Forward is traditionally the position that is most productive for Russia, as evidenced by the success rate of Russian-born NHL forwards and the recent good performances at the World Junior Championship.
Oddly enough, the 2014 NHL Draft saw only two Russian wingers – Nikita Scherbak (WHL) and Nikolai Goldobin (OHL) – chosen, neither one playing in Russia. Instead, the NHL teams somewhat preferred picking centers out of Russia, as can be seen from the selection of Vladislav Kamenev (NSH), Pavel Kraskovsky (WPG), and Alexander Kadeykin (DET). That said, Russia keeps on producing good wingers and many of them are today playing at home in Russia, and some of them are definitely capable of eventually playing in the NHL.
The top 5 KHL wingers prospects at a glance:
1. Pavel Buchnevich
2. Anton Slepyshev
3. Nikita Gusev
4. Yaroslav Kosov
5. Emil Galimov
Pavel Buchnevich, Severstal Cherepovets
NHL rights: New York Rangers
Drafted 75th overall, 2013
Pavel Buchnevich had a good 2014-15 campaign, even if his team, Severstal Cherepovets, missed the playoffs. In 48 regular season games, he scored 13 goals, adding 17 assists for 30 points while posting a +8 rating on one of the worst teams in the KHL’s Western Conference. Once the regular season ended, Buchnevich was sent to Severstal’s junior team in the MHL. Led by Buchnevich, Almaz (Diamond) Cherepovets made it to the second round, with Buchnevich so far scoring 12 points in six playoff contests. At the 2015 WJC, however, Buchnevich failed to be Team Russia’s scoring leader, netting just one goal during the tournament. It’s not out of the questions that Buchnevich could report to the Rangers this season as his contract in the KHL will run out on April 30th, but he could stay put, even if it’s unlikely that he will sign a new deal with Severstal.
Anton Slepyshev, Salavat Yulaev Ufa
NHL Rights: Edmonton Oilers
Drafted 88th overall, 2013
This season has been a huge step forward for Anton Slepyshev, who finally became one of the leaders of his team, Salavat Yulaev Ufa, despite his team enjoying limited success as they were defeated in five games by the KHL’s reigning champions, Metallurg Magnitogorsk. In 58 regular season games, Slepyshev scored 15 goals, compared to the three goals that he scored last season. His 15 goals may not seem like a big number, but it’s good enough to be the third scorer on his team, behind former Vancouver Canucks defensive prospect, Kirill Koltsov, and former Nashville Predators forward and 2014 Olympian, Antti Pihlstrom. Slepyshev also represented Team Russia during a phase of the Euro Hockey Tour. Much like Buchnevich, Slepyshev is now competing in the MHL playoffs with Tolpar Ufa. Slepyshev’s KHL contract will run out on April 30th, but it is still unclear if he will report to the Oilers next season. Should he make the jump, however, Slepyshev can add a good scoring touch, some good skating and a touch of grit and defensive presence to the Oilers’ organization.
Nikita Gusev, Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk
NHL Rights: Tampa Bay Lightning
Drafted 202nd overall, 2012
An incredibly gifted player, Nikita Gusev had a breakout 2014-15 season with Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk, scoring 21 goals in 55 regular season games. He also took part in the KHL All-Star Game, and became a YouTube star with a great goal scored during the shoot-out competition at that event. Gusev is a very technically sound player lacking a big frame, but he could thrive in the Tampa Bay environment as fellow countrymen Nikita Kucherov and Nikita Nesterov did this season. Gusev’s KHL deal will run out in 2016.
Yaroslav Kosov, Metallurg Magnitogorsk
NHL Rights: Florida Panthers
Drafted: 124th overall, 2011
After winning the Gagarin Cup with Metallurg Magnitogorsk last season, Yaroslav Kosov made some steps forward this season, even earning a trip with Team Russia to represent the country in international games. Being coached by Mike Keenan has been good for Kosov, who produced more this season even though his ice time did not increase. Kosov didn’t progress offensively as much as was expected, but his big frame (6’3”, 205 lbs.) and his playing style could mean an easier adaptation to the more physically demanding North American style of hockey. Kosov’s contract with Magnitogorsk will run out in 2016.
Emil Galimov, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
NHL Rights: San Jose Sharks
Drafted: 207th overall, 2013
Emil Galimov topped his previous season-high in goals scored with nine while his 18 points were the second-best result in his career, after posting 20 points in 2012-13 in a lockout season playing with Artem Anisimov (CBJ) and Team Russia regular, Sergei Plotnikov. Galimov didn’t progress as expected, however, and failed in gaining much ice-time, playing about 13 minutes a night. Considering Galimov’s somewhat limited ice time and the fact that he is already 22, the Sharks may not be in a hurry to sign him. Galimov’s deal with Yaroslavl will end in 2017.
Other interesting KHL forwards whose contracts will run out on April 30th:
Steve Moses, Jokerit Helsinki
Steve Moses had a fantastic 2014-15 season in the KHL, breaking the league record for goals scored in a single season with 36. His scoring exploits have continued during the KHL playoffs, with five goals in seven games played so far. Moses is a very fast winger with a great nose for the net and a very good shot. His main weakness is his lack of size, but he is a good competitor. That being said, he has yet to be tested on a smaller ice surface at a high level. The University of New Hampshire graduate has been heavily rumored to be moving to the NHL next season, so it will be interesting to see which team signs him to bolster their scoring lines.
Artemi Panarin, SKA St. Petersburg
Oddly never drafted despite sporting an impressive resume, Artemi Panarin is a technically sound player with great skating abilities, an excellent nose for the net, and a magician’s hands. He has also proven to be a very clutch player. Panarin was ranked fifth in KHL scoring with 62 points in 54 games. Like Moses, however, Panarin lacks size which may be challenge if he decides to cross the ocean.
Maxim Karpov, Dynamo Moscow
A typical Russian forward with good hands and a solid frame, Maxim Karpov has a very good shot and can be a very fast skater. Playing for the most North American-like Russian team, Dynamo Moscow, may have added some good aspects to his game if watching him from an NHL perspective. Karpov is a very interesting player who can produce offense if put in the right situation, as was the case this season when he finished second in scoring for Dynamo, behind former NHL prospect Kaspars Daugavins.
Follow Alessandro Seren Rosso on Twitter via @AlexSerenRosso