As the NHL season is beginning a new month, the Russian Super League season is quickly winding down and its playoffs will start within a week. Now that the season is almost over, it is time to evaluate how young talented Russian players fared thus far. This first installment discusses eight of the most talented young prospects out of Russia who made the most impact on their respective Super League teams. Some names will come as no surprises, but there are a few newcomers, including Washington’s Semen Varlamov and Toronto’s Nikolai Kulemin, who burst onto the Super League scene.
Kulemin did not fall victim to a sophomore slump after a strong 2005-06 campaign and continued to perform well this season. The young forward is established as one of the Super League’s top goal scorers, possessing an array of shots including a hard wrist shot. Technically sound, though not flashy, Kulemin has a reputation for being a hard worker and not hesitating to crash the net. He never gives up on a play and is very hard to keep away from the puck, as he fights very hard at the boards and in the corners. This season the 88-born Toronto Maple Leafs prospect has continued to get called up regularly to Russia‘s senior national team. There he has not enjoyed as much success as in the Super League, but his hard work has paid off and Kulemin has looked stronger every tournament.
After not being able to arrive at an agreement with the New York Islanders, now an Edmonton Oilers prospect Grebeshkov signed a deal with his Russian home club HC Lokomotiv. The young defenseman has consistently been one of the Russian club’s top four defensemen, skating on a pairing with former Boston Bruins prospect and Olympic team member Sergei Zhukov. The club underachieved earlier in the season, but has picked up recently after the second coaching change, and Grebeshkov has become more aggressive and assertive in the latest games on both ends of the ice. His performance did not go unnoticed, and Grebeshkov represented Russia at the LG Sweden Games and delivered a spirited and strong performance. At the tournament, under an offensively-minded head coach, the New York Islanders prospect has become more willing to shoot the puck. He has also become more assertive at the boards, and defensively sounder, though still occasionally prone to an occasional turnover. Overall, Grebeshkov is an NHL-caliber defenseman who belongs back in North America next season.
Parshin is enjoying a career season with HC CSKA. The young forward rebounded strongly from a mediocre 2005-06 campaign to fulfill a lot of expectations placed on his shoulders by a number of hockey experts in Russia, who called him one of the most gifted 86-born forwards. This season Parshin clearly stands out with his confidence and hockey sense, becoming very effective, especially in the offensive end of the ice. He has also improved his speed, scoring a number of goals on breakaways. Parhsin’s success at least in part is owed to the great effectiveness of his line with Sergei Shirokov (VAN) and Alexander Nikulin (OTT). The three have combined to form one of the most versatile scoring units in the Super League that was at one point in the race for being the most productive, competing against the best known league veterans and former NHLer. However, a serious test to Parshin’s ability came when Nikulin went down with a leg injury and the productive unit fell apart. Parshin handled it and continued to play well. Just like Igor Mirnov, Parshin made his national team debut at the LG Sweden games, though his debut was much shorter and lasted only a few shifts during two of the three contests. Thus, his grade for international competition would at best be incomplete.
Varlamov made some headlines after being the first Russian drafted in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. After starting the season as HC Lokomotiv ‘s backup, he quickly took over the starting role after the team’s early struggles. He also shone at the U20 World Junior Championships, backstopping Russia to the silver medals. A maneuverable butterfly style netminder, Varlamov possesses impressive reaction, especially on the glove side. Lokomotiv’s recent success is largely due to his steady play in net. Still, it is too early to project this young goalie to become Team Russia’s starter in the near future, as he is yet to see any international competition at the senior level. He will continue to skate for Russia’s U20 squad next season and may see some limited duty on the senior squad in the EuroTour tournaments. He had his first chance to back up Team Russia at the LG Games in Sweden, but came down with the flu and was forced to miss the tournament.
Widely recognized as the most offensively gifted blue liner in Russian hockey, Koltsov has continued to play very well in the Super League. A quick skater with great puckhandling skills and a very dangerous wrist shot, Koltsov has been a serious scoring threat against any team. With that said, however, he also has had a number of his defensive lapses. In the Super League the young defenseman has been more effective and these lapses have been rarer, despite his constant involvement on offense. On the national team, however, Koltsov’s periodic over involvement on the offensive end of the ice have cost the Russian team dearly at the LG Sweden Games. Overall, Koltsov has continued to develop well and has actually become more effective at both ends of the ice. He is an NHL-caliber blue liner, but will have to learn to play his position or play with forwards who will effectively compensate for him.
