Prokhorkin the best of a thin crop of center prospects playing in the KHL

By Alessandro Seren Rosso

Patrick Bjorkstrand - Team Denmark

Photo: Medvescak Zagreb forward Patrick Bjorkstrand, shown here competing for Denmark at the 2013 World Championship, could be looking to follow his brother Oliver to North America after a solid 2013-14 season in the KHL (courtesy of JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)

The infamous "Russian Factor" is taking its toll on the sheer number of drafted prospects playing in Russia as nowadays, the NHL franchises are scared to draft directly from Russia, causing many top prospects to decide to cross the pond earlier and play some seasons in the Canadian major junior system in order to improve their chances of being chosen at the NHL Draft.

That being said, Russia has struggled in producing consistent talent at the center position, with most of the first- or second-line centers on the KHL teams being either veterans or import players. Moreover, Marko Dano decided to finish the season within the Columbus Blue Jackets organization, removing another center prospect from this ranking.

In recent years, Russia managed to fix one of their perennial problems, developing a good number of high-level goalkeepers, including Sergei Bobrovsky, Semyon Varlamov, Anton Khudobin at the NHL level; Andrei Vasilevsky in the KHL; and several goalkeepers who played very well at the different WJC tournaments including Igor Bobkov and Andrei Makarov. Russia also has developed the usual good number of wingers, but has struggled with the center and defense positions. Perhaps this is one of the main reasons Team Russia always manages to ice a very powerful team on paper at big tournaments like the Olympic Games without managing to deliver good performances.

There is still some good center talent competing in Russia, however, with six of those players being featured in this ranking of drafted and undrafted Russian centers playing in the KHL.

Top 3 drafted centers

Nikolai Prokhorkin, CSKA Moscow
Drafted in the fourth round, 121st overall, in 2012 by the Los Angeles Kings

Equally capable of playing center or wing, Prokhorkin had a spectacular season in the KHL, scoring 19 goals and 37 points in 52 regular season games. But more than the raw figure given by points, the most promising aspect of Prokhorkin’s season has been the fact that he could lead a good team like CSKA populated by many veteran players (including Alexander Radulov, Alexei Morozov, Igor Grigorenko, and many others) while also receiving consideration for the national team, where he was one of the last cuts from the 2014 World Championship squad. Prokhorkin has obviously progressed since his first taste of North American play with the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL, so it will be interesting to see how he will fare in his second attempt. Prokhorkin has declared more than once that he is interested in attempting to again compete for a spot in the NHL, but he still has one year left on his current contract with CSKA.

Bogdan Yakimov, Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk
Drafted in the third round, 83rd overall, in 2013 by the Edmonton Oilers

Yakimov is a large center with an NHL body who probably lacks the offensive upside to be a true top prospect. He had a good showing at the most recent WJC, where he was an alternate captain for Team Russia and finished the tournament with one goal and one assist while helping the team to return home with a bronze medal. In this WJC, Yakimov's qualities and weak points were pretty much equally showcased: he demonstrated that he can be a physical player with a good set of hands, but lacks the foot speed and creativity to land a top-six role in the NHL. In any case, Yakimov is a hard working kind of player who is willing to spend some time in the AHL to develop his game, which should top out in a checking line role. In spite of having some holes in his game, Yakimov’s body and good hands could still allow him to become a solid NHL player.

Artur Gavrus, Dinamo Minsk
Drafted in the sixth round, 120th overall, in 2012 by the New Jersey Devils

Gavrus was drafted by the Devils after a good season with the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL, and this season decided to sign a one-year deal with Dinamo Minsk of the KHL. His season wasn’t too good, as he managed to score just one goal during the season while adding just three helpers. But the season has been a disaster since the start for the whole team, which missed the playoffs once again. On the bright side, Gavrus was the top scorer and one of the top forwards at the recent WJC Div. 1A tournament, where Belarus finished in third place. Gavrus scored five goals and 11 points in the six games of the tournament. His one-year deal is set to end soon, so it is yet to be seen where Gavrus will play next season.

Top 3 undrafted centers

Fyodor Malykhin, Avtomobilits Yekaterinburg
Born 1990

The 23-year-old from Yekaterinburg had a spectacular season with Avtomobilist, scoring 22 goals and as many assists in 54 games and bringing his team to the KHL playoffs for the first time. Malykhin supposedly even gained some attention from North American teams, and he was certainly one of the more interesting players from the KHL season's midpoint. Malykhin is a technically gifted center with soft hands and excellent puck skills. He has played almost his entire career in Yekaterinburg, a part of a couple of seasons in Chelyabinsk when he was younger, but never played for Team Russia at the junior level. Malykhin did play a handful of games with Team Russia this season without shining too much, and his lack of experience is certainly something he would probably need to fix before thinking about playing in North America.

Alexander Kadeikin, Atlant Mytischi
Born 1993

Alexander Kadeikin is a large center whose size is definitely appealing to North American scouts (6’5”, 216 lbs). He had a very good season with Atlant, scoring 8 goals and 23 points in 54 regular season games, very solid numbers for a 20-year-old player, and good enough to be his team’s top scorer. Kadeikin’s strong points, other than his size, include a good passing game, solid finishing abilities and good skating. He spent the season on a line that likely was one of the tallest in the entire hockey world since, along with Kadeikin, it was comprised of former NHL players Evgeny Artyukhin (6’5”) and Alexei Mikhnov (6’5”).

Patrick Bjorkstrand, Medvescak Zagreb
Born 1992

Oliver Bjorkstrand’s older brother, Patrick, moved from Mora of the Swedish Allsvenskan to Medvescak Zagreb of the KHL this summer. The move paid off as Bjorkstrand had a good debut season in Croatia, scoring four goals and 13 points in 54 regular season games and earning a new contract for next season. Bjorkstrand is a playmaking center with good vision and puck skills and is a very interesting player for the future.

Follow Alessandro Seren Rosso on Twitter via @AlexSerenRosso