My annual preview of draft-eligible Russian prospects has arrived. At the beginning of the season I made a statement that this is a "boom or bust" year and actually I think I rarely have been as precise as that time. I mean, we have a huge (no, really HUGE) attacking potential on the table this year, but if you look carefully, very frequently there is some noticeable risk factor. In something like 5 years time we might think of players from this draft as defining a whole new generation in Russian hockey, but we might be as well extremely disappointed. Also, about the draft itself, this year's prospect pool is considered rather deep (except the goalies), so I could think some teams might not be that willing to "risk" on selecting Russian prospects, which might hurt the chances of mid-tier guys.
This year I tried to have a more compact write-up than I usually do and listed 44 players divided into 4 tiers with 11 players each (don't ask me why, this format had crystallized basically out of nowhere by itself after I started writing). About the ranking itself, main principle here is that players are ranked in order, in which I would be picking them if I would have any say at the draft and therefore both draft stock and my personal opinion affected the final position. And to be honest, there is a reason, why I prefer to call it 'preview', not 'ranking', as the main purpose here is just to give some overview and the ranking format is just a very feasible way to do it. So as usual, take what you read with a solid grain of salt, as I am just a usual fan, so it is totally ok to disagree with me and I totally encourage you to post some feedback here regardless if you agree with me or not.
Tier 1: 11 Top guns
In this part I have listed 11 players, who, in my opinion, have a very good chance to get picked in something like the first half of the draft.
1. RW Andrei Svechnikov (6'2", 192 lbs; Barrie Colts, OHL)
All the way through the season I didn't want to comment on him, just for the reason that he is too gifted. Talent level he can easily be compared to Kovalchuk — the same 'offensive dynamo' style, although downgraded a bit at the shot department, but with a smoother skating. Still there is some rawness in his game, but with this kind of talent level you easily close your eyes on that at this point.
Canes take Svechnikov 2nd overall unless they're total *******. No disrespect to Zadina, I like him, but that's how it is.
2.RW Vitaliy Kravtsov (6'3", 184 lbs; Chelyabinsk Traktor, KHL)
A lot of attacking potential in Kravtsov, as he is a great skater with quite some skillset including soft hands, creativity and a natural goalscoring touch. Not enough power in his game in terms of both lower and upper body and, while that is fixable, much more worrying are some immature elements of his game: he looks a bit lost without the puck, error/bad penalty prone (some improvements have been noticed here on course of the season though) and not exactly the high-intensity guy. Kind of reminds me a bit of young Pavel Buchnevich.
While I acknowledge the risks, Kravtsov's attacking potential is worth the gamble and his KHL playoff record is just proving it. I would try to get him if I have a pick around #15, could be available with a later pick too, as a lot of GMs won't be willing to spend a 1st round pick on someone, who didn't have any exposure in NA (and therefore hadn't been seen with their own eyes).
3. LW Grigoriy Denisenko (5'11", 172 lbs; Yaroslavl Loko, MHL)
Denisenko is a high-speed high-explosiveness skater who can really dangle at full speed terrorizing the opposing D with ease. Being right-handed LW he is both capable of dangerous shots and making creative passing plays. On the other hand, Denisenko doesn't play well under physical pressure (even though he is not weak at all), likes to pick bad penalties and frequently overuses his speed and skills by going solo even when he shouldn't have. As a comparison, this kind of skillset reminds me of young Nik Zherdev.
Talking about the risks again, here I would restrain from picking him too high. Obviously, if he soomehow falls to #20-25 region, I'd consider him a decent pick up there. Pretty sure someone picks him earlier though, maybe even much earlier, as this kind of skating is worth gold nowadays in terms of draft stock.
4. LHD Alexander Alexeyev (6'4", 196 lbs; Red Deer Rebels, WHL)
Good ol' Size*Skating here, something you can't really teach. Good passer and some decent shot there too. With that being said, defensive instincts need quite some polishing here, for example, I had an impression that too often he is hesitating when he needs to act immediately (hard to tell what is the root cause here).
If I really need to add a defenseman to my prospect pool (I mean, REALLY need), then I'd consider TripleAlex as one of the candidates for a late first round pick, otherwise I'd say that the start of the second is reflecting his current value.
