It's been a long time coming for Igor Shesterkin – 2020 days since the New York Rangers drafted him, to be exact – but his call-up to the NHL this week couldn't have come at a better time.
Of course, on paper, that didn't make his recall any less puzzling. Henrik Lundqvist and Alexandar Georgiev are healthy and have otherwise split the starts this season, albeit to mixed results. But Shesterkin wasn't called up because New York's netminders weren't getting the job done, nor was he called up because of an injury. Rather, the Rangers wanted him up because he deserved it and the time was right. When the team made Shesterkin their fourth-round pick in 2014 (118th overall), the plan was clear: let him dominate in his homeland, play out his KHL contract and take over once Lundqvist – then in his early 30s – was on his last legs. And that's exactly how this situation has played out.
Shesterkin has dominated everywhere he has played, including a 15-4-3 record, 1.93 goals against average, .932 save percentage and three shutouts for AHL Hartford. Before that, Shesterkin stymied the KHL with an 88-16-7 record across 117 games and was the league's best goaltender by quite a margin during that frame. After putting up incredible numbers in the KHL over the past half-decade, Shesterkin's time in the minors was due simply to the logjam in the Rangers' crease. Again, his call-up was long overdue. And with Lundqvist now 37 and playing nowhere near the level needed to take the Rangers back to the post-season, New York believed it was time for the crease shakeup.
So, what happens now? With Shesterkin set for his first NHL start against Colorado on Tuesday, Rangers fans will get a glimpse into the post-Lundqvist era. It could also be the first look at the post-Georgiev era, too. Though he's lost four of his past five games and allowed four goals in his lone victory, the 23-year-old has looked good in spurts while playing for a poor team and is considered to be the eventual odd-man out. One way or another, though, moving one of the three netminders will be a necessity for the Rangers, as keeping all three sharp or consistent in a three-man rotation is going to be next to impossible. But Shesterkin's play in the AHL forced New York's hand. He wasn't gaining much dominating the minor-league circuit. It was time for him to test his mettle in the big league.
And Shesterkin's recall is the first of many. The Rangers are in rebuild mode, and there are others soon to be on their way. For the time being, though, the focus shifts to Shesterkin and his undetermined time with the parent club. He's the perfect case study for a goalie earning his keep at lower levels and not rushing his development, especially on a team that's focused on the 2020 draft and not chasing playoff dreams.
Whether he stays up for the duration of the season or not is to be seen, but Shesterkin doesn't have much to lose. Georgiev is likely gone one way or another before the 2020-21 campaign, and Shesterkin will assuredly be a full-timer in the NHL next season. So, while his the AHL all-star game selection he received is nice, Shesterkin won't want to be in attendance in southern California come the end of January. Instead, he'll want to be in the Big Apple, ready to open the first half of a back-to-back against Detroit. That would mean he's made it, at long last.
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