In spite of the recent downhill in the number of NHL Entry Draft selections, Russia keeps on producing elite level talent. Even if in the recent years only seven or eight players were picked up in June, a number of players who are overlooked during the draft manage to become good NHL players, with Sergei Bobrovsky being a prime example of this process. With that being said, the infamous "Russian Factor" has trumped down the number of Russians selected, and if the 2011 NHL Draft is expected to see more Russian picks than usual, it’s because about half of the 93-born national team decided to cross the pond this summer. Players like Alexander Khokhlachev and Vladislav Namestnikov would have much less attention around themselves, should they keep on playing in Russia. Please note that this article is relative only to players playing in Russia. For major junior players, please refer to the relative leagues sections.
Top 10 at a glance
1. Maxim Shalunov, RW, Traktor Chelyabinsk
January 31st, 1993. 6’3, 185 lbs
As tradition dictates, the top players coming from Russia for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft is a forward, Maxim Shalunov. The 17-year-old right winger possesses a very nice set of skills including a strong shot and undeniable skating abilities that allow him to be a dangerous player whenever he touches the ice. His impressive combination of size and speed makes him a tough player to deal with. That also means that his game could translate with relative ease to the North American ice surface and different style. This summer Shalunov has been one of the few bright spots for Team Russia at the Ivan Hlinka tournament. He contributed with two goals and one assist to Team Russia’s final fifth place. Shalunov has what it takes to play a top-six role in the NHL one day, but he needs to have a good U18 WJC in April to be drafted high.
2. Zakhar Arzamastsev, D, Metallurg Novokuznetsk
November 6th, 1992. 6’0, 179 lbs
Unlike most of the players presented in this feature, Zakhar Arzamastsev, a late 1992 birthday, already has good adult experience as he’s playing his second year within Metallurg Novokuznetsk’s lineup (he’s thus a teammate of Caps’ Dmitri Orlov and Kings’ Maxim Kitsyn, and comes from the same organization that produced Flyers’ Sergei Bobrovsky). He has been playing a limited role, about ten minutes a night, but still he proved that he can play in such high level as the KHL. Arzamastsev is a good two-way defenseman with a good shot and a fast deliver. He already scored in the KHL and this shows that he’s not out of place playing in a pro league. With that being said he needs to improve his defensive presence, physical play and positioning before thinking about crossing the pond. He has got a good size already, but some additional muscle wouldn’t hurt.
3. Nikita Nesterov, D, Traktor Chelyabinsk
March 28th, 1993. 6’0, 185 lbs
Nesterov is a good two-way defenseman who had a good show at the U18 WJC in April, where he scored two goals as underager. The blueliner plays a more direct game than the average Russian player and this might help him in adapting to the different North American game, even if he still has a lot to learn and experience. While he’s been recalled to the KHL on several occasions, Nesterov has yet to physically play in a game, instead being sat by his coach Valery Belousov, who has a fame of working well with junior players (The coach confirmed this in the way he’s dealing with Nesterov’s teammate and Capitals prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov). Nesterov can also play with an edge, but sometimes he gets too many penalties. Nesterov’s main offensive weapon is his excellent shot. He’s got a strong slapshot, which is also very accurate. With that being said, he needs to become stronger and also to get some discipline before trying to cross the pond, but he’s a very good prospect judging from a North American point of view.
4. Alexei Marchenko, D, CSKA Moscow
January 2nd, 1992. 6’2, 183 lbs
After being overlooked last year for health problems, which led him to stay at home during the U18s, this year Marchenko could stand better chances, especially if he’ll grab a spot for the WJC. Marchenko is a great talent and is currently one of the best kept secrets in Russian hockey due to the lack of his international exposure. The CSKA product is a solid offensive defenseman who can quarterback the powerplay and also play on a leading defensive role. This year he’s been a point-per-game player in the MHL and this speaks loud about his offensive abilities. He can read the ice at the highest level as well as can deliver some great passes, but has to work on his shot and its release. He can cover the pass lines very well and can be a very useful player during penalty killing stretches, also due to his great discipline. He lacks experience at the highest level as he played only a bunch of KHL games and didn’t play in major international tournament, but the talent is definitely there. Like most of Russians top prospects he’s a very solid skater, but needs to bulk up and work on his defensive play. He’s also told to be a very coachable player.