5. RW Ruslan Iskhakov (5'7.5", 152 lbs; Moscow Krasnaya Armiya, MHL)
Ok, here's what we got: extremely smart kid with the quickest hands possible. Got tremendous vision and is a creative playmaker. Decent shot, but still the finishing part needs some work. There are enough weaknesses too: he is under 5'8" and not physical at all (at least yet); in terms of skating, he is not fast, more like quick (and at this size you'd certainly want him to have more top speed) and currently his defensive ability is limited to just making Datsyukian takeaways from time to time.
I like this kid, I really do, but let's face it: he is not a first round candidate due to pretty obvious reasons. Even more, spending even a mid-second round pick would be a reach... but that's exactly what I would try to do.
6. C Alexander Khovanov (5'10.5", 198 lbs; Moncton Wildcats, QMJHL)
Cerebral playing style playmaker, not afraid to dictate the tempo and take the initiative into his own hands when it matters. Definitely can handle that puck and, while being a pass-first player, isn't shy to put it into the net too. Not a greatly athletically gifted player, as his skating is not where you would like it to be considering his rather modest size.
Khovanov didn't have a great season, but it's already good that he was able to properly play this year at all after his illness. With that being said, it's a certain risk, as it is hard to estimate where his development is at this current point. Especially if talking about physical and defensive aspects of his game - those didn't look great, but how much of that is due to actual flows in his game and how much the illness and ruined offseason is affecting that? So yes, the question here is how much are you willing to bet on him, I personally probably would go for a late second round pick.
7. C/LW Ivan Morozov (6'1", 179 lbs; St. Petersburg SKA, KHL)
All-around hard-working 200ft player, Morozov's main strength is that he basically has no real weaknesses. Maybe playmaking is not as good as I'd like it to be (if he will develop as a center), but he compensates that with a really well-placed right-handed shot.
Morozov looks like a pretty safe pick to me, the only question that is noticeable now is that it is unclear if he will develop as a center or as a wing. Anyway, should be worth of a 3-rd round pick for sure.
8. LW Kirill Marchenko (6'3", 168 lbs; St. Petersburg SKA, KHL)
Great frame combined with some nice hands and finishing ability. The biggest question here is the skating: in the end of the day I think his skating stride and technique doesn't look bad at all, but his acceleration is quite subpar — that's an issue, but it is fixable. Additionally I would like to note that certainly I'd like to see a better defensive game from a big winger like Marchenko is.
9. LHD Danila Galenyuk (6'1", 201 lbs; St. Petersburg SKA-1946, MHL)
Galenyuk is a classical stay-at-home guy that has the potential to be dominant physically - he is already over 200lbs and isn't shy to use that in battles for the puck. Good at positioning, calm and reliable under pressure. Not too mobile, but still is a decent skater and, considering his size, it isn't exactly a huge flaw. Also some defensive errors still need to be removed from his game. Doesn't use his shot very often, but I think there is some potential. Another question in terms of draft stock is how actually big is the demand for pure shutdown Ds nowadays?
10. RW Alexei Polodyan (5'11", 168 lbs; St. Petersburg SKA-1946, MHL; 2 years overage)
Dynamic and flashy forward with a good overall skillset and scoring ability. Has the potential to produce some middle-six scoring (not to mention that he looks like Panarin's clone). Has issues with physicality and also gets injured a bit more often than we would like. Can't say that I'm a huge fan of him, also his inability to successfully transfer from juniors to higher levels is causing some concerns, but Polodyan already made a name for himself at the CAN/RUS Series and WJC, so I think there will be enough interest from NHL teams.
11. LHD Daniil Zhuravlyov (6'0", 163 lbs; Kazan Irbis, MHL)
While Zhuravlyov is not exactly flawless at his own end, he got some interesting puck moving potential: zone entries (got some skating and puck handling to be successful here), passing and pretty impressive shot — all that have some good value in terms of draft stock, good chance that some NHL team becomes interested.
