1999 Draft: Report Cards (Progress Report)

By Jake Dole
The 1999 draft offered solid depth of Russian, Belorussian and Kazakhstan-born prospects. Although there was no clear-cut future superstar from Russia, plenty of players with unlimited potential were drafted. Youngsters like Koltsov and Kuleshov all offered exceptional pure offensive skills, though neither showed signs of performing consistently. It is safe to say that GM’s crossed their fingers and swallowed hard before each selection.

Out of the few well scouted names, Denis Shvidki suffered a recession in value. Previously a potential top-10er, Denis fell to number 12 at draft time. Konstantin Koltsov and Mikhail Kuleshov were surprise selections in the eyes of many. Although neither displayed great finishing ability to compliment their raw skills, the two stickhandlers became potential first-round jackpots. Giant Alexei Semenov showed little on-ice results up to the draft, but was swapped largely due to his size and toughness.

The consensus opinion among the General Managers was, “let’s wait 2 or 3 years and then we’ll see”. Ironically enough, 2+ years later, many teams are still waiting for progress from some members of the 1999 draft class. Hopes are still high on many fronts, but thus far results have not been astounding.

11th overall: Oleg Saprykin. LW/C. 6’0, 190. 1981-02-12. (Calgary Flames)

Plus: Saprykin plays a fearless, intense style of hockey. A great skater, he has great hands and first-line scoring potential. Oleg doesn’t shy away from contact and is sound at both ends of the ice, as indicated by his +/- 4 rating last year for Calgary. At just 20, Saprykin raised a lot of eyebrows last year, and shook off a shaky start to his season.

Minus: Injuries, whether major or minor, have plagued Saprykin. At 6 feet tall, he has trouble handling the bumps and bruises of the NHL. More consistency will also be expected.
What to Expect: Saprykin will spend another year on the wing. With Calgary’s depth of centers, Oleg will not take a lot of faceoffs. Clearly lacking a first-line left winger, the Flames will experiment with Oleg on each of the top 3 lines. Plenty of powerplay and penalty killing time could indicate a career year for Saprykin.
Overall Grade: B-

12th overall: Denis Shvidki. LW. 6’0, 205. 1980-11-21. (Florida Panthers)

Plus: The burly winger bounced around with the Panthers and Louisville. The “Ukraine Train” is an agile skater and a crafty playmaker. Showing great strides in the minors, Denis made the AHL all-star game, where he collected 5 points. He is sound at both ends of the ice and has been praised for great hockey sense.
Minus: Shvidki hasn’t shown that he is mentally ready for the NHL. He is lacking aggressiveness, and has shied away from contact in most Panther games, which is unlike him. Denis tried to do too much and seemed nervous.
What to expect: He will make the team, and will see top-line duty. The Panthers love his defensive awareness, which should result in enough playing time for a breakthrough 20-goal season. Don’t be surprised to see Denis on the line with Bure and Kozlov next year.
Overall Grade: B

18th overall: Konstantin Koltsov. LW. 6’0, 187. 1981-04-17. (Pittsburgh Penguins)

Plus: You will never see Koltsov staying put. A superb skater, Konstantin likes to stickhandle past opposition. A solid playmaker, he has developed admirably with AK Bars Kazan. Koltsov was also the lone bright spot on the Belorussian junior squad at the U-20 world tournament. Extremely competitive and inventive with the puck, Konstantin could be a top-notch offensive talent in the NHL for years to come.
Minus: Playing for the Belarussian Junior squad, it seems a sin to blame him…but Koltsov still needs to use his teammates more. Oftentimes, he tends to overhandle the puck, and attempts fancy plays instead of safer, simpler ones. He still needs to toughen up, and showcase more grit to prove that he is NHL-ready.
What to expect: The tools are there, but Koltsov is not yet set. A year or two is still needed to gain more confidence and achieve improved consistency.
Overall Grade: B

19th overall: Kirill Safronov. D. 6’2, 209. 1981-02-26. (Phoenix Coyotes)

Plus: Safronov plays like a vet. He is a good locker room guy with tremendous hockey sense. Kirill handles the puck with confidence, makes tape-to-tape passes and rarely makes mistakes. He is physical and fearless with his approach; with great on-ice vision Safronov is ready to take on powerplay and penalty killing duty.

