Russia/KHL 2013 draft review

By Alessandro Seren Rosso
Valeri Nichushkin - Dallas Stars

Photo: Dallas Stars prospect Valeri Nichushkin was the first Russian player chosen at the 2013 NHL Draft, going 10th overall to the Stars (courtesy of Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

 

The number of players drafted out of the KHL at the 2013 NHL Draft wasn’t large, but confirmations and surprises were there as always in each NHL Draft. The scarce number of players coming out of the top Russian league is due not only to the infamous “Russian Factor”, but also to the fact that many junior players are now playing in the CHL, something that wasn’t happening as often until recent years.

As it happens every year, many Russian players were surprisingly undrafted. Among the players in the CHL, it was very odd not to hear Sergei Tolchinsky’s name called during the selections, although he received an invitation to the rookie camp of the New York Rangers. Of the prospects playing in Russia, Andrei Mironov could have gotten a call from an NHL team after his good season with back-to-back KHL champions, Moscow Dynamo, but he went undrafted. This highlights another rising trend when dealing with Russian players, namely the fact that more are being drafted one or two years after their first draft-eligible year, so it is possible Mironov (and other prospects) will get more attention next year.

Here, then, are the Russian and non-Russian KHL players chosen at the 2013 NHL Draft.

Valeri Nichushkin, RW – Dynamo Moscow
Drafted 10th overall by the Dallas Stars

As expected, Valeri Nichushkin (DAL) was the first Russian player picked in this draft. But the mild surprise was that he waited until the tenth pick to have his name called, since many observers expected Nichushkin to be chosen in the top five. Nichushkin’s pre-draft statements might have scared off some of the teams picking higher, however. In a number of interviews, the 18-year-old talented forward declared that he isn’t interested in playing in the AHL and that he’d rather play with Moscow Dynamo than in the minor leagues. That being said, the power forward got an entry level contract and will start the season in Texas. Differently from other Russian prospects, Nichushkin can be valuable to his team even playing in the bottom six, which can help him win a spot in the lineup in his first season. Oddly enough, considering the rebuild phase the Stars are committed to, and the situation of Moscow Dynamo, which are seeking a Gagarin Cup three-peat next year and have a very stacked team with players playing together for many years, he would likely have to struggle more with his KHL team to get regular ice time.

Marko Dano, C – HC Slovan Bratislava
Drafted 27th overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets

This was probably one of the surprise picks of the draft. Everyone expected Dano to be drafted, but maybe not in the first round and before more highly-touted European forwards like Valentin Zykov or Jacob de la Rose. Dano is a very interesting prospect as he is a good, two-way center with good skating and smooth hands who already has pro experience as he played pro hockey in both his home country of Slovakia and in the KHL. In the top Russian league, Dano saw limited ice time, but nevertheless managed to impress scouts with his reliable play and good performance at the WJC in Ufa. Dano has a contract through the 2014-15 season, but recently Slovan management has been quoted as willing to let the young Slovak go to the NHL. That being said, a further year or two of seasoning in the KHL certainly won't hurt Dano’s development.

Pavel Buchnevich, W – Severstal Cherepovets
Drafted 75th overall by the New York Rangers

Buchnevich is another player whose stock would have been vastly higher if it wasn’t for the so-called “Russian factor” as he is a very valuable prospect with KHL and international experience. Buchnevich had a very good season in Russia, scoring 23 points in 24 games in the MHL and scoring his first KHL goal, but his ice time with the senior team was limited. Recently the gifted forward stated that he intends on honoring his deal with Severstal Cherepovets, thus he will most likely cross the pond in 2015.

Bogdan Yakimov, C – Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk
Drafted 83rd overall by the Edmonton Oilers

Yakimov is a very interesting prospect with elite size and good hands, two parameters that surely got a lot of attention from the scouts. Yakimov, a former teammate of Nail Yakupov in junior hockey, had a good development season back in Russia with 22 points in 37 games in the Russian High League, and 13 points in 11 games in the MHL. Next year he’ll get a chance in the KHL and it will be interesting to see how well he competes after playing a solid pro season in the VHL. Yakimov will most likely cross the Atlantic next year and has already declared that he isn't bothered by the prospect of spending a couple of seasons in the AHL.

Anton Slepyshev, LW – Salavat Yulaev Ufa
Drafted 88th overall by the Edmonton Oilers

After drafting Yakupov, Yakimov and Slepyshev, the Oilers constructed what could be a good scoring line in the 15-16 season. Slepyshev is a former #1 pick in the KHL Draft who this season was sent to the contending Salavat Yulaev Ufa squad where he had a good adaptation on a veteran-stacked team, scoring 4 goals in 11 regular season games. In the playoffs, he had limited ice time and was held pointless. Slepyshev is a talented player with good skating and a great nose for the net. He is a very interesting player, but still a bit raw and will certainly need some seasoning in the KHL before even thinking about playing in the NHL.

Kristers Gudlevskis, G – Dinamo Riga
Drafted 124th overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay keeps on drafting from the KHL and this year added Latvian goalie Kristers Gudlevskis, one of the finest junior goalies in the MHL who this season finally had his first two games in pro hockey. Gudlevskis also played four very good games at the recent World Championship without looking out of place, definitely a good sign for a 20-year-old goalie. Gudlevskis will finally be the backup goalie next year for Riga and it will be interesting to see how good he will be in his first full pro season. The athletic goalie definitely has a lot of potential, so this pick by the Lightning might reveal to be in the next few years one of the best in terms of risk/reward ratio.

Rushan Rafikov, D – Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
Drafted 187th overall by the Calgary Flames

A seventh round pick might be a good price to pay for a talented Russian player and this certainly is true for Rushan Rafikov, a good two-way defenseman chosen by the Flames. The young defender didn’t look overly NHL-focused in the days following the draft, but this might be due to the fact that he’s well aware of not yet being ready to move to North America, and instead being better served by trying to crack the KHL lineup first. Rafikov is a reliable defenseman who can play physically, but needs to bulk up a bit and improve his overall play.

Emil Galimov, RW/C – Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
Drafted 207th overall by the San Jose Sharks

Galimov is a very talented player with some good offensive potential, but without much grit and defensive skills. The 21-year-old winger, who like Yakupov and Yakimov hails from Nizhnekamsk, had a breakout season in 2012-13 as he broke into his team’s first line, playing with Artem Anisimov during the lockout. Lokomotiv’s first line, which also included another young player in Sergei Plotnikov, was one of the KHL's finest in the first half of the year and played well without Anisimov, too. However, Galimov is more of a finesse player who fits the role of top-six winger, so it won’t be easy for him to get a spot in the Sharks’ lineup on the first two lines. Considering that he'll most likely discuss crossing the pond with the Sharks once his deal is done in 2015, playing in the AHL hardly will be an attractive option for a 25-year-old player. But if he keeps on progressing, Galimov would be able to offer a very good secondary scoring option, which would be good value for a seventh round pick.

Follow Alessandro Seren Rosso on Twitter via @AlexSerenRosso