Evseev heads list of Russian 2002 draft eligible prospects.

By Jake Dole
As the final picks were decided for the 2001 draft, it was evident that the event embodied an outstanding depth of skilled prospects, arguably the best since the 1991 draft. Russian prospects lead the way with Ilya Kovalchuk going 1st overall, followed by Alexander Svitov at # 3 and Stanislav Chistov at #5. Kovalchuk became the first Russian prospect ever to go first overall, as he had become the clear-cut #1 choice in the minds of General Managers and the media.

A large variety of Russian youngsters were drafted. In fact, Russia represented the highest percentage of European prospects as expected. However, not since the early nineties was it that Russia showcased not only such skill but undeniably a large amount of youth. The country has visibly recovered from the recession of prospect depth through the mid-nineties.

In 2002, Russia will be represented with a new row of eligible players. Although the choice is not as deep as in 2001, the talent level is visible, no doubt about it. As expected, the variety is based on skill, speed and skating, the factors which ideally epitomized Russian hockey for decades. However, as of now there is a touch of grit, size and intensity, the words which before were not associated with the Russian style of the game. With prospects such as Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander Svitov, Pavel Vorobiev and Alexei Semenov, it is becoming clear that over the years the North American influence has largely impacted the game of hockey not only in Russia, but in Europe as a whole. The 2002 class is represented by several bigger and tougher players such as Anton Babchuk and Ivan Koltsov. The combination of size and skill is becoming the ideal way to describe the modern young Russian player, or prospect for that matter.

It seems more complicated to predict that goings on in the upcoming draft. It is more than 300 days away and the talks concerning the previous draft are still on. The debate concerning the top picks Ilya Kovalchuk and Jason Spezza will likely heat up once training camp opens. However, there have been several news that have at times shifted the view towards the 2002 draft. Jay Bowmeester’s dominance at the junior level and Kirill Koltsov’s decision to pass on the past draft, lead the way. It appeared as if Kirill’s status for June 23rd was as solid as it could have possibly been. Coming off an excellent Under-18 tournament(where he was named the top defenseman), Koltsov had the momentum in his favour. His ranking went up significantly in the Central Scouting Rankings, and he seemed to guarantee himself a 1st round position at the draft.

However, as Kirill will now compete for a spot for another year, he joins the likes of Vladislav Evseev and Anton Babchuk, which now solidifies Russia’s position in the ratings.

As of now, there are 7 clear cut prospects from Russia which are likely to go high in next year’s 2002 draft. Here is what is known currently about these names:

Vladislav Evseev. RW; Birth: 10 Sept 1984. 6’2, 187.

Vladislav will be one of the youngest prospects at the draft. There are guys who are a whole year older than he is, and thus ahead in development. However, Evseev has already proven himself as one of the most skilled prospects in the draft. He is arguably the top forward eligible, mainly highlighted by his World Under-17 Challenge performance. There, in five games Evseev collected 5 goals and 8 points. Vladislav is known for his excellent shot and flawless skating ability. Thus far, the knock on him has been lack of consistency; as at times, his on-ice positioning has been questioned. However, there’s no denying his talents; Evseev can be described as a sniper, thus mainly a scorer. Comparisons to Alexei Yashin have been drawn.

Kirill Koltsov. D; Birth: 1 Febr 1983. 6’1, 183.

After a disappointing chunk to his year, he finished off with a bang, as he excelled at the World Under-18 Championship. However, there are concerns on whether Kirill can maintain consistency for the whole year. He is extremely skilled; an excellent skater with a sneaky shot. He has solid two-way ability and finishes his checks most of the time. If he has a good year, he could easily crack the top-10 in next year’s draft.

Anton Babchuk. D; Birth: 6 May 1984. 6’4 176.

One look at him pretty much tells the story; Anton is a giant on the blueline. He is a physical, offensively capable and an intelligent hockey player. He skates surprisingly well for a big guy and possesses a laser for a shot. One knock on him is that he doesn’t shoot enough, therefore his offensive potential has been questioned at times. Nonetheless, Anton is a rare two-way specimen. If he produces up to expectations this year, expect the blueliner to crack the top 10 next year.

Denis Grebeshkov. D; Birth: 11 Oct 1983. 6’0 169.

Denis has been described as Mr. Nice Guy thus far. He plays a clean game and avoids taking stupid penalties. But don’t be fooled by his calm exterior and average size. Grebeshkov is an excellent skater, great puckhandler and possesses an extremely precise shot. Coaches have been raving about his on-ice smarts, also. This might explain Grebeshkov being the youngest member of the U-20 Russian junior squad. There he was the most consistent Russian blueliner, as he collected 2 goals, 3 points in 7 games. For team Russia, the end result was disappointing, but if any players deserved a top grade, it had to be Grebeshkov. With another solid year, expect him to make the top round in next year’s draft.

Ivan Koltsov. D; Birth: 7 Mar 1984. 6’2 180.

Here’s a prospect blessed with great size and ability. He’s not widely known for his skill, but he definitely knows how to use his size. He is defensively reliable and physical, he is an average puck handler, but he dishes the puck very well. Plays the game with intensity and aggressiveness. He is a wildcard pick in this draft, possibly similarly to the likes of Fedor Tyutin or Vladimir Korsunov of the 2001 draft.

Dmitry Kazionov. C; Birth: 13 May 1984. 6’2 183.

A skilled forward with above-average size. He’s well known for his exceptional stick-handling skills and uncanny passing ability. However, he might be the most hard-luck prospect in the draft. Last year, despite displaying great skills, he had average stats to show for it. He had several average tournaments despite looking great on the ice. Thus far, there are questions on whether he’s a good finisher. However, if any improvements occur in his offensive production this year, expect him to rise quickly up the rankings.

Sergei Shemetov. RW; Birth: 3 Sept 1984. 6’0 161.

Here’s a prototypical skilled Russian winger. He’s a fine skater with great hands. His moves smoothly along the ice and handles the puck with great precision. There are questions about consistency and defensive ability. Known for scoring goals in bunches and on fast breaks. Another wild card pick in the draft.

These are the youngsters who thus far have made the most noise over in Russia. There are other intriguing names out there, namely Yuri Artemenkov, Alexander Semin, and Kirill Stepanov. Info on these particular prospects will be supplied as soon as available.

I will, also, offer my opinion regarding other 2002 draft-eligible prospects sometime in the future.