Any player who spends his draft year in a professional league will attract some attention, especially if that league is considered to be second in the world in terms of competitiveness.
Vitali Kravtsov is a 6'2” forward who graduated to Traktor's main club this season after posting good numbers in the MHL in 2016-17: 36 points in 41 games. His size was definitely a factor in his perceived readiness for the KHL, but so was the skill he displayed playing against junior-aged players.
Birthplace: Vladivostock, Russia
Date of birth: December 23, 1999
Position: Right Wing
Weight: 183 lbs.
Team: Traktor Chelyabinsk
This season, he recorded only seven points in 35 games, a production that seems low at first look, but is relatively in line with what non-star-calibre players have managed in their first experience in the top Russian league. His ice-time is also a very important factor to consider, as he only averaged 9:19 over the full season.
But come playoff time, Kravtsov started to be relied upon for Traktor Chelyabinsk and responded in a great way. With a more important overall role and increased minutes, some games even reaching the normal usage of a top-six forward, the young winger put up 11 points in 16 games.
This was historic production for an under-19 player in the league. Some other notable recent performances included Evgeny Kuznetsov (nine points as a 19 year-old) and Valery Nichuskin (nine points as a 17-year-old). Kravtsov placed his name among some other great rookies with this achievement, forcing some people to revisit their draft rankings.
It's not that the Traktor player was devoid of skill before that point, but there's something to be said about the results that skill generates. He showed with that stretch of games that he could produce given the ice time and favourable conditions, checking this box in his evaluation.
There's one play from the Russian forward that instantly made the highlight reels and stoked the imagination.
Traktor was leading the series 1-0 over Salavat Yulaev and were tied 1-1 coming into the third period of the second game. Kravtsov received the puck high in the defensive zone and raced the other way, accompanied by one of his linemates.
The opposing defence correctly identified the situation as two-on-two, but this is also ultimately what caused their demise. As he entered the offensive zone, Kravtsov turned his upper body to fake a pass to his teammate who cut to the centre, forcing the defender to decelerate and put his stick to block the passing lane to the middle of the ice.
Kravtsov's skates, however, were still aligned with the goal. This allowed him the opportunity he wanted. He slid the puck behind his back, in between his legs with a backhand drag, and gained a step on his coverage to cut to the net, where he placed the puck five-hole on the goalie.
This was a pure demonstration of the talent of the forward, but also of his confidence in possession. He has great hands and can stickhandle his way through defenders if given the chance.
He sees plays develop quickly and can relay the puck to teammates with short passes around the net to create great scoring chances. In the same way, while one-on-one with the goalie, he can easily exploit any holes left available.
Kravtsov is also an effective shooter who can drop his body in his firing motion to gain power without sacrificing the quickness of his release.
While not being a top skater, Kravtsov has no problem getting around. He has deceptively good speed and acceleration, and can perform effective turns to gain separation when he is looking for an opening in the defence in the offensive zone.
That being said, there is still room for improvement in that aspect of the game for him if he wants to perform in the NHL. He could change direction more freely when he is carrying the puck in the neutral zone, which would allow him to beat defenders off the rush more often, and he could work on his first few steps from a stop.
Kravtsov seems to generally have a good defensive awareness and is active on defence, but consistently putting his stick in passing lanes and being on top of his coverage is a work in progress — as it is for many other prospects.
Rankings (not all rankings are final)
Future Considerations: #28
NHL Central Scouting: #3 (EU Skaters)
Hockey Prospect: #24
Kravtsov won the rookie of the year award in the KHL this season. He should be gone at the end of the first round on his one-on-one talent alone, as he surpasses the majority of other prospects in this aspect. That skill has its downsides, coming with a tendency to do a little too much with the puck. But given time, the Russian forward should learn to better use his size to shield possession, wait for teammates, and utilize them to create more effective scoring chances.
Which prospect has the best set of hands between Grigori Denisenko, Kirill Marchenko and Kravtsov is left to be determined, but the rest of Kravtsov’s game is more in line with the professional level, giving him an edge.
This doesn't necessarily means that he could join the NHL any sooner, or at least not significantly sooner. He is still a raw prospect even if he played in a more competitive environment. He has some work to do before he could get a call to play in the top league in the world.