The 2012 NHL Draft was an interesting one for Russia as the first overall pick, for the first time since Alexander Ovechkin's name was called in 2004, was a Russian player, with Nail Yakupov receiving the honor as the choice of the Edmonton Oilers.
Many expected center Mikhail Grigorenko to be picked second, but he dropped down a bit and was selected by the Buffalo Sabres with the 12th pick overall. A total number of 13 Russian players were selected during the seven rounds of the 2012 draft, a trend which seems to be on the upswing after only 7 Russians chosen in 2009, 8 in 2010 and 9 in 2011.
A number of Russian players drafted by NHL teams were already playing in North America: Yakupov, Grigorenko, OHL player Daniil Zharkov (EDM), QMJHL prospect Anton Zlobin (PIT) and collegian Dmitri Sinitsin (DAL). The other nine players come directly from Russia.
Vasilevsky was the first goalkeeper chosen in the draft, certainly a good indicator of his talent. Yzerman and the Lightning have recently been very active in drafting Russians and Vasilevsky is yet another player who can contribute in turning the Florida franchise into today’s version of the Detroit Red Wings of the 90s, at least in terms of the impact of Russian players. Vasilevsky and three other Russian players (Vladislav Namestnikov, Nikita Kucherov and Artem Sergeev) will skate in the team’s development camp in early July. Vasilevsky, an athletic goalie with a good reach and outstanding physical abilities, was also drafted in the CHL Import Draft by the Mississauga Steelheads. He has been very vocal about his interest in crossing the pond, but first he must resolve his contract matters with his KHL team in what doesn’t seem like an easy deal. There is still a chance that he could report to North America next year, but most likely he will play yet another season in the MHL with Tolpar Ufa.
Alexander Delnov, LW – Atlant Mytischi
Drafted 114th overall by the Florida Panthers
For the second year in a row, the Panthers chose a virtually unknown Russian player after picking Yaroslav Kosov during the 2011 draft. Delnov was drafted in the CHL, too, by the Seattle Thunderbirds, and there is a good chance that he will actually cross the pond and play in the WHL next year. Delnov is a versatile player with high-end skills and excellent skating abilities. He represented Russia at the latest U-18 WJC, scoring one goal and adding two assists in six games. Delnov, who can play both center and wing, amassed 11 goals and as many assists in 47 regular season games in the MHL, before going scoreless in 5 post-season clashes.
The current Stanley Cup Champions had a very interesting pick in the fourth round, selecting Nikolai Prokhorkin, one of the most promising young players in Russia, whose career and stock has been a little bit hampered by a couple of injuries during the last couple of seasons. Prokhorkin is a promising player with top-6 potential and already interesting size at 6-2, 190 lbs. who already has skated in two KHL seasons. Prokhorkin’s playing style should be easily adapted to North America as he tries to play physical and showed some grit in the KHL. The Chelyabinsk, Russia, native was picked up in the CHL Import Draft by the London Knights, but at this point in his career, playing a full junior season might be considered a step down. In the MHL this season, Prokhorkin had 26 points in 15 regular season games as well as 14 points in 16 post-season clashes.
Like Prokhorkin, Vasiliev had a rocky season due to a serious shoulder injury which limited him to less than 20 games. During these games, however, and during the WJAC tournament, Vasiliev managed to grab the Flyers’ attention thanks to the strong parts of his game: excellent defensive awareness and physical play thanks to his NHL body (6-1, 205 lbs.). With that being said, he needs to be tested with a full season to show his true potential.
Nikita Gusev, W – CSKA Moscow
Drafted 202nd overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning
It isn’t surprising that Yzerman decided to spend a seventh-round pick on this overage Russian who, in spite of being overlooked for the past two years, is one of the most highly-skilled U-20 players in the world. Gusev is a very dynamic forward with both great hockey sense and impressive passing skills, but needs to work on his size and defensive game. Gusev played an excellent 2012 WJC and obviously outgrow the MHL level as he scored 76 points in 34 regular season games, with 33 points in 19 post season clashes. It will be interesting to follow him in the next couple of years to see in what direction his career will turn.
Sergei Kostenko, G – Metallurg Novokuznetsk
Drafted 203rd overall by the Washington Capitals
The selection of Kostenko by the Capitals was a bit of a surprise – Kostenko is considered a good, young goalie at home in Russia, but not many people would believe that he was worthy of being drafted, even in the seventh round. Kostenko was the third goalie for Team Russia at the most recent WJC but he didn’t play any games. Kostenko is still a long shot prospect and, moreover, still has to play his first pro game.