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.
Like many Russian players, Krikunov can do most things in the offensive zone very well. A skilled skater, shooter, and especially playmaker, he is excellent in the offensive zone, though his defensive play is quite lacking. Lacking size, strength, balance, and a strong awareness in the defensive zone, Krikunov will never win any defensive awards in any league. Still, his offensive skills are what is the most attractive of his abilities. He is a very creative player, and looks to find good plays, yet still doesn’t hesitate to shoot the puck when the opportunity arises. As well with many Russian players, there is question as to whether or not the Russian pass-and-shoot game can translate well into a more gritty game in the NHL with less space to operate. Still, Krikunov is a clever player, and one imagines that this is something that certainly his mind won’t have a problem getting around, but his body might. Like any other small player, the concerns about his size come to the forefront.
Considering Krikunov’s stature in the Super League and the league’s rising salaries that potentially match the NHL’s, it is unlikely that Vancouver can sign him away from Khimik with a two-way contract without a significant signing bonus. Krikunov is a rare player with a cocky attitude, but also with the tenacity and a skill set to match his attitude and likely make it in the NHL if the opportunity arises. He has the potential to be a second-line NHL center.