The exodus of young Russian players to the CHL didn’t leave many prospects of note in the KHL, especially when discussing defensemen, the type of players Russian hockey is having the hardest time developing, especially at depth level.
Russia continues to produce high-level defensemen, like Nikita Zadorov (BUF) or more recently, Rinat Valiev (TOR) and 2015-eligible Ivan Provorov. But the problem is that there is little left behind back at home considering that other defenders, such Dmitry Orlov (WSH) or Alexei Marchenko (DET), left Russia at a young age.
In fact, this year’s KHL defensemen article doesn’t differ much from last year’s article, even with the 2014 NHL Draft having taken place since the last ranking of drafted KHL defensemen.
Maxim Chudinov, SKA St. Petersburg
Drafted by the Boston Bruins, 195th overall pick, 2010 NHL Draft
A hard-nosed, hard-hitting defenseman with good puck skills and a strong shot from the blue line, Chudinov is perennially included in KHL defensemen rankings, and not without merit. The Cherepovets native is now playing a leading role for SKA St. Petersburg, one of the top teams in the league, and is also a regular on the national team, winning his first IIHF World Championship gold medal last April in Minsk, Belarus. It’s hard to think that he’ll report to the Bruins this summer; last year, Chudinov’s contract with SKA was about to run out but he opted for a new two-year deal, with the alternative being that he would have to accept a significant pay cut to play in the AHL if he didn’t make the Bruins roster.
Rushan Rafikov, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
Drafted by the Calgary Flames, 187th overall pick, 2013 NHL Draft
Rafikov’s strong play at the Subway Super Series and, more recently, at the 2015 World Junior Championship garnered the Calgary Flames’ prospect the second position among drafted defensemen playing in the KHL. Actually, Rafikov is playing in the VHL for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl’s farm team, but he is having a very good season playing against men as he scored 17 points in 34 games for HK Ryazan. Rafikov is an offensive defenseman with a very good eye for the pass and good puck-moving attributes, as he showed with the U20 national team in Canada. Rafikov’s deal with Lokomotiv will run out in April, so it will be interesting to see if he’ll decide to sign again in Russia or if he’ll decide to cross the Atlantic and establish himself in Calgary.
Nikita Tryamkin, Avtomobilist Ekaterinburg
Drafted by the Vancouver Canucks, 66th overall pick, 2014 NHL Draft
The Russian giant (6’7”, 230 lbs.) was a bit of a surprise last year at the NHL Draft as it’s unusual for a player passed over twice to be drafted that high (third round, 66th overall). But it had been rumored that many NHL teams were interested in drafting Tryamkin, so the Canucks had to play the Tryamkin card as early as possible. Unfortunately for the Canucks, Tryamkin hasn’t progressed much since the draft and his time on ice in the KHL is slightly lower when compared to last season. Tryamkin’s deal with Avtomobilist will run out in April of 2016, so the huge defender still has time to show that Vancouver made the right move in spending a third round pick on him.
Valeri Vasiliev, Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod
Drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers, 201st overall pick, 2012 NHL Draft
Vasiliev had a chance to move to North America last year after his contract had run out and his KHL team folded, but he instead decided to sign a two-year deal with Avangard Omsk, a team with perennially big ambitions. This season hasn’t gone very well for Vasiliev, however, as he was moved to Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod midway through the season. On the plus side, though, his time on ice is with his new team has risen significantly to seventeen minutes a night. Vasiliev is a defensive-minded rearguard with good size and good defensive skills, but who perhaps lacks the ceiling to play a leading defensive role. The Moscow native is under contract with Torpedo until April of 2016, so it will be interesting to see what he will decide once his deal is completed.
Top undrafted defensive prospects
Andrei Mironov, 1994, Dynamo Moscow
Dmitry Ogurtsov, 1994, Lada Togliatti
Vladislav Gavrikov, 1995, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
Dmitry Yudin, 1995, SKA St. Petersburg
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