In spite of the bad performance at the recent Winter Olympics, Russia keeps on producing good players at a good rate, as confirmed by the recent good showing of the WJC squad.
Wingers are probably the players that Russia manages to produce more of than any other position, but goaltending recently became a non-issue for the national team thanks to the emergence of Semyon Varlamov, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Andrei Vasilevsky. But the same cannot be said regarding defensemen and centers, two positions at which Russia has produced few strong NHL prospects of late . But regarding wingers, there are quite a good number of them playing and progressing in the KHL.
The top 7 KHL wingers prospects at a glance:
Pavel Buchnevich, Severstal Cherepovets
Drafted in the third round, 75th overall, in 2013 by the New York Rangers
The young winger had a breakout season in Cherepovets as he scored six goals and 15 points during the KHL regular season, which are very good numbers for a player of his age in such a low-scoring league. Buchnevich also had a very good WJC tournament this winter and, as a result, his stock is rising. At this time, becoming a full-time NHL player isn’t something that Buchnevich can achieve overnight. But he improved a good bit this season, gaining much more confidence and scoring some very important goals for his KHL team.
Buchnevich is under contract with Cherepovets until April of 2015 and has declared many times that he intends to honor his contract before thinking about crossing the Atlantic to start his North American career. It will be interesting to see if Buchnevich can gain the attention of Russia's senior team; he would definitely earn some needed experience, and the national team might try out a very interesting player for the future. If he keeps progressing as he did this season, Buchnevich might even become a candidate for a roster spot on Russia's 2018 Olympic squad.
Anton Slepyshev, Salavat Yulaev Ufa
Drafted in the third round, 88th overall, in 2013 by the Edmonton Oilers
This has not been the best season for Slepyshev as he scored less goals than last season, yet he remains a solid prospect with an interesting ceiling for the future, as he showed at the 2014 WJC. Gifted with a good shot, decent skating ability and the capability to play a gritty style, Slepyshev is an intriguing prospect even from a North American point of view. His KHL deal with Salavat Yulaev Ufa will run out in 2015. The most likely scenario for the Penza, Russia, native will be yet another season in Ufa playing for a very good KHL team that is playoff-bound each season. His role within the team should increase next season as he showed some good progress this year, mainly on the mental side of the game.
Nikita Gusev, Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk
Drafted in the seventh round, 202nd overall, in 2012 by the Tampa Bay Lightning
The undersized winger had a good season in the KHL with Yugra, and he was so good that the team recently decided to sign him to a new, 2-year deal. Gusev is a technically sound player with plenty of puck skills, but he lacks the physical side to be a true blue-chip prospect. Gusev's ceiling is very high, but he is purely a top-six player which will make it hard for him to break into North American hockey, although he definitely has the tools to succeed. He wouldn’t be the only case of a short player with a good pro career. During the 2013-14 campaign, Gusev scored six goals and 13 points in 43 regular season games.
Emil Galimov, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
Drafted in the seventh round, 207th overall, in 2013 by the San Jose Sharks
The talented winger didn’t have the best season as he scored only seven goals and 12 points during the 2013-14 regular season. But Galimov remains a valuable player within the Lokomotiv organization and an interesting prospect for the future due to his skill level and his skating ability. Galimov is more of a finesse player who might have some trouble adapting to the more physical style played in North America, but he is definitely an intriguing player, especially for a seventh round pick. Galimov is under contract with Lokomotiv for the 2014-15 season.
Yaroslav Kosov, Metallurg Magnitogorsk
Drafted fifth round, 124th overall, in 2011 by the Florida Panthers
The big winger hasn't progressed as hoped to this point, but at just 20 years of age, Kosov still has time to improve. His role with Metallurg increased compared to last season, but he scored just two goals on the season and so it can be said that more was expected from a player of his ability. Kosov has an NHL body at 6’3” and 205 pounds, and therefore remains a very interesting player for the Panthers. At this point, though, predicting an NHL future for him would be very hard. His contract with Metallurg will run out in April.
Daniil Zharkov, Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod
Drafted in the third round, 91st overall, in 2012 by the Edmonton Oilers
Much like Kosov, Zharkov is a player from whom more could be expected, especially on the offensive side since he scored a lot of goals in the OHL. He scored only two goals and four points in 49 games this season and saw limited action with a very competitive Torpedo team. Zharkov also spent some time this season in the VHL with Torpedo’s affiliate, HK Sarov, without impressing too much. Zharkov displayed good physical ability, but did not showcase much of his offensive potential. Zharkov is under contract with Torpedo for another season.
Maxim Trunev, Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk
Drafted in the fifth round, 138th overall, in 2008 by the Montreal Canadiens
Trunev’s season has been pretty much a roller coaster since he managed to play with four different teams (three in the KHL and a short stint in the VHL for Lokomotiv’s farm team). He played with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl and KHL newcomer Admiral Vladivostok, then moved to Neftekhimik, where he had some success playing with former Calgary Flames’ draftee Andrei Taratukhin and Edmonton Oilers’ prospect Bogdan Yakimov. He scored two goals and seven points in 23 games, posting a good average of 15 minutes a night. At this point in Trunev's career, in spite of his good hands and explosive skating, it’s very hard to think that he’ll be able to play a significant role in North America.
Follow Alessandro Seren Rosso on Twitter via @AlexSerenRosso