Beyond the first round

By Jake Dole
The 2001 NHL entry draft was, no doubt, one of the deepest in history. With the mass of talent from all over the world, NHL General Mangers were presented with the tough task of selecting young players, relying mainly on scouting, interviews, physical characteristics and personal likings. A fair share of surprises occurred during the draft. In the first round, the Boston Bruins selected Shaone Morrisonn, a tall, lanky kid from Kamloops. Despite his obvious talents, the Bruins were criticized for taking a chance on a player who many thought was inconsistent. The New Jersey Devils, with the 28th overall pick, selected Adrian Foster, a winger from Saskatoon, WHL. The same Adrian Foster who played only 5 games during the year.

There is no question that as soon as the surefire picks are gone, the rest of the draft turns into a crapshoot. General Managers try to hit home runs by the virtue of selecting those with potential, size and some hockey sense, and hope that some day, the tools come together into a package that winds up to be a solid NHL player.

It is interesting to point out that at the draft, Russia was represented by a bundle of hockey talent. Whether in the first round, or in the ninth round, there were players that embodied an undoubtedly rich bulk of potential; maybe more than any other country. To me, it was especially vital to appreciate where the less publicized and advertised names went. The troika of Kovalchuk, Svitov and Chistov was a top 5 lock, months before the draft.

The first round was probably the most relaxing round for all the GM’s (especially for Don Waddell), in preparation for what was to come. The upcoming rounds truly define a team’s efficiency in drafting. This is proven year after year by teams like New Jersey and Ottawa, which pride themselves for having everyday lineups consisting of late-round gems.

Although, I won’t go too deep into the 2001 entry draft, I do want to observe some of those Russian prospects that went outside the first round.

The Nashville Predators picking at #33, selected a left winger by the name of Timofei Shishkanov. It was, by no means, a surprise, that he went early in the 2nd round. In fact, the 6’1, 200 pounder with a first-round skill set, was expected to go no lower than the top 50. In spite of comparisons to Ilya Kovalchuk as long as a year ago, Shishkanov never was rated as high as his W-18 teammate. Despite an exceptional skating ability and a quick shot, Timofei was criticized for his lack of work ethic and questionable hockey sense.

A surprise drop in the draft was Fedor Tyutin, a 6-3, 200 pound two-way blueliner. Many people, such as myself, envisioned Fedor to make the top round, mainly on the strength of his hockey sense and size. The resemblance to another Russian, by the name of Dimitri Kalinin didn’t seem to hurt his chances. However, the apparent reason for the drop, is the fact that Fedor isn’t a dominant offensive force. Despite his defensive upside, Tyutin is not a board cruncher like David Steckel. To sum it up, the GM’s avoided the safe road and tried to steal home instead. Fedor went 40th overall to the New York Rangers.

With the very next pick, the Calgary Flames acquired Andrei Taratukhin, a 6-foot, 200 pound forward. Praised for his good hockey sense, Andrei was seen as an excellent second rounder by many scouts. Andrei is a playmaker with somewhat of a safe style on the ice; he didn’t draw many raves, nor was he criticized a lot. I expected Andrei to take a dive at the draft, however it is clear that he was drafted by a team that observed him for a long time. In a post-draft interview, Craig Button was very high on this young man.

Another unexpected drop was by Alexander Polushin, a big, highly touted Russian winger. Despite his two-way potential, Alex’s game was disliked by several scouts, who weren’t happy with his consistency, or rather the lack of it. Polushin wound up going 47th to the Tampa Bay Lightning. There were numerous teams that were interested in him as high as the top 20 of the first round, however decided against taking him. Apparently, the Leafs’ Pat Quinn had mentioned that he considered drafting Polushin with the 17th overall pick. As of now, it is clear that Alexander is somewhat of a project. He’s got all of the tools and has displayed excellent playmaking ability at several tournaments, nonetheless. It came as a shock that he plummeted so far all the way to the mid second round. It is worthy to note that Tampa’s Rick Dudley drafted a couple of two-way Russian forwards (Svitov being the other). His excitement was easily obvious in various interviews.

