With names like Mikhail Grabovsky, Ruslan Salei and Mikhail Stefanovich (TOR), Belarus has some interesting players in the National Hockey League. It is raising its influence as it also had a very good World Championships in Switzerland, in which it was eliminated by the eventual final winners, Russia, only by a third-period goal in the quarterfinals.
The 2008 Entry Draft saw only one Belarussian player drafted, Stefanovich, but other players decided to cross the pond like Igor Revenko, Artem Demkov and Aleksandr Fomin. Last year the New York Rangers signed Vladimir Denisov, who was already playing in North America in the 2007-08 season as he skated both in the AHL and in the ECHL, with the Lowell Lock Monsters and the Johnstown Chiefs.
Former Montreal Canadien Grabovsky has been traded to Toronto, where he had a highlight season scoring almost 50 points. NHL veteran Salei had a not bad personal season with the Avalanche. Stefanovich, who has just been signed by the Leafs, has scored almost one goal per game in the QMJHL and is eyeing AHL seasoning prior to breaking Toronto roster in the 2010-11 season. Also the Kostitsyn brothers proved to be core players for the Canadiens.
It’s hard to believe that the 2009 class draft will produce players with similar career prospects, but there are nevertheless interesting players who might have a chance.
Top 4 at glance
1. Sergei Drozd, C, Dynamo Minsk
2. Dmitri Korobov, D, Dynamo Minsk
3. Nikolai Suslo, W, HK Gomel
4. Evgeny Nogachev, D, Yunost Minsk
1. Sergei Drozd, C
5’11", 172 lbs, Dynamo Minsk, KHL
CS Final ranking: #29 European Skater
A playmaking, two-way center, Drozd is a skilled playmaker who knows both how to score and to make others score. His work ethic is another strong point for him, even if all this wasn’t enough to get drafted in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, when he was overlooked, probably because of his little will to cross the pond. But now a year is passed and he’s a more mature, less raw player even if he hasn’t bulked up as needed to play in a more physically demanding league.
Drozd, who spent seasons in Russia in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl system, split this season between three teams: Dynamo Minsk of the KHL, its farm team Keramin in the Belarusian League and Shinnik Bobruisk, again in the Belarusian League. In the KHL he played a marginal role, scoring one goal in 11 games, while he had a bigger impact in the Belarusian championship, scoring a total of 18 points in 30 games. As usual he played very, very well with the national junior team as he was instrumental in the strong play shown by his team at the WJC Division 1 as he resulted as the tournament’s top goal scorer with seven markers in five matches.
2. Dmitri Korobov, D
6’2", 202 lbs, Dynamo Minsk, KHL
CS Final Rankings: #39 European Skater
A defensive defenseman with imposing size, Korobov is a promising blue liner who might need less adaptation to the NA game. He plays an aggressive style without crossing the line too much. A product of Novopolotsk hockey school, like many other Belarusian players, he’s a relatively experienced player as he already made the roster of the main team in the men’s World Championship, where he had a marginal role. Earlier this winter he played very well at the WJC Division 1, scoring three points in five games, ending the tournament +8. His imposing size, good defensive play and powerful shot makes him an intriguing player who might be drafted in the fourth or fifth round. Korobov, like Drozd, played for Dynamo Minsk of the KHL and Keramin and Shinnik Bobruisk in the Belarusian league.
Korobov is already 20 years old.
3. Nikolai Suslo, W
6’2", 180 lbs, HK Gomel, Belarus League
CS Final Rankings: #55 European Skater
A talented, tall winger, Suslo played a good debut season with HK Gomel’s main team in the Belarus open league, where he scored eight points in 48 regular season contests, not a bad result in a league where, like in Russia, with the due proportions, it’s not easy for youngsters to crack the lineups and earn a spot in the first team. Internationally, Suslo was the last cut from team Belarus in this winter’s WJC Division 1, but in April he led the team to a gold medal in the Under 18 WJC Division 1 in Minsk, wearing the C and being the team’s top scorer with six points in five games. Junior captaincy has to be taken with a grain of salt, but it’s a good thing for prospects to have responsibility and leadership. While he has to work on his frame and his physical play, Suslo’s skills and speed might get some attention at the draft.
4. Evgeny Nogachev, D
6’0", 190 lbs, Yunost Minsk, Belarus League
CS Final rankings: not ranked
A good-sized, offensive defenseman, Nogachev had an excellent WC Under 18 Division 1 where he was named tournament’s top defenseman as he scored three goals and one assist in five games. While his top weapon is his quick, powerful shot from the point, he is a capable skater who reads well the ice and can get with relative ease on the scoresheet. He’s an useful player with the man advantage as his shot can create scoring opportunities. He has some very good qualities, but his route towards North America is still long.