2000 Draft review; Report Cards.

By Jake Dole
A total of 8 Russian players were picked in the 1st round of the 2000 draft. After several below-average draft years for Russia, the country had an abundance of rare talent to exhibit. In a draft year that deemed to be unpredictable, trying to foresee the draft positions of the higher touted Russians come June seemed like flipping a coin.

Despite an unquestionably rich flock of players, there was no consensus #1, nor a clear view of the true potential of the players available. The Russian prospects characterized talent, hope, potential, ability but also a great deal of unpredictability. For a whole bundle of the hockey season, the players’ stocks seemed to either rise or fall considerably. The year exemplified certain highly touted names grossly underachieve, while others with lower expectations unexpectedly entered the draft scene.

Alexei Smirnov’s apparent battle with Marian Gaborik for the clear-cut leader of the parade lasted for about half a year. While Gaborik surged, Smirnov’s questionable attitude, lackluster dedication to the sport and inconsistency came up as the draft day loomed. Smirnov wound up going 12th overall, while Gaborik dropped as well to the 3rd position of the podium. Two unexpected names led the way for Russia at the 2000 NHL draft: Going 8th to the Tampa Bay Lightning was Nikita Alexeev, while going 10th to the Chicago Blackhawks was Mikhail Yakubov. These were a couple of names that gradually rose in value during the year and ended up going high for particular reasons that will be discussed later on.

Right now, a bit more than a year after the draft, it seems fascinating to review certain picks and discuss whether the gambles truly payed off thus far for those teams in search of the golden goose. As I am looking at it right now, I might say that the success rate is 50/50; however, keeping in mind that each of the players has plenty of development ahead of himself, I’ll discuss each of the players’ past and present accomplishments in an attempt to predict that future outcomes. Following each player closely during the year, I will comment on the abilities of the player and whether or not they have the “stuff” to fulfill their respective rankings.

Without further ado…

Nikita Alexeev. RW/C. 6’5, 215. 12/21/81. Drafted 8th overall by Tampa Bay in 2000 NHL Entry Draft.

It is clear to me that size and North American experience were the deciding factors for Tampa in drafting Nikita. Alexeev was known to be a kid with a good head on his shoulders and admirable work ethic. Many experts questioned the pick, however, as Nikita was known to have some holes in his game. He got off to a slow start in the OHL, and portrayed little dominance at the level. His finishing ability was in question as many wondered whether Alexeev could score goals using more creative ways than rebounds in front of the net. Being an excellent skater, Nikita displayed a lack of fast break ability and creativity along with that.
However, with time, Nikita has become a rarity among prospects. Coaches have raved about his attitude, perseverance and dedication to the game of hockey. His attentiveness and willingness to contribute at both ends of the ice have automatically opened up a spot for him in the Tampa Bay lineup next season. Even though Alexeev still hasn’t shown great finishing ability, his maturity has singled him out to be an admirable 1st round pick.
I predict that Nikita will make the Lightning roster and play mainly a checking role for now.
Nikita’s grade: B

Mikhail Yakubov. C. 6’3, 183. 02/16/82. Drafted 10th overall by Chicago in 2000 NHL Entry Draft.

A year prior to the draft, Yakubov was an afterthought behind the likes of Smirnov and Frolov. However, an excellent year with Lada Togliatti-2 along with consistent performances on several championships transformed Mikhail into a top-notch, can’t-miss prospects. He shined that year with his club amassing 31 points in just 26 games. At the U-18 Championships, Mikhail came up big with 6 points in 6 games.
Moving up to the big club last year, Yakubov didn’t see much playing time in what was a totally disappointing season. He went scoreless in 17 games while playing in a 4th line checking role. A somewhat bright moment for Mikhail was making the Russian U-20 roster, but the team underachieved, as Yakubov did little to help out his teammates. Being touted as an exceptional face-off man, he came off flat at the circle.
There is no doubt that expectations will be high for Mikhail this year. On the bright side, right now, he has nowhere to go but up, as he is certain to see increased playing time with the Lada Togliatti club. Expect the talented playmaker to remain in Russia for as many as 2 more years; with increased playing time should come more confidence and better production.
Mikhail’s grade: C+

Pavel Vorobiev. RW. 6’0, 183. 05/05/82. Drafted 11th overall by Chicago in 2000 NHL Entry Draft.

Here’s another prospect to make a quick jump in the CSB ratings; Vorobiev showed many excellent offensive instincts with a first-rate U-18 performance to close out the year. In six games there, he collected 8 points on 2 goals. Known for being a banger and a leader, few expected good offensive statistics from Pavel early in the 99-00 season. However, by draft day Vorobiev became known as a stellar two-way forward. Vorobiev’s greatest strength is his hard work; he brings a lot to the ice that doesn’t show up on the scoreboard.
Coming off another stellar year, Vorobiev looks to be a draft-day steal. Playing in the Superleague, he has displayed ability at both ends of the ice with a mean streak and willingness to win. He was also a rare bright spot for Russia at the U-20 championships as he collected 2 goals, 5 points in 7 games with a with a solid +/- of 5.
As of now, Vorobiev is a safe bet to jump to the NHL and contribute right away. However, don’t be surprised if he remains in Russia for one more year. Also, keep an eye on Russia’s Salt Lake Olympic selections, as you might see Pavel’s name on the list.
Pavel’s grade: A

Alexei Smirnov. LW/C. 6’3, 211. 01/28/82. Drafted 12th overall by Anaheim in 2000 NHL Entry Draft.

