The number of Russian-trained players drafted into the NHL continues to decline. Last year there were six players who cut there teeth in Russia, including the newly signed Alexander Avtsin (MTL), while this year only four of the eight Russians taken were drafted from European clubs.
Vladimir Tarasenko, RW – HC Sibir Novosibirsk
1st round, 16 overall (St. Louis Blues)
When Ottawa sent a first round pick to St. Louis for Swedish blueliner David Rundblad, probably not many were thinking the Blues did this in order to draft Russian winger Vladimir Tarasenko. The pick was a bit of a surprise, but the Blues are definitely happy to have picked up a player who would have been selected much higher if it wasn’t for the infamous “Russian factor”.
Tarasenko has already two successful KHL seasons under his belt, not something that many players can place on their resume at such young age. It is worth noting he has the same statistics as Alexander Ovechkin at the same age and Ovechkin was playing for a better team in a worse RSL league. While this doesn’t mean they will have similar careers, it definitely speaks volumes about Tarasenko’s skills.
As the North American audience saw during the WJC this year and during the U18s in Fargo last year, Tarasenko is a finesse offensive player who doesn’t mind getting his nose dirty in the corners, even if he is not a physical player. Tarasenko is a sublime puck-mover and he will fit very well the role of first liner for St. Louis in the future. Even if there were some rumors of his reporting already this season, he should join the organization during the 2011 summer.
Washington decided to widen their selection of Russians picking up two other players from the Motherland during the 2010 draft with Kuznetsov and Stanislav Galiev.
Kuznetsov is showing his excellent abilities at the Capitals’ prospect camp, where head coach Bruce Boudreau had already found time to praise him and his play. Kuznetsov is a very skilled player – as he showcased at the recent WJC, where he didn’t stand out, but had some flashes of great technique – but has to learn how to properly play in the more demanding North American game.
Kuznetsov appeared really interested to cross the pond even if he signed a 2-yr deal with his KHL team Tratkor Chelyabinsk prior the draft. He said himself that he wants to come earlier, so – just like Tarasenko – Kuznetsov is most likely going to join his NHL team during the 2011 summer.
With Kuznetsov’s selection, the Caps have gained an extremely skilled prospect with first line potential. While, as said, he needs to improve his physical game, he already has the kind of skills needed to play in the NHL, but he needs to mature as player and fill out his frame.
Picking up Kitsyn, the Kings added another Russian player to the recent successful acquisitions of Vyacheslav Voinov and Andrei Loktionov. Once thought to be a sure fire first rounder, it was a little bit of a surprise to see him dropping to the sixth round, especially considering his package of skills and size (6’2, 195).
Kitsyn is a player who likes to play the puck with his smooth hands and very good shot, but he needs to work a lot on his consistency. He failed to produce regularly in the KHL even if he scored some eye-catching goals during the last two seasons. He will bring to the Kings organization technique and energy, but he’s a bit of a long shot right now. A strong 2010-11 season would ease doubts, but he definitely has the potential to have a role in the Kings’ lineup in the future, should he be able to get over his consistency problems.
A teammate of Yuri Alexandrov (BOS), it may more than a coincidence the Bruins drafted one of Alexandrov’s KHL teammates. Maxim Chudinov is an experienced player who skated a lot with team Russia in different international tournaments and has already three full pro season under his belt with Severstal Cherepovets, where he played with Alexandrov, Viktor Tikhonov (PHX) and other prospects.
Chudinov is a good, reliable two way defenseman who likes to hit and play with an edge, in spite of his relatively small frame (5’11”, 190). He needs to improve his positional play and learn to take fewer bad penalties. He has good offensive abilities, including very good passing ability and scoring skills. He doesn’t have a very powerful slapshot from the point, but he reads the ice well and knows when to jump on an opportunity. He has a good finishing touch for a defenseman and can score from various zones around the crease.
While he doesn’t have the potential to develop into a player like Sergei Gonchar or Anton Volchenkov, Chudinov has the tools to become an NHL player, even if he needs to bulk up and settle his play down. He’s expected to try with the Bruins once his two-year deal with Severstal will be over.