It's unusual to write the annual write-up on Russian draft-eligible prospects in the situation we all are in: a lot of uncertainties in the world of hockey (and not only hockey) and, obviously, in terms of the draft too, as we don't even know for sure when and how it will be held. No U18 WJC, no conclusion in league play-offs, no combine, no U20 NT camp — all of that makes it pretty complicated, as for me it's always been important to evaluate a prospect outside of his league and "comfort zone". I tried to compensate that with a bit of a more analyzing of what we have, but not sure if that was enough, so no issue if in the end you'll want to throw tomatoes at me (even more, it would be useful, as those have some vitamins).
It might sound strange, but I'm a bit skeptical about this year's draft class, despite that there actually is some talent, but maybe it's just me. There are still some players I like though (but I tried to not to show that too much here). Anyway, here is my Top 30, some HMs (only draft geeks are allowed there), also a bit of a description to better understand my point of view. Should note that it is not easy to translate it into draft stock as I usually tried, but I had in mind that first two are likely to go in the first round, 3-13 would be solid candidates for the top 100 (and it should be noted that almost nothing separates position 3 from 7) and as for other prospects, it is just not even worth to predict, as those can be all over the place. Ok, that was a bit of a technical info, I hope you'll have a good read.
1. GK Yaroslav Askarov
In my eyes Askarov is a goalie with All-Star potential, not sure about the Vezina potential though. I don't see any critical issues in his game so far: his game requires some overall polishing, of course, but that's the case for all the goalies his age, yet the kind of upside and package he has got isn't something you see often. In terms of the potential draft position, it might be useful to look at Askarov as a remedy for the type of organization, that has no real long-term goalie in the NHL and got a subpar goalie prospect pool — if that kind of organization is picking in the 9-15 range, I'd say it will be worth it.
2. LW Rodion Amirov
Not exactly understanding where Amirov's development is going: last season I thought of him as a potentially high-end two-way forward, who can really become great at both sides of the ice, but it seems that this season he has put more emphasis on the offensive side without enough care about the defensive responsibilities. While he sure can skate, got solid puck skills, goalscoring instincts and shot, I'm not sure if the attacking potential here is on the level that allows to forget about the two-way game, also I'd say he needs to play more physical, as he has such abilities. Still I'd say the value here is enough for the first round, maybe not too high though.
3. RW Alexander Pashin
Maybe someone will be surprised by seeing Pashin so high on my list, but I actually think he might have the best hands here (and pretty sure is among the top of the draft class in that category). Additionally Pashin is very creative and dangerous both with and without the puck in the attacking zone, good both at finishing and playmaking, quick and difficult to defend against, also he has been pretty consistent throughout the season both in terms of hard work and point production. Issue with him is pretty clear though — size (listed at 5'7" or 5'8"), also defensive abilities and I'd say very good, but not exactly explosive skating (which is something that would be useful for a player of his size). That makes the first round pretty unlikely, but, even keeping all that in mind, I'd definitely see him as a good value for the second round pick, as I think in the end he can bring down my level of concern.
4. LD Yan Kuznetsov
Kuznetsov is still reliable, physical and pretty mobile, but also finally started to show signs of offensive contribution this season, which is actually the main question about him — will he be something more than just a reliable shutdown D guy? The shot is decent, looks like some puck skills too, so I have such hopes, that's why I'm putting him rather high here, but still not in the consideration for the first round. Also, pretty frequently someone, who can be good at the NCAA level already at this age ends up as something good in the NHL too.
5. RW Danil Gushchin
Gushchin is everything a stereotypical GM wants to see in a smaller player, as he is an explosive winger, who is very well suited to the North-South hockey style and can cut opposing defense like a dagger. High-end skating, skills and finishing ability, but needs to add consistency and also get better without the puck. Obviously, the 5'8" size is an issue too, but here you can't really improve much, although I wouldn't call him too weak. Should also be noted, that despite the stereotypes that come with small players, Gushchin doesn't look like a liability in the defensive zone.
6. C Marat Khusnutdinov
Best skater on my list, hard to find someone who's not impressed with Khusnutdinov in that way. Has good hands, is great at keeping the possession of the puck at high-speed and is a two-way workhorse. There are enough concerns from my side too: he is an undersized center (listed at 5'9", not weak though), also, if talking about his attacking game, I'd like to see more structure in it, currently it seems to me a bit too opportunistic (and that won't work in pro hockey). With that being said, that kind of elite skating is hard to deny in terms of draft value.