Tier 2: 11 Potential steals
My favorite part: candidates to become a steal of this year's draft. Although, while some of the players from the previous part can also be called steals in the right circumstances, here I'm listing guys that lack the draft stock (and sometimes exposure or even hype) to be truly considered top 100 candidates, yet that doesn't make them less intriguing.
12. RHD Anton Malyshev (6'0", 181 lbs; Yaroslavl Loko, MHL)
Malyshev is the new Ivan Drago and you better not check if he will break you (spoiler: he will). Only 6'0", but full of muscles and always ready to deliver a crushing hit. Very good at positioning, poke checking and overall defensive instincts, also got a promising right-handed slapper and more than enough leadership to be the captain of the U18 NT. Not the greatest skater and overall the Size*Skating combination is rather modest, which is the main reason why he is so low.
13. LHD Grigoriy Dronov (6'3", 201 lbs; Magnitogorsk Metallurg, KHL; 2 years overage)
It might sound strange, but I'd say Dronov should actually be among the top available prospects in this year's draft. The reason why he is lower than he should is quite simple — the exposure: he missed the CAN/RUS series and the WJC due to an injury (and he was expected to be a leading D guy there). Great physicality, good at mobility and puck skills, also a very impressive development curve, as in Dronov you won't be able to even recognize that nervous error-prone kid from the last year's WJC.
14. RW Nikolai Kovalenko (5'10", 174 lbs; Yaroslavl Loko, MHL)
What I see here is close to a full attacking package: playmaking, handling the puck, overall understanding of the game, aggressiveness and hard working. Not easy to judge on his skating, it looks fine, but at his size you always want to have some extra stuff in that department. A bit of an issue is the size and related stuff, also the shot is kind of mediocre. Worth mentioning that Kovalenko is progressing in quite some tempo recently (including the physicality), also looks like he inherited some cojo... I mean, character from his father.
15. C Nikita Anokhovskiy (6'0", 190 lbs; Yaroslavl Loko, MHL; 1 year overage)
Possibly the biggest "reach" in my list: Anokhovskiy is a smart and hard working center, who just makes his linemates' life easier by carrying most of the workload by himself. Not a flashy player, but always very responsible, always is the first guy helping his defensemen. Very smart, with good hands and passing, looks fine both in terms of physicality and skating. Overall playing style reminds me of Pavel Kraskovskiy.
16. GK Ivan Prosvetov (6'5", 185 lbs; Youngstown Phantoms, USHL; 1 year overage)
Big goalie with some nice reflexes and athleticism. May not have great stability, but, if you think about it that way, who at that age really has it? Goalie pool at this year's draft is definitely not big, so Prosvetov should be in consideration.
17. GK Amir Miftakhov (5'11", 159 lbs; Kazan Irbis, MHL)
A lot of things to like about Miftakhov: athleticism, mobility, reflexes, aggressiveness, ability to win games. But there is also another side of the scales and there you can find notable lack of size and shakiness in the decisive games.
18. LW Pavel Gogolev (6'0", 168 lbs; Peterborough Petes, OHL)
Gogolev possesses some nice attacking tools: very good speed and hands, definitely can score those goals. It would be good if he could add a bit more consistency, intensity and physicality to his game though. Still you can't deny that the raw tools are definitely there.
19. LW Dmitriy Zavgorodniy (5'9", 171 lbs; Rimouski Oceanic, QMJHL)
From being terrific at the Hlinka's to being just awful at the U18 WJC over the course of just one season. So the question is, what is the real Zavgorodniy: the one, who lightened it up at the Hlinka's with his quick hands, explosiveness, deadly right-handed shot and creativity or the one, who barely remembered how to hockey at the U18 WJC.
20. LHD Vladislav Syomin (6'3", 214 lbs; St. Petersburg SKA-Neva, VHL; 2 years overage)
Syomin is basically Tryamkin scaled down to a human size: some concentrated strength here and a desire for delivering heavy hits. Decent mobility for his size, is defensively reliable, also got a very hard shot, as even his wrist shot has quite a good velocity. Needs to smarten his physical game, as sometimes it seems that he is hitting everyone just for the sake of hitting (which obviously results in unnecessary penalties).