Kaigorodov continues to be one of Russia’s top centers. He quickly adjusted upon his return to Magnitogorsk after a short stay in Ottawa and has been one of the main reasons for that club’s turnaround and arrival back at the top of the Super League rankings. A crafty center with great hands, Kaigorodov sees the ice well and uses his linemates effectively. He does however continues to have difficulties at the boards, but being average sized, the physical game has never been his strong suit. This will be Kaigorodov’s second season as a leader at the Super League level and the young center has been filling the role very well. Still, there is concern about his ability to adjust to the smaller and faster North American ice surface, as well as the faster and more physical pace of the game. Interestingly, part of the issue may have been the hefty expectations placed on his shoulders by the Ottawa staff, as he was instantly expected to fill in a second line position with a lot of responsibility. Furthermore, Kaigorodov himself alleges that he received very little, if any, guidance from the coaching staff in regards to how he could improve and get more ice time. In any case, his success in Russia will not avail these concerns until he comes back and tries out for the Phoenix Coyotes.
Last summer Ottawa Senators prospect rejected the NHL club’s training camp offer with a reported promise of a modest two-way contract. He may have made the right choice, since Mirnov is enjoying a career season and is on track to double his best full season production totals. Beyond the statistics, Mirnov has become one of HC Dynamo’s leading forwards, though his leadership presence with the club likely diminished after the midseason incident when he unsuccessfully attempted to leave struggling HC Dynamo. Mirnov’s success in Russia has earned him a first invitation to the senior national team with which he skated at the LG EuroTour Games in Sweden. Mirnov did not impress in a limited role given to him at the tournament and had some trouble adjusting to his new linemates. While not being able to develop much offense, Mirnov did show off his quick wrist shot on a couple of occasions, especially his move of attacking the goalie from a deceivingly sharp angle on the far post. He did also stand out in his defensive awareness, as he often compensated for the center in the defensive responsibilities.
8. Igor Volkov, RW (New York Islanders)
Volkov has continued to perform at a high level, as he has for the past four seasons, once again establishing himself as one of the top HC Salavat snipers. The shifty, technical forward with impressive puckhandling, Volkov thrives in open ice and makes space for himself. He sees the ice well and fights hard in the offensive zone, also playing well without the puck. The average-sized Volkov hasn’t shown as much effectiveness in traffic, though he continues to move his legs and fight for space. One definite change in the young forward’s career this season has been his growing role on Russia’s national team. While still a long shot for the World Championships squad, Volkov has taken an injury fill-in opportunity in November to carve out a full time role during the past two international EuroTour tournaments. Volkov has been a strong supporting cast on Team Russia and has looked especially effective on the wing with Phoenix Coyotes center Kaigorodov.
SUPER LEAGUE STATISTICS:
|Kulemin, N||LW||Metallurg (Magnitogorsk)||50||26||11||37||38||17||Toronto Maple Leafs|
|Grebeshkov, D||D||Lokomotiv (Yaroslavl)||44||6||7||13||75||4||New York Islanders|
|Volkov, I||RW||Salavat Yulayev (Ufa)||49||10||11||21||38||11||New York Islanders|
|Kaigorodov, A||C||Metallurg (Magnitogorsk)||28||5||11||16||12||6||Phoenix Coyotes|
|Mirnov, I||RW||Dynamo (Moscow)||45||21||23||44||42||8||Ottawa Senators|
|Parshin, D||RW||CSKA (Moscow)||50||17||14||31||22||2||Colorado Avalanche|
|Koltsov, K||D||Avangard (Omsk)||47||8||26||34||40||11||Vancouver Canucks|
|Varlamov, S.||G||Lokomotiv (Yaroslavl)||31||15||7||6||3||1811||2.12||Washington Capitals|
LG Games Statistics:
Honorable Mentions: Sergei Mozyakin, Sergei Zinovjev, Dmitry Vorobiev, Alexei Emelin, Konstantin Barulin, Konstantin Glazachev, Ivan Nepriayev, Sergei Shirokov, Enver Lisin, Ilya Zubov, Dmitri Semin, Denis Platonov.
Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.