Top 10 Russia prospects for 2010

By Alessandro Seren Rosso

In spite of the recent lack of success with the different national teams, Russia keeps on producing good players and the 2010 class looks like a particularly good one after the disappointment of 2009 when only seven Russian prospects were drafted. The 2010 class looks good for Russia also as far as the quality of the those already overseas, like Kirill Kabanov, Stanislav Galiev and Ivan Telegin.

Top 10 at a glance
1.    Vladimir Tarasenko, F, Sibir Novosibirsk
2.    Evgeny Kuznetsov, F, Traktor Chelyabinsk
3.    Maxim Kitsyn, F, Metallurg Novokuznetsk
4.    Nikita Zaitsev, D, Sibir Novosibirsk
5.    Alexei Marchenko, D, CSKA Moscow
6.    Sergei Barbashev, F, CSKA Moscow
7.    Alexander Gogolev, F, Spartak Moscow
8.    Pavel Kulikov, F, Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk
9.    Nikita Gusev, F, CSKA Moscow
10.    Vladislav Kartaev, F, Salavat Yulaev Ufa

1.    Vladimir Tarasenko, RW

6’1”, 200 lbs, Sibir Novosibirsk, KHL
CSS Final Rankings: #2 European skater

An all-around forward, Tarasenko is a gifted, capable offensive player with good commitment in the defensive zone. He’s not a physical or a defensive player, but he has an uncommon will to get back to protect the zone, to get down to block shots and this kind of “dirty job” that is very valuable in the more demanding North American game. But he’s mostly an offensive talent and he showcased his skills in the latest two KHL seasons. He has great numbers for an 18-year-old, scoring 13 goals and 24 points (the same exact amount scored by Ovechkin in his draft year, but playing 10 games fewer) during this season, constantly playing in the team’s top six.

What can keep teams from picking him with a high first-round pick is his commitment to the KHL. He already declared numerous times that he’s going to spend the 2010-11 season with his Sibir Novosibirsk (his father Andrei is one of the team’s coaches), but probably, considering the wave of Russian players coming to America this year and last year, the infamous Russian factor has been a bit overstated.

2.    Evgeny Kuznetsov, RW
6’0”, 174 lbs, Traktor Chelyabinsk, KHL
CSS Final Rankings: #3 European skater

Kuznetsov is an exciting player because of his great set of hands, technique and skating. He is a prototypical Russian forward with a big bag of tricks that makes him a dangerous player in one-on-one situations. He had a busy season, playing in both KHL and MHL (Russian junior league) and in both U18 and U20 WJC. While surely many teams will be impressed by his impressive skill set, many others will probably shy away from his lack of size, lack of defensive play and undisciplined play. He can amass a lot of unnecessary penalties, but it’s a fixable issue, while the other two seem more problematic.

3.    Maxim Kitsyn, LW

6’2”, 194 lbs, Metallurg Novokuznetsk, KHL
CSS Final Rankings: #6 European skater

A power forward on the rise, Kitsyn is a player with a good size and a very good touch around the crease. He was once thought to become the first overall pick for the 2010 selections, but then he didn’t physically grow as expected, even if he is still a very interesting prospect. In spite of his undeniable talent, there is the usual problem with all Russian players, will he come over or not? But at the draft combine most teams should have asked him this question, and we’ll see if he managed to reply and convince NHL owners. Kitsyn has surely first-round talent, thanks to his ability to play both in the slot and score dirty goals and playing more a perimeter style, skating past defensemen.

4.    Nikita Zaitsev, D
6’1”, 176 lbs, Sibir Novosibirsk, KHL
CSS Final Rankings: #13 European Skater

Zaitsev started making a name for himself at the 2009 U18 WC, where he collected a good amount of points especially thanks to his good passing play. He didn’t manage to repeat that kind of success in his first KHL season despite getting good ice time. At KHL level he didn’t play as creatively and he looked more concerned about making errors in the own zone. This prudence shows that he is an intelligent player and he knows that overdoing is dangerous, but he needs to be more creative and try to play more adventurously at pro level as well. He has decent size, but needs to use it more and start physically challenging  players more instead of trying to poke check them.

