Columnists, Ice Hockey, Sports

Off the Post: Igor Shesterkin claims the crease

New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin deservedly cashed in this summer, sealing the deal on a four-season contract at $5.6 million per year. Breaking into the league in the 2019-20 campaign, Shesterkin has represented a new era of Blueshirt hockey — a light in what has been a turbulent rebuild. 

The Russian netminder was dubbed the “Prince” for some time, playing into the storyline that he would be the eventual successor to legend Henrik Lundqvist — the “King.”

Alexia Nizhny/DFP STAFF

It was a weird period: Ranger and NHL fans alike weren’t quite ready to come to terms with Hank’s career coming to a close. But, at the same time, the next face of New York goaltending was sitting in Hartford, Connecticut, for the AHL Wolf Pack waiting for his turn to take the stage. It was hard to not be excited for Shesterkin’s debut. 

Getting pulled up to the big leagues in January 2020, Shesterkin went on to win 10 of his 12 starts and acted as a pillar for the struggling Rangers to lean on. 

Flash forward to present day, and he’s hanging out on the NHL leaderboard for goaltenders, garnering a 1.85 goals-against-average, fifth-best in the league. The now-reigning starter also has a .943 save percentage — a feat when part of a team that forgets to play defense as often as the Rangers do.  

New York’s 6-2-2 start to this season is a breath of fresh air after the team began the 2020-21 campaign dropping five out of the first six matchups. Shesterkin’s confidence and heightened comfort between the pipes has everything to do with this early success. 

The Oct. 18 game against the Toronto Maple Leafs is one the Rangers never should’ve won. They were outshot every period, barely won any faceoffs and were getting pushed off of pucks by a beatable Toronto team. 

Shesterkin gave New York a lifeline that night. His outstanding effort amounted to a 40-save performance, allowing his squad to make it to overtime when Artemi Panarin secured the full two points. 

The win, that his coach and teammates all credited to him, cemented Shesterkin as the next big thing if there were any lingering doubters. 

Lundqvist, who is now a studio analyst for MSG Network, headlined the night’s postgame by speaking about his heir’s stand-on-head showing. At that moment, it really did feel like the official closing of one chapter and the now-accepted start of another. 

For years, it was hard to imagine the New York Rangers without the shockingly handsome, suave and other-worldly talented Lundqvist leading them onto the ice night in and night out. But Shesterkin’s All-Star-level play has allowed the Blueshirt faithful to sleep at night and has given them another reason to be excited to watch Rangers hockey again. 

The group continues a lengthy Canada road this week but has proven to be a better away team thus far. Shesterkin will no doubt lead the Rangers through this week, the regular season and if lucky, the postseason.

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