Artukhin a Wildcat

By Chad Schnarr

The Tampa Bay Lightning have confirmed Russian prospect Evgeni Artukhin has come to an agreement with the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL and will be arriving in New Brunswick this weekend. Drafted in the third round (94th overall) by the Lightning in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Artukhin has been continuously praised by the Lightning for his massive combination of size and speed – traits craved by former Lightning GM Rick Dudley, who drafted him, and admired by current GM Jay Feaster.

The six-foot-four, 215 pound right winger was picked by Moncton in the second round (29th overall) in the 2002 CHL Import Draft. The Wildcats will open their training camp the 16th of August, with Artukhin currently scheduled to arrive on the 17th. The Wildcats have an intersquad game on the 17th and an exhibition game against Acadie-Bathurst on the 18th that Artukhin may see some time in.

Artukhin fell to the third round of the NHL draft due to his enigmatic and undisciplined play as a 17-year-old. Unafraid of the physical side of the game, he spent a lot of time in the penalty box, which prompted scouts to question his discipline. However, he was a project Rick Dudley and Lightning Head Scout Jake Goertzen were willing to take a chance on and they drafted the Moscow native 94th overall with the hopes he would add some offense to his size, skating, defensive awareness and aggressive play. This past year with Podolsk of the Russian Upper League, he did just that. In 49 games, Artukhin finished fifth on his team in goals (15), ninth in points (22), and led the team in penalty minutes (94). Prior to this past season, Artukhin had earned the right to play in the Russian Super League with Podolsk where he managed an assist and 16 penalty minutes seeing limited action in 24 games. He was also named to Russia’s under-18 squad in 2001. He scored a goal and an assist and was a plus-one in six games at the 2001 U-18 World Junior Championships.

The Lightning was so intrigued with the raw package of size and speed Artukhin possesses they invited him to join “B” camp last September for a look-see. Artukhin, who was taken under the wing of Sheldon Keefe during the camp, was rewarded for his good work ethic and physical play by dressing in the Lightning’s first exhibition game, a 4-4 tie with the Ottawa Senators, ironically played in another maritime city – Halifax, Nova Scotia. Though Artukhin didn’t hit the scoresheet in the game, he registered a shot on goal and impressed with his hitting and speed. Artukhin will be returning to Canada’s beautiful maritime provinces this weekend for the start of what Wildcat fans hope will be a successful season with a Memorial Cup run. Before the “Q” season starts, however, it’s not out of the question for Artukhin to return to the Lightning’s preseason camp as he’ll at least be on the same continent and could warrant an invitation.

Coming to North America to play in the wide-open QMJHL is a great, but challenging opportunity for this young Russian winger. He struggled last year in the Lightning’s camp with the language barrier. Like Lightning winger Nikita Alexeev, Artukhin will get the opportunity to learn a brand new language (or two) and adapting to a new culture while he’s developing his hockey skills. That should go a long way in paving the road to a professional contract for Artukhin as soon as next summer. Playing in the offense-friendly QMJHL will also provide an ample opportunity for Artukhin to develop his offensive game. Recently ranked seventh among Lightning prospects by Hockey’s Future, Artukhin has good natural offensive skills, but hasn’t had a lot of opportunities outside of defensive roles in his career to show them.

Though he must adjust to a new language, culture, ice surface and style of play, Artukhin should give Moncton a top-two line player with a physical presence, speed, defensive responsibility, a sound work ethic and potentially a good dose of offense. If he does so, he could become a fan favorite in Moncton and as much of an attraction as the famous “Magnetic Hill.”

In other Lightning news, Dmitri Kazionov, a 2002 fourth round pick of the Lightning and a CHL Import draftee of the Kingston Frontenacs, will not be making the trek to North America this year. The young Russian center just finished preseason tournament action for Lada Togliatta of the Russian Super League. He began the tournament as his team’s fourth line center, but was thrust into more duty when Alexander Chagodayev, a Mighty Ducks prospect, was benched. Kazionov reportedly played well as his replacement, but went scoreless for the tournament. Anton But also played in the tournament for Yaroslavl, frequently hitting the scoresheet for the Lokomotiv, which finished the Bashkorstan Peresident’s Cup undefeated.