Smirnov is a prospect with star potential. Blessed with great speed and size, Alexei has the talent to dominate a hockey game. However, Smirnov’s inconsistency and lack of willingness at games and practices forced his stock to drop at the 2000 draft. A great U-18 championship followed by a lackluster performance and failure in the 5 Nations Tourney pretty much summed up his year. Alexei is a prototypical boom-or-bust prospect, whose chances of becoming an NHL’er don’t outweigh those of him becoming another Alexander Volchkov.
Last year, Smirnov did little to prove his critics wrong. Suiting up for Moscow Dynamo of the Superleage, Alexei collected a grand total of 2 goals, with no assists in 25 games. Granted, he did see minimal playing time, but it seemed evident that while on the ice, Smirnov showed little desire and seemed indifferent about matches and competitions.
It will be a must-see for me to get a glance of Smirnov on the North American ice surface during the Mighty Ducks training camp. Although my hopes for Alexei are fading, I’m still hoping in the back of my mind that he might put it together. Right now, one thing is for sure: Smirnov has another 2 years or so to get his attitude in order and concentrate on hockey. Unless his ego is in check, expect an occasional flash but nothing more from him, à la Balmochnykh.
Cross your fingers…
Alexei’s grade: C-

Artem Kryukov. C. 6’3, 185. 03/12/82. Drafted 15th overall by Buffalo in 2000 NHL Entry Draft.

Just call Artem the Russian version of Eric Lindros… Yes, more than in one way. After being body checked in a 1999 game, Kryukov fell on the ice
unconscious, convusing. His career was close to being over, not to mention that he was in a battle to stay alive. Out with a serious concussion, Kryukov missed a bundle of international tournaments, which resulted in his stock up in the air for the 2000 draft. He was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres shockingly high; blessed with great size and playmaking ability, the Sabres were hoping to select a wildcard.
This year, Artem is slowly progressing in Russia and has shown flashes of excellence. He has not seen a lot of playing time, but his mechanics have reportedly been good.
In my opinion, it will take a while for Kryukov to develop. Right now he is healthy, but he needs lots of playing time and hard work to further polish his skills. Don’t expect a quick jump to the NHL, but a move to North America is possible.
Artem’s grade: C

Alexei Mikhnov. LW. 6’5, 194. 08/31/82. Drafted 17th overall by Edmonton in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.

If you think that he has become, in any way, less of an unknown this year, you’re gravely wrong. Any attempts to find decent information on his progress this year, have been long and grueling. The Oilers rolled the dice on the big, skilled winger with unlimited potential. Being very badly scouted there was an extreme shortage of information about Alexei.
The huge Ukranian has been described as an excellent stickhandler, with top-notch speed and physical ability. There are no stats available for this year, because apparently any records of his performances in Ukraine were mismanaged. One thing remains certain; the Oilers got a good look at Mikhnov and reportedly were very impressed after seeing him play roughly 15 times.
In his pre-draft year, playing for the Yaroslavl-2 club, he scored 24 goals and collected 41 points in 53 games.
Mikhnov is not expected to develop very quickly. Expect a Denis Arkhipov type of progress. If everything goes well, we might see him in the Oiler uniform by 21 or 22…
Alexei’s grade: N/A

Alexander Frolov. LW. 6’3, 191. 06/19/82. Drafted 20th overall by Los Angeles in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.

Frolov can be described as a pure goal-scoring machine. He has great size, flawless skating ability and an awesome array of shots. One thing that scouts love about Alexander is his consistency. For the past 2 seasons, at every tournament he produced with high efficiency. At the U-18 championships he collected 5 goals in 6 games. Last year in the High League, he compiled 20 goals and 39 points in 44 games. Showing no signs of slowing down, Frolov has proven to be one of the steals of the 2000 draft, thus far.
Don’t expect a sudden jump to the NHL. With a season in the High League under his wing, Frolov would greatly benefit playing a level higher, in the Superleague. If he succeeds, expect him to challenge for an NHL roster spot at the age of 20.
Alexander’s grade: A-

Anton Volchenkov. D. 6’0, 209. 02/25/82. Drafted 21st overall by Ottawa in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.

Mainly a defensive defenseman, Volchenkov is a tough competitor who enjoys physical hockey. Although he doesn’t blow you away offensively, Anton plays a safe, controlled style, highlighted by solid playmaking and decision making ability.
Playing for the Soviet Wings last year, Anton has earned a reputation for being intimidating on the ice and cooperative in the locker room. Although he is not done putting on weight, Volchenkov is NHL ready at this moment.
Coming off a solid year with a +/- 22 rating, Volchenkov will return to Russia to further work on his game after failing to agree on a contract with the Ottawa Senators. A year from now, he should not have any trouble joining the Ottawa blueline corps.
Although he did not exhibit anything flashy, nor improve substantially on offense, Anton’s progress has been very good. He has put on muscle and has become meaner than ever.
Anton’s grade: A-

Ilya Nikulin. D. 6’3, 211. 03/28/82. Drafted 31st overall by Atlanta in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.

Although Ilya fell to the second round in the draft, this is one name worth mentioning. He is not an offensive D-man, in fact Nikulin is more of a stay-at-home type. Playing an intense, physical game, Nikulin is known for intimidating the opposition with his size. He needs to improve on his mobility and get involved more offensively, also. Ilya has good offensive instincts, but is known for being somewhat hesitant to use them.
Ilya’s 2000 season was highlighted by his performance in the 5-nations tournament, where he collected 35 penalty minutes in 4 games, with a +/- rating of 4 (he collected a goal and 3 points). At the U-18 Championships, Nikulin had a goal and an assist with a +/- rating of 5.
Right now, Nikulin still needs to add some muscle to his frame in order to make the NHL. He still needs a year or two to develop, thus it should not be a problem. Despite a surprising absence from the U-20 squad, you will be able to catch Ilya with the upcoming U-20 team this winter. He is a virtual lock to make it.
Ilya’s grade: B+

If you have any questions regarding the article, feel free to comment below, or e-mail me at the address supplied above.