Vladimir Zharkov, RW, HC CSKA (Russian Super League)
HT: 6’2 WT: 187 lbs
Draft: 2006 (3rd round, 77th overall)
Zharkov continued to skate for HC CSKA, but the skilled 88-born forward hit a bit of a sophomore slump and failed to take the next step, continuing to play a marginal role on the team. Zharkov’s skill and speed are undeniable, but he just hasn’t been able to deliver results. Part of the reason for his lack of success is the team’s high aspiration, since it was aiming for a playoff spot and ended up finishing the season in fifth place. Thought to be in consideration for a spot on the Russian team for the World Junior Tournament, Zharkov did not get chosen to represent his country. In 48 games with CSKA, Zharkov scored four goals and two assists and posted a -1 rating. He was held scoreless in 12 playoff games.
The strong-skating and solidly built Zharkov will remain with CSKA next season, likely getting an opportunity to replace some of the departing forwards. CSKA head coach Vyacheslav Bykov has proven in the past that he trusts young players, often letting the player’s capability and not his age determine his ice time. The Devils knew they might have to be patient with Zharkov, as the winger was somewhat of a project type player when they selected him last summer in the 2006 Draft. His upside is tremendous; he just hasn’t reached his full potential yet. The Russian Super League is one of the tougher leagues to play in, especially for someone of Zharkov’s age, so the Devils shouldn’t be too concerned with the season he had, but have to hope that he shows some improvement in year three before convincing the Devils that he is ready to turn pro and play in North America.
Alexander Vasyunov, LW, HC Lokomotiv (Russian Super League)
HT: 6’0 WT: 184 lbs
Draft: 2006 (2nd round, 58th overall)
New Jersey just can’t catch a break with its well-known Russians as this talented young sniper also struggled to raise his game to the next level. Vasyunov, known for his speed and his scoring ability, was given an opportunity to make an impact with HC Lokomotiv, but was unable to adjust to the speed of the Super League game and struggled to effectively use his linemates. He only suited up for 17 games and was held completely off the scoresheet. Another aspect of Vasyunov’s season that was again only marginally successful was his performance at the World Junior Championship. There the expectations were even higher of the young forward, as he has enjoyed a long and impressive track record. This year, however, the young forward was surpassed by several other players, including his linemate Artem Anisimov (NYR) and younger and talented Alexander Cherepanov. He scored two goals in six games at the tournament. Vasyunov did create a lot of room for his linemates and was consistently a threat on the ice, but his lack of production and defensive shortcomings really need to be worked on.
The Devils knew they were taking a big gamble on the highly-skilled Vasyunov when they drafted him, and so far it has yet to pay off. However, there is still no doubting that Vasyunov’s array of skills and offensive talent. Plus, he is still young enough that his breakthrough season could be right around the corner. It might be in the best interest for Vasyunov to give North American hockey a try by crossing the pond, but he will remain with HC Lokomotiv for the 2007-08 season and like Zharkov will likely get additional responsibility and another chance to make an impact.
Kadeykin is quietly putting his career back together since failing to make the Devils after three years in the juniors and then having to deal with a serious shoulder injury. He spent another season in Russia’s High League in 2006-07, splitting the year between Molot Perm and Elektrostal and will likely get an chance to skate for a Super League club next year. In the 23 games he suited up in this year, Kadeykin had one goal and two assists and a -3 rating.
While it is nice to see that Kadeykin’s development is back on track, it is unlikely that New Jersey fans will see this young player back in North America any time soon. He was a highly thought of prospect a few seasons ago, but has been passed on the depth chart by several other young defenders in the Devils system and is still trying to make up for the lost development time that his shoulder injury cost him. A couple strong seasons in the Russian Super League might get him back on the Devils radar, but only time will tell if that happens.
Mikhailishin failed to make the Russian Super League in 2006-07 and ended up playing for Yuzhny Ural Orsk in the Vysshaya Liga instead, suiting up in 22 games. He was held off the scoresheet, had a -10 rating and finished with 128 PIM’s. Mikhailishin is a defensive defenseman who has an imposing frame and is not afraid to use it to his advantage. However, his below average skating was a concern when he was drafted by the Devils back in 2004, and with the NHL’s new emphasis on speed, Mikhailishin’s skating deficiencies may prevent him from becoming a legitimate NHL prospect. He was a project type of selection and at this point in time, it doesn’t appear he will be coming over to play hockey in North America any time soon. He would have been a better fit back in the clutch and grab NHL days, but unfortunately for Mikhailishin, that style of NHL play is a thing of the past.
Valeri Klimov, D, Khimik Voskresensk (Vysshaya Liga Russia)
HT: 6’4 WT: 227 lbs
Draft: 2004 (9th round, 282nd overall)
The Devils other hulking Russian defenseman, Klimov cracked the RSL as an underage player in 2005-06, but it was going to be more challenging for him to keep his spot in the line-up this time around because Russian teams in the RSL are required to dress at least two players under the age of 20, thus making it easier for a player like Klimov to make the squad. Alas, he was unable to make the cut in 2006-07 and ended up playing in Khimik Voskresensk in the same league as Mikhailishin, only suiting up in three games and posting one assist and a +2 rating. Also similar in style to Mikhailishin, Klimov is solid and reliable in his own end of the rink, but has, and likely will continue to be held back by below average skating and is unlikely to advance in the Devils organization.
Sundstrom looks to have put his injury problems behind him for the time being as he has now been injury-free for two full seasons after dealing with multiple knee injuries in years past. While playing for Bjorkloven of the Allsvenskan League, one step below the Swedish Elite League, Sundstrom played in 28 games and scored two goals and eight assists for 10 points. The son of former Devil Patrik Sundstrom, the younger Sundstrom’s strong play also earned him an invite to go and play at the World Junior Championships this past winter for Team Sweden, where he scored two goals in seven games.
Being at full health has greatly improved Sundstrom’s chance for advancement in the Devils system. Though his speed is, and will probably never be what it once was after his chronic knee problems, Sundstrom possesses good on-ice smarts and competes at a high level on a consistent basis. He has decent puck skills, will go into the tough areas to battle for the puck and has sound defensive awareness. Sundstrom’s next big test after overcoming his injury will be to see how he fares playing in the Swedish Elite League next season against tougher competition. He signed a deal to play in the SEL with Brynas, and the Devils hope to see continued improvement from Sundstrom in his game and should he play well enough, he could earn himself an NHL contract as soon as next season.
Eugene Belashchenko contributed to this article. Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.