Legendary Rangers goalie Mike Richter sees a sturdy foundation within his former team, one that will be anchored by a budding netminder in Igor Shesterkin for the next four years.
Finding a dependable goalie to assume the throne between the pipes from Henrik Lundqvist could’ve been a rebuild-derailing bump in the road for the Blueshirts, Richter pointed out, but Shesterkin immediately presented himself as a reliable option from the moment he was called up in January 2020.
If anything, Richter believes that Shesterkin rising to the daunting task of ushering in the post-King Henrik era made him worth the four-year, $22.7 million extension — which was a record for a goalie on a second contract — he signed this past week.
“Shesterkin was good enough to give them the ability to think that it’s OK not to sign Hank,” Richter told The Post on Thursday night at Smashfest, an NHL player-driven fundraising event. “Otherwise, there was nothing coming in his place, you can’t do it. Those guys don’t come along much. So when you have them, hold on to them, and that’s why it was a wise signing.”
Though Shesterkin’s 26-16-3 record with a 2.59 goals-against average and .921 save percentage in 47 NHL games is just a small sample size, Richter noted that the 25-year-old marinated in the Kontinental Hockey League and ultimately established himself as one of the Russian league’s top goalies.
As far as the concerns regarding Shesterkin’s durability, Richter believes it’s just a part of the adjustment period. Despite being sidelined with a few lower-body injuries last season, Shesterkin has evidently been able to gain the trust of Rangers brass.
“He reads the play amazingly and that’s a common denominator with a lot of these great players,” said Richter, who backstopped the Rangers’ historic Stanley Cup win in 1994. “Whether it’s Brian Leetch playing defense, Wayne Gretzky playing offense or a goalie like Shesterkin or Hank, Marty Brodeur was always very good at that. That’s a real asset and he’s got it. He seems to be ahead of the play often. … I think they got a real winner there.”
Shesterkin is somewhat of a microcosm of what the Rangers are as a team right now: a young, inexperienced squad with promising assets that is still finding its footing. After an overhaul in the front office and on the coaching staff in recent months, as well as losing lineup-staple Pavel Buchnevich, Richter acknowledged it may take some time for the team to stabilize.
But with new president and general manager Chris Drury at the helm, Richter expects the Rangers to be focused on the right things.
“For the organization’s sake, you just hope they can move forward, get stability,” he said. “Here is the hard part, you need to be on the ice playing and winning, and that starts to heal wounds. But the sad part is that there’s so much movement nowadays, with players and coaches, that it’s hard to build something and keep it.”
Richter commended Drury for identifying what the team needed and going out and getting it this offseason. Though there still may be more work to be done, Richter said he likes the Rangers’ current “complexion.” But the key, according to the 54-year-old, will be maintaining their style of play when games get tough.
“You have to have the mindset that you can compete with anybody and beat anybody,” Richter said. “The NHL has such a small space between the top team and the worst team that truly you should be able to compete every night. I don’t think they need to be waiting years to do this.
“I don’t think with the goaltending tandem and just the talent that they have that they’ll be out of too many games, you just have to season it. And believe me, it doesn’t matter what I say, what anybody says, it matters what they do on the ice.”
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