5.    Alexei Marchenko, D
6’0”, 165 lbs, CSKA Moscow, KHL
CSS Final Rankings: #12 European Skater

Marchenko might be the dark horse of this draft. He didn’t get much attention as he missed the U18 WJC, but he was Team Russia’s No. 1 defenseman in coach Vasiliev’s plans. Marchenko is a very interesting offensive defenseman with well above average technique and skating. He likes to bring up the puck, but he rarely exaggerates. He has good defensive abilities too and he is capable of playing aggressively without getting many PIMs. On the down side, he spent most of the season with CSKA’s junior team and he struggled to get significant ice time with the senior team. He played 10 games, averaging less than four minutes a game. Even if he’s still not ready to cross the pond, he has a big upside and might get some interest on the draft’s second day.

6.    Sergei Barbashev, LW

6’0”, 170 lbs, CSKA-Red Army, MHL
CSS Final Rankings: #22 European Skater

A smart player, Barbashev is a fast winger who can be very effective in the offensive zone. Gifted with good skating and a very good hockey intelligence, Barbashev is a versatile player and he showcased most of his skills at the recent U18 WC in Minsk, Belarus, in which he scored eight points in seven games. He is both a very good goal scorer and playmaker and a good threat every time he gets in the zone. The downside with him is his lack of size and defensive play. He isn’t ready to play pro hockey yet.

7.    Alexander Gogolev, RW

5’11”, 170 lbs, Spartak Moscow Jrs, MHL
CSS Final Rankings: #26 European Skater

Gogolev is another interesting junior player with a great offensive awareness and undeniable skills. He has a very good passing play combined with a fast skating, and this makes him an intriguing prospect. But just like many other Russian youngsters, Gogolev needs to  increase his physical presence on ice and his defensive coverage. But his vision and reading of the play might alone give a call during the selection, as teams might have spotted his playmaking abilities even if he didn’t skate in the recent U18 WC.

8.    Pavel Kulikov, C
6’0”, 190 lbs, Reaktor, MHL
CSS Final Rankings: #42 European Skater

Kulikov is an interesting prospect as he can play both scoring and checking lines, in some way comparable to Canucks prospect Ilya Kablukov. Kulikov has more size though, and his good frame might have intrigued some teams in the recent international tournaments. He is a good playmaker with good technique, but he has to work on his finishing touch. He needs to be more effective in converting his scoring chances into goals. He is a good puck handler, but he needs to work on his consistency and his actual contribution on the score sheet.

9.    Nikita Gusev, LW

5’9”, 160 lbs, CSKA Red Army, MHL
CSS Final Rankings: #19 European Skater

A gifted winger with speed to burn, Gusev might be an exciting player to watch, especially when the game opens up. He is an excellent breakaway player because of his great hands and soft hands, but his playing style might be not that effective in the more demanding North American game and the small rinks. His biggest downside is his size. At only 5’9, 160 lbs he needs tons of skills to be effective in the NA system. He has a lot, especially when he’s free to dangle in the offensive zone, but he’s going nowhere far with such a frame. He also has to work on his defensive play.

10.    Vladislav Kartaev, C
6’2”, 155 lbs, Tolpar Ufa, MHL
CSS Final Rankings: #16 European Skater

A player who is capable both at center and wing, Kartaev is has a good scoring touch. He played all the season under the radar and he came out at full pace at the end, he was ranked by the CSS only in their final rankings. Once Kuznetsov’s teammate in Chelyabinsk, Kartaev then moved to Ufa and this year he played in the Russian junior league. His small frame isn’t ready to take the demanding style played in North America and thus teams will likely shy away from him, but maybe someone will try and make a low-risk, high-reward type of pick by selecting Kartaev.

Honorable Mentions

Nikita Dvurechensky, LW, 6’2”, 185 lbs, Dynamo Moscow

Dvurechensky is a player with a good size and very good technique who many compare to his teammate Alexander Avtsin (MTL). He played instead of Avtsin when the Habs prospect suffered from a hand injury, and he scored one goal and one assist in 11 games, not a bad result for a 19-year-old player. He was overlooked in last year’s draft, but his size and technique might give him some attention.

Anatoli Nikontsev, RW, 6’0”, 180, Avtomobilist Ekaterinburg
Twice overlooked on draft day, Nikontsev is a very fast player with good scoring abilities. He had an excellent second part of the season and has got rookie of the year honors in the KHL. He needs to polish up his play, but he’s a player who can score and make things happen with his excellent skating.