As we hold our breaths and await any last-minute, back-breaking offseason moves by GM Chris Drury, it’s easy to forget that the 2021-22 NHL season is just 2 months away.
It’s also easy to forget that it’s been over two years since a normal NHL season has been completed, but this upcoming season is – so far – slated to end that.

While the 2020-21 season was riddled with COVID-19, quarantining, NHL debuts and Tom Wilson, 2021-22 is set to be a clean slate full of new opportunities for the youthful Rangers.

As we count down the final two months before the puck is dropped, let’s look ahead and analyze who the most promising player for the 2021-22 New York Rangers is.

For this category, it is easy to pick a bonafide star like Artemi Panarin or Adam Fox – fresh off of a Norris Trophy season. However, the most promising player for 2021-22 is fresh off of a nice contract extension: Igor Shesterkin.

Though it feels like it’s been ages since Shesterkin only made his NHL debut just over a year ago and has appeared in just 47 games. In those 47 games, however, Shesterkin has met and exceeded expectations, posting a .921 save percentage and a 26-16-3 record.

47 games might sound like a small sample size when discussing a long-term contract extension – because it is. Between the three-goalie situation in 2020 and the shortened 2020-21 season, Shesterkin has not gotten the playing time over his first two seasons that he normally should have gotten. The decision to offer him a 4-year, $22.667 million deal might come as a surprise to some but was precisely the right move by Drury and the Rangers.

Photo: AP

Shesterkin has been facing question marks over the past few years of his professional career – first, many wondered if he could keep up his stellar KHL play in the AHL. Shesterkin made the transition seamlessly, posting a .934 save percentage over 25 games, and was selected for the AHL All-Star Game. Many continued to doubt whether he could maintain his elite level of play in the NHL and were quickly quieted, as Shesterkin emerged as the clear-cut starter and goalie of the future, ultimately leading to the buyout of Henrik Lundqvist.

Now, after a big contract extension and facing higher expectations than ever, Shesterkin has yet another opportunity to prove his worth to hockey fans everywhere. And if there is anyone that can rise above New York sports pressure, it’s Shesterkin. Additionally, with the acquisition of hard-nosed, defensive players like Ryan Reaves, Patrik Nemeth, among others, Shesterkin may find himself behind an even stronger defensive team. And even if the historic Rangers defensive woes prevail, Shesterkin’s calm and collected persona will undoubtedly surface and be a real factor in the quest for playoffs.

Some may call the hefty contract extension for Shesterkin – the highest second contract for any goalie in NHL history – a risk. Yet, a better way to describe it would be a confidence booster for the young Russian netminder. The large contract ensures Shesterkin that management has every ounce of confidence in his play for years to come, which can only help Shesterkin keep up his elite level of play.

The culmination of his incredible winning history and stats over the last handful of years, as well as his new contract, make Shesterkin the most promising player entering the 2021-22 NHL. 

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