Going 56th to Calgary was Andrei Medvedev, a “somewhat chubby” goaltender, generously listed at 210 pounds. Needless to say, this was not the only surprise of the draft; many envisioned his stock to drop, mainly because of the weight problem and attitude. Medvedev was known for being somewhat of a bear in practice; lazy and uncooperative. Despite posting pretty good numbers during the year, scouts seemed to be all over him during the season. However, it is interesting to note that Calgary was a likely candidate to take a chance on Medvedev, mainly because of the need for a netminder and having previously drafted in the second round.

With the 60th overall pick, the New Jersey Devils selected Victor Uchevatov. The selection wasn’t really a surprise, that is unless you were expecting another surprise selection from the Devils. Needless to say, Uchevatov is huge; at 6’4, 200 + pounds, he’s got admirable size. Victor is not especially skilled, but he gets the job done with his hard-nose style.

Except from being Russian-born, Igor Grigorenko is a complete opposite of Uchevatov. Detroit drafted the skilled winger with its 62nd pick of the draft. It wasn’t until a month or two before the draft that news started to spread about his potential. Following an excellent U-18 tournament, Grigorenko’s stock went up significantly, and his draft-day position was hard to predict. Having great finishing ability, there is no doubt that Igor has first round potential. However, the slow start to his season resulted in a somewhat cautious attitude from General Managers towards him. Many suggested that his numbers at the U-18 did not tell the whole story, mainly because he played on the line with Ilya Kovalchuk.

Vancouver Canucks selected Fedor Fedorov, a left wing from Sudbury of the OHL. Sergei Fedorov’s kid brother played significantly better in second year in the league, as his offensive production increased significantly. Fedor has decent offensive ability and his weakness so far is his defense. Fedor was expected to go somewhere in the third or fourth round, therefore being selected 66th overall was not much of a surprise.

At #75, Nashville picked another talented winger named Denis Platonov, which was somewhat of a surprise. Badly scouted this year, I expected Denis not to make the top 100 at the draft. However, the Predators took a chance on the skilled forward.

After drafting Svitov and Polushin, Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t stop there, they picked another big, strong forward by the name of Evgeni Artyukhin with the 94th pick. Artyukhin’s drop in the draft could be easily related to a disappointing season. Despite having all the talent in the world, Artyukhin’s hockey sense was criticized. Scouts expected him to redeem himself at the U-18 championships, but playing behind the likes of Kovalchuk and Chistov limited his icetime, and therefore lowered his stats. Many, including myself, expected the Artyukhin to go in the second round, however, his drop was not unexpected as scouts were aware about his struggles during the year.

Past the top 100, there are other interesting names drafted that are certainly worthy to mention. With the 105th overall pick, Anaheim selected a two-way defenseman Vladimir Korsunov, whose stock had taken a considerable dive just prior to the draft. Even though I projected him to crack the second round, word has it that the scouts simply did not view Vlad’s skills as anything special.

Coming off an awful year, Vladimir Gusev was taken by Chicago at 115. Despite, Gusev’s excellent potential, he came off a nightmarish season. Just a year ago, expectations were high for Vladimir, but after being virtually nonexistent all year, going at #115 seemed like a good thing.

Evgeni Gladskikh, Igor Valeev and Egor Shastin are the three other players who might have deserved a better fate. Shastin, actually, had a pretty good year, but teams were unwilling to draft him mainly because of his diminutive 5’9 frame. Valeev is a powerful skater with great size, but questions about his potential most likely hurt him at draft time.

The Washington Capitals drafted Artem Ternavsky with the 160th overall pick. Ternavsky had a weak year, despite high expectations.

There are other names that I didn’t mention, as I tried to stick to those that I followed most during the year. Although, some asked me to make list of how I’d place the Russians in the draft among others, I instead, decided to comment on those names that I believed to be most important.