7. C Vasiliy Ponomaryov
I was quite surprised myself to find out that Ponomaryov is only at 7th position on my list, but as I already noted, almost nothing separates position 3 from 7, but I had to rank them in some way. For me Ponomaryov is likely the most complicated prospect to analyze here. So, let's start with what I like about him and that would be basically everything: hard working center, plays 200ft game, impressive skills and shot, good skater, creative playmaker and even in terms of modest size I'm not too worried, as he is pretty athletic. With that being said, I have my concerns too: I think he needs to improve in terms of overall understanding of the game, decision making and adjusting to utilize his assets more effectively. That might be not a big deal, as he is still young and will mature, but when talking about a player, who likes to have the puck and make those plays, it is still something to keep in mind.
8. LW Maxim Groshev
Might be nothing fancy in case of Groshev, but he is a very good skater, physically gifted, has good shot and is able and willing to play intense 200ft game and go to the dirty areas. Lack of that "fanciness" is the issue in my eyes though, as I don't exactly see the signs of high-end attacking skills here, which might limit the upside to just a bottom-six role player. While I don't see those, it should be noted that Groshev didn't really have a chance to show that, as he rarely was given a proper role.
9. LW Maxim Beryozkin
There is a quality that I extremely value in forwards — to be able to create something out of nothing in terms of offense and that is exactly why I have Beryozkin pretty high on my list. Not the greatest skater (although can't really call his skating awful considering his size), he still got great hands and elite vision that makes him special to watch. Beryozkin's shot should be noted too, as there are both precision wristers and powerful slappers in his arsenal. Having a big body (6'2" or 6'3") is a nice bonus, although he still needs to learn how to properly use it. Needs to play some better D too, although he clearly doesn't mind that part.
10. LD Alexander Nikishin
Physical beast, always finishes his checks and if you have issues with that and would like to drop the gloves — Nikishin is always at your service. Didn't have exactly a great season though, as he was adjusting to KHL hockey for some time, also injuries got in the way, but at the end of the day, Nikishin has proven that he already can be reliable at this level and speeds of hockey. Still I think everyone would like to see some signs of attacking potential too and currently there aren't much.
11. LD Shakir Mukhamadullin
I can understand why most of rankings have Mukhamadullin pretty high: he has got a great frame, skates well, is comfortable with the puck and has a puckmover potential, likes to play physical and has a cannon of a shot. I'm a bit old-fashioned though, as I honestly think that a defenseman should be also good at defense and I just don't see that in Mukhamadullin at this point, which is why I have him lower than most of the rankings.
12. RW Yegor Chinakhov
Already last year Chinakhov showed that he got high-end attacking skills and an excellent shot (probably the best on my list here), but lacked consistent performance. This year it has been fixed, so he is among the top draft overagers available. Not so bad in terms of the defensive game, but definitely needs to become stronger. Should be noted that Chinakhov has developed some great chemistry with NJD prospect Arseniy Gritsyuk, so I kind of hope the Devils are looking at him too.
13. C Dmitriy Zlodeyev
A solid two-way playmaking center, Zlodeyev might not have a lot of flash in his game, but I see quite some good amount of hockey sense and hard work there and usually that results in something good. Speaking about the smarts (and I actually think he might be the smartest player on my list), particularly the timing on his passing is something you want your playmaking center to have. Good hands and finishing touch are included in the package too.
14. W/C Pavel Tyutnev
Tyutnev is a versatile forward that has got good skating and passing abilities, high-end puck skills and, what I think is important here, he very well knows where the net is. Needs to become more consistent both short-term and long-term, as he tend to disappear a bit too often and to become not shy in terms of using his shot. Should be working on improving the two-way game too.
15. C/W Danil Alalykin
Despite not being a first-year draft eligible, this year can be considered a debut year for Alalykin, as he has debuted in all the main Russian leagues this year (MHL, VHL and KHL) which is a rare occurrence itself. Not only he has debuted there, but also looked very impressive, as he is pretty athletic, skilled, mobile, defensively responsible and has got a good understanding of the game. Should become stronger, as it was clear that he isn't physically ready for the KHL level yet and also I'd like to see him using his shot a bit more often. Overall attacking upside is also something that raises questions, as sometimes it seemed like he lacks a bit of that kind of mindset and creativity.
