The Russian Super League season is halfway over and a number of players have already made names for themselves. Below we take a look at some of the top prospects in the Russian Super League. Most of the names will come as no surprise, though Viktor Alexandrov is definitely worth mentioning this season.
Holding Steady: Nikolai Kulemin (TOR)
While a little slow getting started, Nikolai Kulemin has picked up this season right where he left off year when he led HC Metallurg to the Super League championship. The young forward is a hard worker and is very hard to knock off the puck. It has been impressive how he has been able to deliver despite the pressure and the hefty expectations. The young forward is also becoming a leader on the national team, where he is getting increasingly more ice time and leading the team by example. While not quite a hard hitter yet, Kulemin can certainly take a hit and deliver some change when necessary. He has the knack for the net and drives hard towards it regardless of who he is facing. Still, one concern is whether his overall game can translate to the NHL level, as he is not a fast skater, nor a very technical player, though he does have an above average skill set. It remains to be seen, since Kulemin will likely be over in North America next season.
Sophomore Slump: Alexei Cherepanov (NYR)
Cherepanov has recovered well from the concussion he suffered during the Super Series against U20 Team Canada, but he has been slow in following up his stellar rookie season. That is not to say that Cherepanov has struggled, but he definitely has not met the high expectations. Partially there is the whole team to blame, since Avangard has struggled mightily early in the season. Fortunately, the club has since recovered and Cherepanov’s play has improved. The issue he has battled throughout the season is consistency, as he would follow up an impressive shift with a very quiet one of floating around. Additionally, the young forward has at times been known for his defensive lapses and his lack of determination in his own zone. Still, while it’s tough to call this season a smashing success for the young forward, he continues to prove that he belongs as a top player in the Super League. He has immense skill, solid size and sees the ice very well. However, Cherepanov will have a lot to prove, however, at the U20 World Junior Championships.
Top Surprise: Viktor Alexandrov (STL)
Viktor Alexandrov was drafted by the St. Louis Blues after enjoying a strong Super League season with HC Metallurg (Novokuznetsk). He enjoyed one strong season after being drafted in 2004, but then struggled to find his place after leaving Novokuznetsk with the club’s head coach for St. Petersburg. After a couple of forgetable seasons in St. Petersburg and elsewhere, Alexandrov returned to Novokuznetsk and has quickly become one the brightest young forwards in Russia. While his team has struggled at times, the young forward has continued to produce and even more importantly has become more aggressive and confident on the ice. While lacking size, the young forward has an impressive vision of the ice and impressive puck control skills. His NHL upside is that of the top two line forward, and his upsurge this season is a welcome sign. Still, we should remain optimistic about Alexandrov’s development, the optimism should be with caution, as it is only halfway through the season and it remains to be seen if he can remain consistent through the rest of the season.
Staying the Same: Kiril Koltsov (VAN)
While, one can say that Kiril Koltsov has been impressive this season, continuing to play well offensively on a very capable HC Salavat squad, in the same breath, one must also say that Koltsov continues to lack what he has sorely needed to complete his skill set – defensive responsibility. Koltsov continues to foray into the offensive zone and quarterback his new club’s power play, but while he has made some marginal defensive improvements under Sergei Mikhalev’s coaching, he continues to lack in this area. The only thing at this point that can cure him of this shortcoming is playing in the NHL, where he would have to pay for his defensive lapses and not have to rely on his linemates and the large ice surface. It is still unclear whether he will ever make it over back to North America, considering his $1.7 million contract.
A Successful Return: Andrei Taratukhin (CAL)
Taratukhin has been a strong player for Salavat, constantly contributing to the team’s success. He was quiet in the first few games since returning to Russia, but really came alive when put on the line with Alexei Tereschenko and Alexander Perezhogin. Unfortunately, skating on that line meant that he had to play wing, which was something Taratukhin prefers to avoid. However, one can’t argue with success and it is tough to call Taratukhin’s performance thus far anything else. This young forward continues to have a lot of potential and a bright future in the NHL despite his sudden departure last summer.
Should Have Left Russia: Alexei Emelin (MON)
Unspectacular would describe Emelin’s performance thus far. While hindsight is 20/20, Emelin should be in the NHL or AHL this season, not the Super League and especially not with HC Ak Bars. The Super League club lost a number of key players from the past two successful campaigns and while a number of competent players, including Emelin were signed to replace them, the new team just simply has not meshed and has unfortunately performance well below expectations. Alexei Emelin has continued to get a lot of ice time, but not as much as he used to get with Lada. Additionally, the situation within the team must be fairly pressured at this point, as the squad continues to struggle to get regain a top 10 in the Super League rankings. On the brighter side, Emelin will continue to get ice time with Russia’s national team, which has thus far enjoyed more success than Ak Bars. Emelin is a talented defenseman with a knack for physical play and a strong skill set, who is already mature enough to make the jump to North America.