHL with Traktor Chelyabinsk, as reported by Championat and confirmed by ChekTV’s Rick Dhaliwal. It’s a return home for Kravtsov, who played his youth hockey in the Traktor Chelyabinsk system and has played 167 games for Traktor in his KHL career.

Kravtsov is a restricted free agent, meaning the Canucks have exclusive negotiating rights, but that doesn’t apply to the KHL, which does not have a transfer agreement with the NHL. It’s a two-way street — NHL teams sign the KHL’s restricted free agents all the time.

The Canucks can retain Kravtsov’s rights by giving him a qualifying offer and they’d be wise to do so. If Kravtsov finds his game in Russia and becomes the star he was expected to be when the New York Rangers drafted him ninth overall in 2018, the Canucks could then bring him back to the NHL with a lucrative offer or trade his rights to another team.

In his brief stint in Vancouver, however, Kravtsov barely looked like an NHL player, let alone a star. In 16 games with the Canucks, Kravtsov managed just two points and was frequently invisible. Worse, his underlying numbers were among the worst on the team and his struggles led to head coach Rick Tocchet scratching him down the stretch.

It’s not what the Canucks were hoping for when they traded Will Lockwood and a 2026 seventh-round pick for Kravtsov. But it doesn’t mean it wasn’t a deal worth doing.

Kravtsov was once a highly-touted prospect, who set a record in his draft year for playoff points by an 18-year-old in the KHL. His development derailed with the Rangers but there was a chance that a change of scenery might make all the difference. It was an opportunity that the Canucks were looking for.

“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.”

While the Canucks could still use more draft picks, taking on reclamation projects can be worthwhile when the price is low. For Kravtsov, the price was right, as Lockwood had yet to show he could play in the NHL and was unlikely to be re-signed. Getting a former top-ten pick for a borderline prospect was a good bet to make.

Kravtsov’s departure opens up a little space on the overcrowded wings in the Canucks’ depth chart, a welcome development for someone like Nils Höglander, who spent the bulk of the season in the AHL. 

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