16. W/C Dmitriy Ovchinnikov
Kind of a complicated and in some way controversial one here in Ovchinnikov, as while I like the Kravtsovian smoothness both of his skating and hands as well as his scoring talent and ability to make creative plays, I must admit he lacks overall strength both in terms of upper and lower body even on the junior level (even though he is not too small). While it is definitely fixable, it automatically makes him a longshot, as it might cause issues at translating his skillset to the pro hockey and his development might see hurdles because of that.
17. LW Bogdan Trineyev
Great frame, good skater, decent puck skills, sees the ice well — I have a feeling that Trineyev might become a solid power forward once he fills out his frame, although not sure if there is great attacking upside. Always ready to do the hard work along the boards or in front of the net, but the defensive game requires some additional attention. Overall, I think Trineyev is a rather raw prospect, who needs to step up in every aspect of the game, but I also think he got what it takes to do that.
18. GK Vsevolod Skotnikov
Skotnikov is not the biggest goalie, yet he got the reflexes and mobility to somewhat compensate that. Plays with confidence, good technique, but certainly needs to work on the rebounds: both at minimizing and better controlling those. What puts him pretty high on my list (for a goalie), is that I think he is one of the goalies, who can actually win games, not only stop the shots he is expected to stop. Again, I very well acknowledge that his size is a notable issue, as he is listed at 6'0.5", but I'd like to remind, that Shestyorkin was listed around the same size in his draft year too.
19. C Artyom Galimov
Galimov's case isn't complicated: hard-working mobile two-way center, character guy, likes to go to the dirty areas and has some good finishing abilities. Not a great playmaker and prefers to keep it rather simple, so doubt that there is a full-time top-six upside. Scored 13 goals in the KHL this season (including league leading 8 game-winning goals) and was a full-time middle-six center there, which is a very solid achievement for his age.
20. LW Yegor Sokolov
Sokolov invested a nice amount of work before this season: lost quite some weight and adjusted his game to use more of his stronger sides —size and shot — in the end it resulted in a pretty impressive season. Still not a great skater, but, if he focuses a bit more on his two-way game, there could be something interesting.
21. C Alexei Tsyplakov
Two-way center with good hands and skills, great playmaker, very good at goalscoring, consistent performer — not exactly easy to understand, why Tsyplakov wasn't selected already last year. Probably can't call him a great skater though, so that might explain it a bit, but I wouldn't call it a big weakness either.
22. LD Danila Galenyuk
Galenyuk has always been known as a physically gifted shutdown defenseman with a hard shot, but this year he has notably improved his mobility and defensive awareness, which resulted in a bigger role on a top team in the KHL. Not afraid to make opponents suffer both from his checking and answering the bell. Still is a bit error-prone, so he should continue working on eliminating that from his game.
23. LW Pavel Gogolev
We have waited so long for Gogolev's goalscoring talents to be converted into consistent production and finally the day has come — he is now considered as one of the top guys in the entire OHL at putting the puck into the net. To achieve that he had to take his all-around game to the next level and while there are still doubts about him potentially succeeding on the NHL level, this kind of a natural goalscoring talent is something that every team is looking for.
24. RW Nikita Shashkov
I hoped for a breakout for Shashkov this year, but an injury got in the way on the season's start and slowed everything down. Despite that, in the games he played, he showed that he is still strong and hard-hitting, pretty mobile, plays very good defense and is aggressive on the forecheck as well as in front of the net. Don't think that there's a high attacking upside though, but usually that type of players get their points with their hard work.
25. C/W Ilya Safonov
"Under the radar" idiom suits very well in the description of Safonov, as he doesn't post fascinating numbers due to playing mostly in the VHL at his age (and therefore having a limited role). He finally got the bigger role in the VHL play-offs though and suddenly showed that he can be a full-time middle-six center in this league, as he is big, strong, good at skating and is able to both finish and set-up plays. Investing additional work on his hands and defensive game would be pretty useful though, as well as becoming better at the dot.
26. LD Kirill Steklov
Size and skating combination is worth gold in terms of draft stock and Steklov got more than enough of that. On the other hand, so far it doesn't look like he got much there in terms of offense and puck skills, while in terms of the defense there are a lot of things to work on including his overall defensive awareness. On the other hand, looking at the kind of raw tools he has, I can't help but think of the Flyers prospect Yegor Zamula's case, as he also was very underwhelming in his draft year, but has developed in a pretty impressive way since then.
27. LW/C Maxim Marushev
Likely almost every year there is that late-blooming kid, who we watched for quite some time and didn't understand why his skills aren't shaping into some nice result until suddenly he has a breakout. This year it's Marushev (even though he is the oldest eligible player for this draft), who always had a good combination of skating, puck skills and responsible two-way game, but only now he has converted it into appropriate production.
