After some years of decline, the numbers of players drafted right out of Russia increased for the 2011 NHL draft as six out of the nine total selected players spent their 2010-11 campaign in the KHL or in the MHL, the Russian junior league. But after having three first rounders last year, this year’s selections had only one Russian players called during the first round, Vladislav Namestnikov (TBL), who played major junior hockey last year with the London Knights. Other Russian players selected from North American clubs were Alexander Khokhlachev (BOS) and Andrei Pedan (NYI).
Nikita Kucherov was the third Russian player drafted after Namestnikov and Khokhlachev. In spite of his amazing U18 WJC performance, he did slip until the end of the second round, mostly due to the Russian Factor and also the fact that, unlike the two aforementioned players, he still plays in Russia and isn’t firmly intended in crossing the pond right now. The goal-scoring winger is under contract with the famous Red Army team for further two years where he can continue his development, both physically and technically.
Kucherov has everything it takes to play a first line role in the NHL and he can form in the future a very interesting duo with first rounder Namestnikov. It’s expected that Kucherov will spend most of the next season with CSKA’s junior team in the MHL, however he is also expected to be called up for some games, similar to this past season (he recorded two assists in nine games).
Maxim Shalunov, RW – Traktor Chelyabinsk
Drafted 109th overall by the Chicago Blackhawks
Yet another NHL prospect from the productive Traktor Chelyabinsk school (Sergei Gonchar, Sergei Makarov, Evgeny Dadonov, and many others), Maxim Shalunov started being on the NHL teams’ radar during last year’s U18 WJCs, in which he scored three goals as underager. During this season’s U18s he didn’t have the expected success with only two goals, but his season was positive anyway as he managed to debut in the KHL getting a helper in six games and his development is steadily going on.
There have been some reports about his apparent lack of interest in crossing the pond, but in any case it would be better for him to get some seasoning in Russia before trying to get to North America.
This was a rather surprise pick by the Florida Panthers, but they did have a good spot on this Russian, whose body is definitely NHL-ready at 6’3, 220 lbs. Kosov is a very underrated player in Russia, even if he comes from one of the top hockey school of the Mother Land, Metallurg Magnitogorsk (Evgeny Malkin, Nikolai Kulemin, Anton Khudobin are their most successful players).
He is a very good project pick considering his size, and the Panthers surely hope that he’ll become an NHL player within a few years. He has a very good mobility for his size and can play the body. Like many Russian players he likes cutting inside with the puck on his stick and possess good shooting abilities, as confirmed last season tallying six goals in the Steel Foxes’ playoffs run. Kosov can potentially play in both scoring and checking lines and thus become a very useful, versatile player. Kosov is expected to play a couple of years in Russia and then the Panthers most likely check his progresses. However, like with Roman Derlyuk, the Panthers showed that they can be very patient with their prospects and this approach can surely be useful with Kosov as well.
Steve Yzerman drafted his third Russian player of this year’s draft selecting Nikita Nesterov, a teammate of Maxim Shalunov in Chelyabinsk. The Tri-City Americans drafted him last year, but he decided not to report and this probably harmed his draft position (but on the same time helped the Lightning to get him on the fourth round), but he is definitely a player with all the tools to play in the NHL within three or four seasons.
Nesterov’s direct style can suit the NHL game rather well, especially considering that he is a versatile blue liner capable to play in any situation and gifted with a very good shot from the point. He will keep on playing in Russia most likely for the next couple of years. This season he will be most likely playing for Traktor’s junior team as he will probably be not more than the eighth defenseman on the main team’s depth chart.
Daniil Sobchenko, C – Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
Drafted 166th overall by the San Jose Sharks
Sobchenko is a very interesting player who showcased his skills at the latest WJC, when he was the first line center of the gold medal winning team Russia. Sobchenko is a versatile forward who can play both center and winger, and his top features are his excellent passing game and hockey IQ.
This fall Sobchenko will enter his third full season in the KHL, and coming next April he will be free to sign with the Sharks as he is under contract until 2012 Spring. He is expected to cross the pond next season as he showed his interest toward the Sharks by skating in their development camp this month.
The Red Wings are renowned for their ability in getting excellent talent from Europe using low round picks, and it seems they will hit the jackpot once again selecting Alexei Marchenko from CSKA Moscow. The promising blueliner will most likely be Team Russia’s number one defenseman at the next WJC and this speaks loud about what kind of player Detroit got using a seventh round pick.
Marchenko is a reliable defenseman with powerplay quarterback potential and it will be very interesting to see his chances within the Red Wings organization. Marchenko will spend the next season with the CSKA Moscow organization, trying to get a full-time spot on the main team, then he might decide to cross the pond and try his chances in Detroit.