Minus: Kirill doesn’t have many flaws. One thing is for certain: he will not blow anyone away in his rookie year. He will remain a stay-at-home type for 2 to 3 more seasons until the Coyotes eventually let him control the puck in clutch situations. Safronov still needs work on his shot to further improve the release.
What to expect: A roster spot is likely, but still not guaranteed. With more emphasis on youth, however, Kirill should log roughly 15 minutes a game.
Overall Grade: B+

25th overall: Mikhail Kuleshov. LW. 6’2, 200. 1981-01-07. (Colorado Avalanche)

Plus: Kuleshov had a cup of coffee with Hershey last year, to get a taste of the pro game. It is too early to say whether the adjustment to the North American game will be beneficial, but obviously a change of scenery was needed. With improved health, Mikhail will be one of Hershey’s main offensive weapons next year. A sneaky skater, Kuleshov is known for his excellent shot and stickhandling ability. He has shown that he can play with a chip on his shoulder as well.
Minus: Knee injuries have bugged him for the better part of the last two years, which hurt his development significantly. Right now, it will be hard for Mikhail to make up for the lost time; his confidence level is not great, and scoring touch hasn’t been there to compliment the fancy stick work. He remains a project, and his NHL future is in doubt at the moment.
What to expect: With his history, more injuries would be easy to expect, but don’t give up on Kuleshov, yet. He has a power forward’s mold, and soft hands good enough for Colorado’s top line. At least two years will be needed for Kuleshov to make a good North American impression.
Overall Grade: C-

36th overall: Alexei Semenov. D. 6’6, 215. 1981-04-10. (Edmonton Oilers)

Plus: Semenov towers over the opposition with his imposing 6’6 frame. Skill-wise, Alexei surprised many last year with a stellar effort in the OHL, as he was rewarded for his efforts with the honour as the league’s top defenseman. Big, tough, aggressive, talented and inventive, Semenov has potential all-star written all over him. A bone-crunching open-ice hitter, Semenov earned a reputation as the junior version of Scott Stevens.

Minus: Semenov did his best to minimize on his weaknesses last year. He shot more and showed better offensive instincts on the ice. He has a hard shot, but will be required to quicken the release to transfer his goal-scoring prowess to the NHL level.
What to expect: The Oilers have great blueline depth, so Alexei might develop further in the AHL. He will need a solid pre-season showing to stick with the big club.
Overall Grade: A-

39th overall: Alexander Buturlin. RW. 6’0, 185. 1981-09-03. (Montreal Canadiens)

Plus: The slick stickhandler showed improved defensive ability last year. Although mainly known for his skating and finishing skills, Buturlin made better on-ice decisions and displayed renewed confidence. He had a solid U-20 Championship and improved his stats by 18 points with the Sarnia Sting.
Minus: The offensive output is still not where it’s supposed to be. The Canadiens were hoping
that Buturlin would come close to reaching the 100-point mark, but Alex hovered around the point-a-game pace for much of the season. He will need to be more aggressive and consistent to earn playing time in the NHL anytime soon.
What to expect: A taste of the minor league is mandatory for Buturlin’s development. He might see a call-up, but not much else.
Overall Grade: B-

43rd overall: Andrei Shefer. LW/RW. 6’1, 200. 1981-07-26. (Los Angeles Kings)

Plus: Shefer is a very strong player; with above-average skating ability and a terrific shot. He has goal-scorer’s hands and is incredibly agile. Andrei has shown over the years that he can handle physical hockey; he can backcheck and fight for the puck in the corners.
Minus: Unfortunately, Andrei just hasn’t shown much improvement. Any consistency or work ethic have been minimal, as he got tired of North America and packed his bags back to Russia, seeing time in Severestal Cherepovets. Shefer didn’t do much there to back his draft position; he just hasn’t demonstrated a top-liner’s instincts, nor a grinder’s combativeness.
What to expect: NHL is not yet in sight. He needs to find himself.
Overall Grade: C

46th overall: Dimitri Levinski. LW. 6’1, 180. 1980-06-23. (Chicago Blackhawks)

Plus: Skating is Levinski’s strength; he has outstanding straight-away speed and agility. Although he hasn’t seen a lot of playing time over the past two seasons, Dimitri has shown the ability to play in traffic and has improved in his own zone. Levinski is an excellent stickhandler with an accurate wrist shot.
Minus: Dimitri’s ice time hasn’t been increasing much mainly due to his defensive miscues. He is inconsistent at both ends of the ice, and the scoring touch has been completely absent at the Superleague level.

