Ilya Krikunov first came on the scene playing in the Russian 3rd league as a 17-year-old, going scoreless in four games near the end of the season for a Russian junior team. The following year during the 2001-02 season, Krikunov played five games for a different team in the same league, and posted 9 points in only 5 games before being promoted to the Russian Upper League, only one step down from the highest professional league in Russia, and scoring 22 points in 48 games there. Russian hockey officials took notice and selected him to play for Team Russia at the IIHF’s World Under-18 tournament where he played on a line with a 16-year-old Alexander Ovechkin. Krikunov scored 3 goals and 11 points in 8 games.
In the offseason, Krikunov was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks, and came back next season to his Russian Upper League team, Elemash Elektrostrol, scoring an impressive 19 goals and 28 points in 48 games.
The 2003-04 season say Krikunov playing in the Russian Super League and having quite an impressive rookie season there, scoring 9 goals and 18 points in 47 games. He was also selected to the 2004 Russian U-18 World Junior team, and while Krikunov did not get the ice time that was expected of him, he was one of the few good performers on the team which greatly disappointed fans of the tournament.
2003-04: Krikunov delivered a solid sophomore campaign, following up his spectacular 2003-04 season. Despite being relegated from the Kamensky-Titov line because of the arrival of Atlanta’s Vyacheslav Kozlov, Krikunov continued to produce and surpassed his 2003-04 point total during the 2004-05 season. The skilled speedy winger remained healthy all season and his overall game matured in the increasingly more competitive Super League.