21. C Semyon Der-Arguchintsev (5'10, 168 lbs; Peterborough Petes, OHL)
I have a bit of mixed feelings about SDA: I mean, he is the youngest player of the draft and considering that his stats are very impressive, also the skill is there and playmaking ability has been just great, but his size is modest, his speed is also not exactly great and defensive game also raises questions. So my concern is if he will be able to stay at the center position at the pro level and if not, will his playmaking stay as effective?
22. RW Ivan Kosorenkov (5'11", 192 lbs; Victoriaville Tigres, QMJHL; 2 years overage)
Kosorenkov is a goalscorer: he got a great shooting ability and overall goalscorer's instincts. Decent skating and strength, is a hard worker and plays with good intensity. The issue is that he is the type of player that needs to have good linemates - if he does, he is good himself and really contributes to the line's production, but if he doesn't, then he can be a liability, although pretty possible that improvements in the defensive game could minimize the damage here.
Tier 3: 11 "Maybes"
In this section I've written about players, who didn't really impress me that much ('not impressed' meme jpg should be inserted here) at least this season. Still I acknowledge that they got some valuable skills/assets and even I, with my 'not impressed ' face expression, possibly would be willing to spend a late round pick on them.
23. RW Vladislav Kotkov (6'4", 203 lbs; Chicoutimi Sagueneens, QMJHL)
Big kid with some really nice hands and overall skills, but with a pretty subpar skating. Actually skating is the reason why he is so low on my list, as I doubt that this kind of skating will allow Kotkov to translate his attacking potential to the pro level. Also the defensive game is not at the desired level at the moment.
24. RW Bulat Shafigullin (6'1", 165 lbs; Nizhnekamsk Reaktor, MHL)
Can't deny that Shafigullin has the attacking tools: great skating and shot, good hands and physicality, quite some aggressiveness, but I kind of doubt the toolbox, as over the course of the season I frequently questioned his decision making.
25. C/W Georgiy Ivanov (6'0", 192 lbs; Yaroslavl Lokomotiv, KHL; 2 years overage)
I rarely use this narrative, but I'm pretty sure if Ivanov was NA player, he would be acclaimed for his two-way physical game, great net-front presence, face-offs and all the hard work he does. Yet he is Russian, so it doesn't matter, as everyone wants to see more and moar pure skills and attacking potential from Russian players.
26. LW Ivan Muranov (6'3", 179 lbs; Moscow Dynamo, MHL)
In Muranov we have some great natural athleticism, which he enthusiastically uses for the physical game: delivering hits, winning board battles and protecting the puck; some defensive game looks to be there as well. Is a fine skater and can rifle a shot, but overall attacking potential looks rather limited, as he isn't exactly the skilled one.
27. C Mikhail Bitsadze (5'11", 168 lbs; Moscow Dynamo, MHL)
Bitsadze is a very good skater with good lower body strength. Works hard, including the defensive zone and plays with good intensity, also is able to win some face-offs. In my opinion, the issue with Bitsadze is the lack of creativity: he makes very simple and safe plays even on junior level and you can't properly generate the offense with stuff like that. Additionally I'm concerned about his health: he had a shoulder surgery earlier this season and didn't look exactly great after that.
28. LHD Ilya Morozov (6'3", 207 lbs; Novosibirsk Sibir, KHL; 1 year overage)
Ilya Morozov is a very physically gifted defenseman with decent mobility and puck control. Even more, he didn't have troubles to play 20+ minutes in the KHL, which is actually a big deal at his age. Needs to refine his overall defensive game a bit, as he is a bit more error-prone then we would like him to be.
29. GK Alexei Melnichuk (6'1", 181 lbs; St. Petersburg SKA-Neva, VHL; 2 years overage)
Melnichuk is actually a very solid goalie with decent size, rebound control and a pretty refined technique. But that is when he is not on a cold streak and those kind of streaks happened with him a bit too many times to ignore that.
30. LHD Yevgeniy Kalabushkin (6'0", 181 lbs; St. Petersburg SKA-1946, MHL)
Kalabushkin possesses a good frame (filling it out is still in process though), skating and is pretty comfortable with the puck. Still there is some error-proneness, but he is making visible progress there.