5. Nikita Zaytsev, D, Sibir Novosibirsk
October 29th, 1991. 6’1, 175 lbs
Zaytsev is the oldest of our preliminary Russian rankings as he’s a late 1991 born. Oddly enough Zaytsev has been ignored in the latest NHL draft in spite of being among the four players invited to the scouting combine held right before the selections. The Blackhawks and the Flyers were rumored to be interested in him. In any case Zaytsev is a prospective defenseman thanks to his reading of the ice and good puck skills, but he needs to be more high impact. He’s improved since last season, but he’s still having a very hard time in replicating on the KHL stage what he’s capable of when he plays among juniors, which include a good passing game, excellent breakout pass abilities and good defensive coverage. Zaytsev must learn to check harder along the boards instead of simply attempting a pokecheck and also have to be more creative with the puck, as he proved capable of in the different junior tournaments he skated in. Should he have a good WJC most likely his name will be pronounced in June.
6. Anton Saveliev, D, Ak Bars Kazan
February 4th, 1993. 6’4, 196 lbs
A larger sized player will always have an edge over small ones during the NHL selections and this justifies Saveliev’s relative high position in this preliminary Russian ranking. The Moscow, Russia native is a big, strong stay-at-home defenseman with imposing size and very good defensive play. Saveliev doesn’t really have a big offensive upside, but he’s a very reliable defenseman and one of those players who the less you see them, the better they play. Saveliev also has the very welcome ability of being able to play rather physical without racking up big numbers in the penalty minutes column.
7. Nikita Kucherov, RW, CSKA Moscow
June 17th, 1993. 5’10, 160 lbs
Kucherov is another player which isn’t much known outside of Russia but can become a top level player in the next couple of years. He’s had better numbers than Alexander Khokhlachev, who’s having an excellent year in the OHL and is most likely going to be drafted high in June. Kucherov is a small-sized, prototypical Russian winger who is very technically sound, with great skating and a very large bag of tricks. He also has a good knack in sitting on the weak side during powerplays to wind up his excellent one-timer, a quality that will allow him to score plenty of goals at any level. The captain of his team, CSKA juniors in the Russian junior league, Kucherov is having a sensational season with 42 points in just 27 games, impressive numbers no matter the league. The left-handed right winger is also a very active player when the opposition retains the puck as he likes to forecheck and press the puck carrier. If he will put on some muscle, Kucherov might find himself in the NHL quicker than most could expect.
8. Oleg Misyul, D, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
March 20th, 1993. 6’1, 195 lbs
Another defensively minded, physically, and strong blueliner, Misyul is an interesting player with a big body and good defensive zone presence. The native of Minsk, Belarus improved a lot in the recent years and now is one of the top 93-born defensemen of Russia. He can play a very physical and aggressive game, but he needs to lower his penalty minutes. He has a bigger offensive upside than Saveliev, but the Ak Bars blueliner plays a more disciplined game.
9. Sergei Shmelev, W, Atlant Mytischi
August 28th, 1993. 5’10, 161
The very talented player Shmelev looked a bit lost in the latest couple of years, but this season he’s rebounding back after moving to Mytischi playing for Atlant’s junior team in the MHL, where he is a point-per-game player. Shmelev is a player with soft hands and good goal-scoring abilities, but he needs to be tested against higher level competition prior jumping to any conclusion.
10. Vladislav Kartaev, C/W, Salavat Yulaev Ufa
February 10th, 1992. 6’1, 170 lbs
Kartaev is a player who could have been drafted last year, but was overlooked. He’s got a very fast release of his very good wristshot, but failed to show it at consistent pace. He is a very versatile player who can play both center and wing. Kartaev needs also to bulk up and improve his defensive game.
Dmitry Mikhailov, W, Metallurg Magnitogorsk
This small-sized (5’11", 170 lbs) winger is a good competitor and can score, but he needs to fill out his frame. Moreover he doesn’t look particularly North American ready.
Fedor Belyakov, D, Metallurg Novokuznetsk
A good sized defenseman (6’0", 195 lbs) with some offensive upside, he might climb up the rankings should he have a good U18 WJC.