What to expect: Levinsky has signed on with Spartak Moscow. Expectations are high, and playing time should go up. If Dimitri scores a goal, that will be improvement in it’s self.
Overall Grade: C-

63rd overall: Stepan Mokhov. D. 6’2, 190. 1981-01-22. (Chicago Blackhawks)

Plus: Mokhov has the tools to be a great puck-handling defenseman. He is a flawless skater with solid on-ice vision and precise passing skills. Playing with Spartak last season, Stepan shook off a slow start, and eventually became a regular on the blueline. Although the stats are still not there, Mokhov played a better two-way game in the second half of the regular season.
Minus: For a prospect with such game-breaking ability, Mokhov simply hasn’t produced. He has pretty good strength, but seems to shy away from contact at times, and his overall work ethic has been sub-par. In addition, he failed to make Russia’s U-20 team. No wonder he is off the top 10 lists.
What to expect: More playing time in Spartak Moscow is in Mokhov’s immediate future.

Overall Grade: C

67th overall: Evgeny Konstantinov. G. 6’0, 167. 1980-03-29. (Tampa Bay Lightning)

Plus: Evgeny is ahead of his development in many scouts’ opinions. At just 20, the low-profile goaltending prospect played in 27 games with IHL’s Detroit Vipers. Konstantinov is a stand-up goalie with top-notch reflexes and a lightning-quick glove. His mobility in the crease is also exceptionally good.
Minus: Here’s a revealing stat: .858 save percentage in the IHL last year. Simply put, Konstantinov wasn’t ready last year to handle the professional game. Hopefully playing for a bad team will not ruin his confidence.

What to expect: It is likely that someday Konstantinov will back-up Nikolai Khabibulin. However, he remains several years away from an NHL job. He’s one person not sorry about the IHL’s demise…
Overall Grade: B-

Other Key Names:

106th overall: Roman “Rail” Rozakov. D. 6’1, 198. 1981-03-29. (Calgary Flames)

Mainly a stay-at-home defenseman, Rail is a physical, aggressive blueliner with good hockey sense. He finishes his checks and is a solid shot-blocker. Rozakov will never put up many points at any level, but his lower-body strength and exemplary skating skills forecast him as an eventual 4th or 5th defender in the NHL.
Overall Grade: B

141st overall: Maxim Rybin. RW. 5’9, 175. 1981-06-15. (Anaheim Mighty Ducks).

A smallish (5’9) winger might eventually be a good fit with Kariya and Chistov in Anaheim. He is quick, hard working and aggressive on skates. He has great hands and hockey sense. Defensively, Rybin still needs to improve; he is somewhat one-sided and is in need of adding some muscle to his frame.
Overall Grade: B

182nd overall: Fedor Fedorov. C. 6’3, 187. 1981-06-11. (Tampa Bay Lightning; redrafted 66th overall by Vancouver in the 2001 NHL entry draft)

Sergei’s brother is both big and skilled. He has soft hands and is a smooth skater. Unlike Sergei, however, Fedor has a sub-par defensive game. With any luck, he will be a solid second, third liner at the NHL level.
Overall Grade: B-

196th overall: Vadim Tarasov. G. 6’0, 176. 1976-12-31. (Montreal Canadiens)

This netminder might have been quite a steal for the Canadiens. Arguably the top goaltender in Russia’s superleague, Tarasov is ready for NHL duty. He has superb reflexes and relies a lot on his glove hand to make saves. He will be in a fierce battle with Mathieu Garon for Montreal’s back-up job.
Overall Grade: B

232nd overall: Alexander Khavanov. D. 6’1, 192. 1972-01-30. (St. Louis Blues)

Although it’s been many years since Khavanov has been a prospect, this is a name well worth mentioning. Clearly, Alex was an excellent draft-day selection, as he has become the Blues’ best defender behind Chris Pronger and Al McInnis. With the abundance of injuries on St. Louis’s blueline, Khavanov performed admirably at both ends of the ice.

Overall Grade: A-

On Their Way to Stardom:

1) Saprykin (CAL), 2) Shvidki (FLA), 3) Koltsov (PIT), 4) Safronov (PHOE), 5) Semenov (EDM)

Wildcards (Potential to Surprise):
1)Kuleshov (COL), 2) Buturlin (MON), 3) Konstantinov (TB), 4) Tarasov (MTL).

Futures in Doubt:
1) Shefer (LA), 2) Levinski (CHI), 3) Mokhov (CHI).

Special thanks to Eugene Belashchenko of russianprospects.com for providing the photographs.