28. LD Daniil Pylenkov
A lot of love/hate from my side towards Pylenkov during this season, as in the first half of it I thought he was too error prone. Since then Pylenkov didn't stop the hard work, had a solid WJC and emerged as the top pairing D in the KHL, which is pretty rare for is age. Physical, not slow and very dedicated to the safety of the own net. Not much of offensive skill (decent shot though), so not sure if I can rank him any higher in the end, also would like to see him doing the same for a bit of a longer time, as reliability is something that is defined on longer stretches.
29. RW Ivan Didkovskiy
Another case when I have a player ranked lower than most of other sources have is Didkovskiy. I see that he has a great shot (and loves to shoot the puck), is quite physical and not bad in his own zone. The issue is that I don't see much aside from that and I doubt that in the end it will be enough for the NHL level.
30. GK Artur Akhtyamov
Akhtyamov is a gifted goalie with decent size, good mobility, also he plays aggressive in net and posts good numbers. So what's the deal here, why do I have him so low? I think in terms of technique he is really raw, but, what looks more important to me, long-term stable and consistent performance is something that he was lacking despite the fancy numbers, as he looked pretty bad at the final months of the season and even lost his starter's job in the end. When a goalie has such a long cold streaks, it is really a serious concern for me.
Some names, who did well this season, but, from my point of view, maybe not exactly well enough for a consideration for this year's draft, still I think it is worth too keep an eye on them next year and/or in the future (not to mention, that they might actually get picked after all). Also some very brief description is included. Only draft geeks are allowed in this part: if you're not, you should be already tired from reading all that stuff, so you should stop now.
31. RW Alexander Gordin
Gordin is a natural goalscorer with good amount of skill and is a solid skater, but I still have an impression that he doesn't like to play at a high level of intensity. Additionally, while being pretty gifted physically, he isn't a big fan of using that too. Also it would be great if he would invest some more work into the defensive part of his game.
32. GK Amir Miftakhov
Despite some good games for the U20 NT and in the VHL I still failed to really like Miftakhov, as I have a concern about him going from good to bad pretty quickly and a bit more often then I'd like to see. Also the size concern is always there with him.
33. RW Yegor Chizhikov
Already last season Chizhikov showed that he can score goals and got the smarts and a right kind of attitude, this year he received a bigger role and his MHL production has gradually risen and even translated into some KHL points as well.
34. LW Dmitriy Sheshin
Of course, Sheshin's size issues didn't disappear anywhere, but he is setting the example on what to do in these kind of situations and that's working hard on every inch of the ice. So far it has rewarded him with a pretty good number of goals and assists in the MHL.
35. LW Yaroslav Likhachyov
No one can really doubt Likhachyov's skill and attacking potential, but last season was the one to forget. And he actually forgot it, as this season his production increased more than twice and he even managed to score a Michigan goal in the QMJHL.
36. C/W Denis Pochivalov
Pochivalov is a big powerful center with a good passing ability, yet so far it doesn't look like he'd be enough mobile. Might be a bit too old-fashioned from me to include someone like him here, but oh well.
37. LD Ilya Mironov
Already last year it was mentioned that Mironov, while being talented in terms of size and skating, need to eliminate a lot of errors from his game. He certainly made progress this year, but I think there's still some work to do.
38. RW Nikita Rozhkov
I had an impression that Rozhkov might turn some heads at the WJC, but he got injured at the totally wrong time. He is speedy, skilled, can both score and create attacking plays — in other words, great candidate for a breakout next season, even though he is a bit undersized.
39. W Alexander Agapov
Didn't see a lot of Agapov this year, since he mostly played in the NMHL, but when he was called up to the VHL he looked surprisingly comfortable there, considering his age.
40. LW Sergei Popov
Skillful playmaking winger with a decent shot, Popov had a breakout year and even was mentioned among the top OHL players, but there are doubts that other components are on the right level to succeed in the NHL.
Ok, probably there have been too much words already, so below is just the list of the remaining names.
41. GK Gleb Nosov
42. LD Makar Khabarov
43. LD Filat Zotov
44. C/W Ilya Kruglov
45. C Maxim Sorkin
46. LD Alexei Yegorov
47. C/W Oleg Zaitsev
48. RD Anton Malyshev
49. W Nikita Rtischev
50. LD Alexander Kirpichnikov
That's it, now all I can do is wait, also discuss with you if you feel like it, of course. P.S.: Stay safe everyone.