31. RW/LW Kirill Nizhnikov (6'1", 190 lbs; Sudbury Wolves, OHL)
Nizhnikov has the talent, that's for sure: natural born sniper with quick skating. But where is the hard work? Intensity? Hockey sense? Although if that's just growth pains and in the end those are there, it could really work out.
32. LW Yegor Sokolov (6'3", 222 lbs; Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, QMJHL)
Sokolov is a power forward, very gifted at the shooting department, has a big body and actually in terms of the skating is not bad considering his size... but still is slower than he should. Also the consistency is not there as well as the defensive game.
33. LHD Nikolai Knyzhov (6'2" 194 lbs; St. Petersburg SKA-Neva, VHL; 2 years overage)
Some good size and skating combination in Knyzhov's case and also decent defensive reliability, but you don't want to see him handling the puck. Ever.
Tier 4: 11 HMs aka "keep an eye on"s
And the last section can be called 'HMs' or 'keep an eye on' or 'jury is still out' or whatever, but the main idea is that I don't feel like I'm ready to properly rank those at this point (yet I still gave it a try). The reason for this can be either limited viewings or controversial performance or just my weakness in terms of assessment, but that's how it is this time.
34. LW/C Pavel Shen (6'0", 190 lbs; Ufa Salavat Yulaev, KHL; 1 year overage)
Shen is known for some time for his versatility, skating and athleticism, but the jury is still out on his defensive game and overall hockey sense.
35. RW/C Nikita Rozhkov (5'10", 168 lbs; Magnitogorsk Stalnie Lisy, MHL)
Rozhkov got quite some speed at his game combined with good skills and vision, but I doubt that with his physicality he can continue playing at C as he mostly did this season.
36. RW Nikita Shashkov (5'11", 179 lbs; Novosibirsk Sibirskie Snaipery, MHL; 1 year overage)
Good speed and strength here as well as progress in terms of understanding the game, but some work on the hands/skills might be useful.
37. C/LW Alexander Yaremchuk (5'11", 174 lbs; Omsk Avangard, KHL; 1 year overage)
Very soft hands here, some good skating and good level of understanding of the game, but I still have doubts that his physicality issues will allow him to fulfill his potential.
38. GK Vladislav Sukhachyov (5'10.5", 181 lbs; Chelyabinsk Chelmet, VHL; 2 years overage)
I still consider Sukhachyov as the most talented goalie among his peers in Russia, but at his size he had to be very good this season game in and game out to be considered for the draft and he just wasn't.
39. LW Nikita Rtishchev (6'1", 192 lbs; Moscow Krasnaya Armiya, MHL)
Rtishchsev is a good skater with a solid shot and promising frame. Started the season brightly, but at the second half of the year was mostly invisible.
40. RHD Alexander Lyakhov (6'3" 190 lbs; -; 1 year overage)
Lyakhov is an athletic RHD with decent mobility and a hard slapper. Went under my radar this season, but was quite noticeable with the U20 NT recently.
41. LHD Yegor Zamula (6'3" 170 lbs; Calgary Hitmen, WHL)
At the WJC I failed to see something special in Zamula: decent frame and mobility, but aside from that I don't even know... still I totally admit that I didn't see him enough to make reliable conclusions.
42. LW German Grachyov (5'9", 163 lbs; Cherepovets Almaz, MHL)
Another player I failed to really understand: my eye test didn't show to me something really special, but his production is hinting that I should check again next season.
43. LHD Roman Kalinichenko (6'3", 185 lbs; Tri-City Americans, WHL)
Similar to Zamula's case I just didn't see Kalinichenko enough to make a proper verdict: he is strong and not a pylon, but that's all I'm thinking about him now.
44. GK Shamil Shmakov (6'6", 194 lbs; Novosibirsk Sibirskie Snaipery, MHL; 1 year overage)
I'm totally failing to make up my mind on Shmakov: on one hand he has size and decent mobility and he was pretty solid in the MHL regular season, on another he was awful in the play-offs and even in the recent Sochi tournament he managed to let in a pretty bad goal in just 20 minutes or so.