Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D, 19 — Leksands IF
1st round, 6th overall, 2009
The highly-touted blueliner is the top prospect in the Phoenix Coyotes system, and his season thus far has cemented that title. Now in his second season with the powerhouse Leksands IF, Ekman-Larsson has continued to show maturity well beyond his 18 years. Despite still being the youngest player on the team, Ekman-Larsson was entrusted with a leadership role when he was named as an assistant captain entering the season and that duty is something that he has certainly embraced. In 42 games he has produced 27 points and has found the back of the net nine times, which ranks him as the highest goal-scoring defenseman on the team. He is also among the leaders in plus/minus with a sparkling +36. At the World Juniors, he had five points in six games.
After what is expected to be his final season in Sweden, Oliver Ekman-Larsson is a name that will be on everyone’s watch list for the 2010-11 NHL season.
Viktor Tikhonov, C, 21 — HC Severstal
1st round, 28th overall, 2008
To say that the start to Tikhonov’s season was strange would be a major understatement. After appearing in 61 games for the Coyotes the previous season, Tikhonov expected to once again play with the big club. Instead, the young Russian was assigned to the AHL affiliate in San Antonio where he would play in 18 uninspiring games before he was loaned to Severstal of the KHL. Although it was certainly not what Tikhonov had in mind for his season, the move was welcomed as Tikhonov felt he would be better served spending a year in Russia as opposed to the AHL. In 25 games, the 21-year-old has tallied 14 goals to go along with just one assist, in a league that does not award second assists.
With the surprising success that the Coyotes continue to enjoy, it will be interesting to see where Tikhonov, Kyle Turris and Mikkel Boedker now fit in with the club. All three were mainstays in the lineup a year ago and now all three players find themselves in the same position, on the outside looking in.
Maxim Goncharov, D, 20 — CSKA Moscow
5th round, 123rd overall, 2007
Despite his youth, Goncharov is already in his fourth year as a pro in Russia with CSKA Moscow. The 20-year-old defenseman has continued to develop into somewhat of a steal for the Coyotes who selected him in the fifth round of the 2007 draft. The flashy rearguard has registered four goals and 17 points in 51 games for CSKA Moscow, who finished in the middle of the pack in the KHL standings. In the playoffs he has one point in three games.
Goncharov remains adamant that he will come to North America once his contract with CSKA runs out and has even said that he would not be opposed to playing in San Antonio.
Vladimir Ruzicka, C, 21 — Slavia Praha HC
4th round, 103rd overall, 2007
The son of former NHLer and current Czech national team head coach Vlad Ruzicka, the younger Vladimir continues to hone his skills in his native Czech Republic. Now in his fifth season with Slavia Praha of the Czech league, Ruzicka continues to be a bit of a mystery and although he can bring a very skillful game, at times he has lacked some consistency. After 47 games this year Ruzicka has yet to find his offensive touch and has also struggled in the defensive zone resulting in a -6 rating. Known to be a good skater with good puck-moving skills, Ruzicka hasn’t blown anyone away with his six goals and 10 assists this year, but the potential is still there for the young pivot to develop into a solid pro. In the playoffs he has one point in seven games.
Anton Krysanov, C, 22 — Moscow Dynamo
5th round, 148th overall, 2005
Playing on one of the top teams in the KHL, the soon to be 23-year-old Krysanov is counted on to play more of a checking role on a team that is loaded with offensive talent. At 6’4, Krysanov has proven to be a very adept two-way center with above average defensive awareness and a willingness to block shots and take away the passing lanes. With eight goals and six assists in 41 games in the regular season and no points in the playoffs, any offense that the big Russian can give is always welcomed, but it is his defensive play and penalty killing that have really helped the team as the season has gone on.
Alexander Nikulin, C, 24 — CSKA Moscow
Acquired via trade with Ottawa, 2008
Having enjoyed success at the AHL level, but never being able to stick in the NHL, Nikulin moved back to Russia to play with the team where he began his professional career. Nikulin’s play has been exactly what you would expect of a 24-year-old with lots of pro experience, steady and solid. In 42 games with CSKA Moscow, the former Senators draftee provided some offensive punch to go along with a strong defensive performance. With five goals and 20 points, Nikulin finished right around his career averages in terms of offense, but it is his defensive play that makes him most effective. His team-leading +11 rating is the direct result of a great work ethic, and while not overly physical, Nikulin uses tremendous anticipation and positioning in his own zone which allows him to efficiently turn away the opposition. He is scoreless in the playoffs in three games.