NHL 2001 Draft: Future Russian Star Igor Knyazev

By Eugene Belashchenko

This has been quite a season for Igor Knyazev. After first being replaced as the captain of the Russian Junior National Team and then not being picked for the 2001 U20 WJC team at all, Igor never dissapeared and once proved that he is one of the best all around defensemen in the upcoming 2001 NHL Entry Draft. After being slowed by injuries at the end of the 1999-01 season, Igor was one of the leading defensemen with Spartak Moscow, helping to lead that team into the Super League after a 2 year absense. After being ranked by the CSB 13th in the midseason report, he jumped 6 spots to the 7th place among European skaters.

(for more information, interviews, articles, photographs and etc. please
visit http://www.russianprospects.com)


Talent Analysis:

Standing at 6’1 and 196 pounds at only the age of 18, Igor definitely has the size to play in the NHL. Besides possessing the physical size, Igor uses it well to play a solid all around defensive game. Igor is an above average skater and is a solid puck carrier from the defensive zone. Igor loves playing defense and played at this position his whole life. In an interview with Moscow Hockey he himself said: “I always liked the role of the defense – to disrupt the offense of the opponent and to begin our own”. Igor is very good in this role. He is an aggressive defenseman who racks up the penalty minutes, but he also has great hockey sense. He is able to read the play well, make a quick decision and potentially save a goal by either passing off the puck out of the defensive end or carrying it up himself. Igor’s talents carry over from his defensive to his offensive responsibilities. Though he has not done a lot of scoring with Spartak, make no mistake – Igor is an offensive defenseman. Simply put, as a young defender in Russian hockey, his assigned role was defensive oriented and he had to comply. For examples of his offensive prowess examine his international accomplishments at the Under 18 WJC 2001 and some previous tournaments where he racked up points. Igor is also very sound mentally. Though he does at times “overheat” and takes an unnecessary penalty, he does have an excellent work ethic and discipline. At this point in his career there are virtually no knocks on this defenseman. He is solid in both ends of the ice and has an immense potential.


Back In Russia:

Igor grew up in Electrostal close to Moscow and was immersed in hockey since early childhood. In his day his father was a defenseman in the lower leagues and Igor tried on skates for the first time at the age of five. There he attended his first hockey school and developed a lot of his skills. In 1997 Spartak’s junior coach Yuri Borisov offered Igor a chance to join Spartak’s system. Igor did not decline, but finished the season with Elektrostal before transferring to Spartak. It is unknown for which reason’s Igor stayed in Elektrostal, but it seems to show qualities of loyalty in this young defenseman. Igor began playing on Spartak’s junior team during the 1998-99 season. During the 1999-2000 he began getting consistent ice time with Spartak’s main team. However, towards the end of the season he was injured in international competition and did not finish the season as well as expected. At times Igor was even relegated to the Spartak 2 team for conditioning. During the 2000-01 season Igor finally established himself as one of the top defensemen with Spartak Moscow and in the whole Upper League. Though the Upper League is a step below the Super League, it was still quite an accomplishment for the 17 year old and it is very likely things would not have changed if he was playing in the Super League. During the entire season he dominated the competition, racking up an impressive +16 +/- rating and finishing second to only none other then his personal good friend and top 2001 NHL Entry Draft prospect Ilja Kovalchuk in PIM on the team with 64 minutes. In the Transfer Tournament where the best Upper League fought for the two opened spots in the Super League, was an essential part of Spartak’s success. He had a strong physical presence and showed it with a + 4 rating and 37 penalty minutes in just 11 games.


International Competition:

Igor Knyazev has been a member of the Russian Junior National team since 1998 and during the 1999-2000 season was appointed its captain. The responsibility was a heavy one, but Igor Knyazev handled it well and the 1983 Team Russia dominated most tournaments. Despite a strong showing with Spartak Moscow this season and representing his country in two prior tournaments, Igor was not invited by Petr Vorobiev to the training camp of the Russian National Team prior to the 2001 Under 20 World Junior Championships. This came as a surprise to many. A Russian hockey expert and one of former greats in the USSR, Vyecheslav Anisin, said that Igor Knyazev was “stronger then anyone who made the team [for the 2001 U20 WJC – EB]. It is possible that this was the element that the Russian National Team was missing: the mental stability and physical presence of this capable young defenseman. At the 2001 Under 18 WJC he showed just what the Under 20 team missed out during the tournament a few months earlier. Not only was he one of the top people in PIM with 24 minutes, but he also had a +16 rating and registered 5 points (1+4) in 6 games.

NHL:

Igor Knyazev was rated 7th amongst European skaters in the Central Scouting Bureau final prospect ratings, moving up 6 spots from his 13th midseason ranking. Igor will be drafted in the first round. According to a Russian hockey expert, Maxim Dostoyevsky, predicted he will be drafted in the middle of the 1st round and he made this prediction in the end of February, 2001 before the final CSB ratings were released. Maxim states that “any team that needs a solid all around defender with sharp offensive instincts shall grab him.” I could not have said it better myself.

Igor never had a desire to do anything else, but hockey. “ My brother found himself in music, created a band with his friends – he says – I can’t be without hockey. Sometimes it is hard – that is the truth. Sometimes everything is falling out of the hands. Everyday it is pretty hard. But you can’t do anything about it, have to fight yourself, forget about the fatigue, about the misfortunes and work and work further. Hockey is everything for me!”

(for more information, interviews, articles, photographs and etc. please
visit http://www.russianprospects.com)