New York Rangers Newest Netminder: Ondrej Pavelec
Winds of change blew hard for the New York Rangers this off-season as the organization traded two major players, Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta, to the Arizona Coyotes. New York filled the backup goaltender gap with Ondrej Pavelec. The Rangers signed Pavelec to a one-year $1.3 million dollar deal.
Pavelec, entering his 11th NHL season, played for the Atlanta Thrashers and the Winnipeg Jets before landing in New York. Drafted 41st overall in 2005 by the Thrashers, Pavelec bounced back-and-forth between his native Czech Republic to the US before landing with the Winnipeg Jets. Mixed results in Winnipeg meant the goaltender fell out of favour with the team, and his role with the Jets diminished greatly with their addition of Connor Hellebuyck. He played only eight games in the 2016-17 season earning a 3.55 GAA and .888 save percentage.
The Rangers Reign
Pavelec was an intelligent choice for Jeff Gorton to make as the Rangers parted ways with Raanta. A seasoned pro with years under his belt, Pavelec is not a rookie looking to move up, but a veteran looking for a distinguished finish. Looking at the Rangers 2016-17 season, the rationale for this decision is clear through the eyes of one man, Henrik Lundqvist.
Lundqvist has been the face of the Rangers franchise since he joined the team in 2005. Known to many as “The King,” Lundqvist is a fierce competitor, reluctant to give up his throne. Something that many saw as a possibility as Prince Raanta forced Lundqvist to sit as a healthy scratch for a career-high of four games last season. Raanta’s future was far too bright and Lundqvist’s spotlight is not meant to be shared.
Benoit Allaire’s Magic Touch
The Rangers goaltending success combines raw talent and magnificent goalie coaching from Benoit Allaire. Allaire shaped Lundqvist into a Vezina-winning, World Champion goaltender and boosted Cam Talbot to Edmonton’s number one spot. He also molded Raanta’s skills so well that he became a threat to New York’s King. Pavelec’s NHL experience will ensure he is ready to take the ice. Allaire’s stylistic prowess however can further reveal Pavelec’s full potential.
Raanta finished his last Rangers season with a 2.26 GAA and .922 save percentage in 30 games played. Cam Talbot ended his Blueshirt bout with a 2.21 GAA and .926 save percentage. Stats that high clearly indicate star potential that cannot overshadow the cornerstone of the Rangers franchise. Pavelec’s less impressive statistics make him a non-threatening counterpart for Lundqvist. Also, Pavelec’s short-term deal is a valuable asset as the team’s goaltending prospects continue to mature in the AHL and KHL.
Rookies on the Rise?
A one-year deal for Pavelec allows for the Rangers younger talent to mature slightly. Unfortunately, their best prospect, Magnus Hellberg departed for the KHL this off-season leaving three less-than-impressive choices behind.
Mackenzie Skapski used to be on par with Hellberg until his season with the Hartford Wolf Pack took a nose dive. His demotion to the ECHL left him with a .903 save percentage and 3.38 GAA with the Greenville Swamp Rabbits. Skapski has fallen far from his Buffalo Sabres series-sweeping glory in 2014-15.
Next in line, Brandon Halverson. At 21, Halverson spent the majority of last season with the Wolf Pack, playing second fiddle to Hellberg. With a 3.45 GAA through 26 games with Hartford, Halverson isn’t much to sneeze at either. Add Chris Nell into the conversation, it doesn’t get much better. Nell earned a 4.02 GAA and .881 save percentage in four games with the Wolf Pack last year.
Though US prospects are bleak for the Blueshirts, a ray of hope remains in the KHL. That hope is Igor Shestyorkin. Currently playing for SKA St. Petersburg, Shestyorkin earned an impressive 1.64 GAA and .937 save percentage in 39 games played. In fact, in the last five years, his GAA has never raised above a 2.6. Shestyorkin earned the accolade KHL goaltender of the week twice in the 2016-17 season and earned a World Championship Bronze Medal with Russia. Drafted 118th overall in 2014, he is the Rangers best bet to take over Lundqvist’s number one position.
Currently On Broadway
The Rangers newly jacked-up defense and strong forward depth gives them the makings of a real cup-contender. While Lundqvist clearly feels prepared for the season ahead, the Rangers cannot deny the need for a strong back-up behind him. The Kings’ various injuries have sidelined him several times in the last two seasons and Pavelec needs to rise to that occasion. Pavelec is a necessary fix as the next generation of Rangers netminders sharpens their skills elsewhere.
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