Because of changes made in the previous two collective bargaining agreements, NHL teams have been hesitant to select Russians in the draft, particularly early on. An increasing amount have also moved to North America to play in Canadian juniors, which has further dwindled the amount of players taken directly out of Russia.
That being said, Russia keeps on producing excellent players and the 2013 draft class is no exception.
Top prospects for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft at a glance:
1. Valeri Nichushkin, RW, 6'3, 200 lbs, Dynamo Moscow
Just named KHL Rookie of the Year, Valeri Nichushkin had a very busy off-season. After being shuttling between his home team Traktor Chelyabinsk and Team Russia for his participation at the U18 WJC's, the winger was traded to the KHL's reigning back-to-back champions Dynamo Moscow. Nichushkin apparently was a bit upset by Traktor's decision, so he negotiated a buyout of his contract with Dynamo in order to pursue his dream to play in the NHL. The big forward has been very vocal regarding his desire to play in the NHL and this certainly will help him to get drafted higher. Whoever selects Nichushkin will get a very interesting player with plenty of potential.
2. Pavel Buchnevich, W/C, 6'1, 170 lbs, Severstal Cherepovets
Unlike Nichushkin, Pavel Buchnevich did not yet make any declaration about his future in the NHL, stating he will honor his contract with Severstal Cherepovets which is due to run out after the 2013-14 season. Buchnevich is a fast player with good hands and hockey sense who plays a prototypical Russian game. He will have to work on his strength and physical presence before he can even think about crossing the pond however. At this point Buchnevich is a very interesting prospect, but still needs some seasoning. A couple of years in the KHL would help his chances to become an impact player at the NHL level.
3. Bogdan Yakimov, C, 6'4, 201 lbs, Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk
Yakimov has an NHL body and a good set of hands. He had a very good season in the VHL, the second tier Russian league, and like Buchnevich, intends to honor his contract with Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk. Yakimov can use his size at his advantage, but has to work on his overall game and defensive coverage. He already stated he would be willing to play a couple of seasons in the AHL to improve his chances onto the NHL stage.
4. Marko Dano, C/W, 5'11, 185 lbs, HC Slovan Bratislava
An Austrian-born center, Dano moved to the KHL from the Slovakia Extraliga this past season and managed three goals and seven points in 37 KHL regular season games. Dano also represented Slovakia at the U20 WJC in Russia and at the senior WC in Sweden and Finland. The 19-years-old forward is a very interesting prospect as he can play effective two-way hockey completed with a technique-sound overall play. His game will probably allow him a swift adaptation to the North American ice surface if he gets the chance.
5. Rushan Rafikov, D, 6'1, 185 lbs, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
Rafikov is a mobile defenseman who can play a physical game, but needs to mature a lot in order to play in the NHL. The Lokomotiv Yaroslavl player can become a NHL-caliber blueliner if he keeps on improving his skating, defensive awareness, and physical abilities. He also needs to bulk up a bit because it will be tough for him to play his typical hard-nosed style in North American rinks.
6. Andrei Mironov, D, 6'2, 180 lbs, Dynamo Moscow
The Moscow-born Andrei Mironov had an excellent rookie season in the KHL as part of the Gagarin Cup-winning team Dynamo Moscow. Mironov is a defensive blueliner with good physical abilities and excellent defensive coverage skills. He needs to bulk up a bit and improve his skating however, and does not have a very high offensive ceiling. Mironov was not on many radars a year ago, but his performance during the 2012-13 KHL season and at the WJC might have turned on some attention from the scouts.
7. Sergei Stetsenko, D, 6'3, 190 lbs, CSKA Moscow
Stetsenko did not exactly raise his stock at the recent U18s as he first picked up a two-game suspension, then failed to impress in the remaining games he played at the tournament. The Podolsk, Russia, native is an interesting defense-first prospect with an NHL body and good defensive instincts. He is still fairly raw at this point however.
Other draft eligible Russian prospects: