Russia’s 2006 prospects a work in progress

By Eugene Belashchenko

After a near disastrous 2005 NHL Entry Draft, it is safe to say that there is no where to go but up for Russia’s draft fortunes.

While Russia’s late 1986- and 1987-born crop was likely the weakest since the crop of 1980-81, there were still a number of talented young players who were overlooked by NHL management due to a lack of an agreement with Russia’s Super League. Thus, the future of so many young prospects eligible for the 2006 NHL Entry Draft rests in the hands of NHL and Russian Super League officials. If the two sides are unable to come to an agreement prior to next June’s draft, the 1987-1988 born crop of Russian players will likely suffer the same fate as that born in 1986-1987.

Still, there is plenty of hope that the two sides will be able to come to an agreement. Assuming the two sides do settle their differences, there are a number of young Russian prospects that should merit the attention of NHL scouts. Curiously, Russia’s 2006 NHL Entry Draft eligible prospects are lead by two defensemen, Yuri Alexandrov and Ivan Vyshnevsky. While Alexandrov has already made his Super League debut and will likely continue to compete in Russia, North American fans will likely have a chance to see Ivan Vyshnevsky in action, as the young defenseman will reportedly compete for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

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Left wing Andrei Popov of the Russian Under-18 junior squad is Russia’s top ranked forward. As was the case with talented center Ilya Zubov (Ottawa Senators), Popov has developed in the Traktor (Chelyabinsk) hockey system, and has just made his High League (Russia 2) debut this season. Semen Varlamov is not only Russia’s top eligible goaltender, but this is the first time since the selection of Konstantin Barulin at the 2003 NHL Entry Draft that a Russian goaltender enjoyed a high overall ranking among Russian prospects. The young netminder enjoyed a successful debut with Russia’s Under-18 national squad last year and will likely start for the team at this year’s Under-18 World Junior Championships.

Another player of note is Alexander Vasyunov, who for many years has been considered the top ‘88-born prospect coming out of Russia. Unfortunately, while the young forward is undoubtedly talented, at this point his development has been surpassed by that of several other talented young Russians, including those mentioned above.

In regards to players overlooked during in past drafts, Gennadi Churilov tops our list, coming in eighth among the eligible Russians. After a year in juniors, the young forward has returned to Russia and signed a deal with the Yaroslavl Locomotiv of the RSL, where he has already made his Super League debut. Churilov is followed closely by Alexei Sopin, who has enjoyed a strong preseason with Dynamo (Moscow), and will likely make his Super League debut sometime this season.

Unfortunately, the highly touted 1986-born Sergei Shirokov ranks low in our initial report, coming in only 27th. Some of the reasons for his low ranking include his inability to make a successful debut in the Super League despite numerous chances; his reportedly poor physical shape; and his diminutive stature. We feel he may still rise in the rankings, as this young forward has a wealth of potential and will continue to skate for Russia’s Under-20 national team where he enjoyed so much success last year.

A lot is still uncertain regarding the future of the prospects in RussianProspects.com’s listing of the top 30 Russians eligible for the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. The young players have a full season left to prove their talent and ability before the draft. Many of them will have a chance to showcase their abilities on the international arena at the Under-18 World Junior Championships. The Under-20 World Junior Championships is another venue that will provide some overage, undrafted prospects a second chance at a NHL future. For instance, over the past three seasons we have been very high on Dmitri Megalinsky, and after being overlooked during the two previous drafts, he was finally selected by the Ottawa Senators after an impressive performance in Grand Forks and Thief River at the U20 World Junior Championships.

COMPLETE RUSSIANPROSPECTS.COM 2006 NHL ENTRY DRAFT RATINGS

Written By: Eugene Belashchenko (RussianProspects/Hockey’s Future)

Find out all the latest information on all Russian hockey prospects at RussianProspects.com.