2002 Russian Draftees: First Semester Report

By Eugene Belashchenko

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Russian Draftees: First Semester Report

Part 1: 1st Round – Alexander Semin,
Denis Grebeshk
ov, Anton Babchuk

2002-03 Season’s
First Semester Report Cards for 2002 NHL Entry Draft Russian Prospects


Not all Russian players expected to be
picked up early were selected in the first round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft.
However, the three that were picked up by NHL clubs were hardly surprises, but
the order in which they went in the draft was. Anton Babchuk was favored to be
the first Russian to go in the draft. Anton had to listen to 21 names being
called before he heard his, including the names of two other fellow Russians
Alexander Syemin and Denis Grebeshkov. Several other highly touted players,
including the likes of Vladislav Evseev, Kiril Koltsov and Alexei Kaigorodov had
to wait until the second round until NHL teams selected them. Half of the way
through Russia’s regular season, the NHL clubs and their fans have their first
chance to see how their valued prospects have progressed since the draft. In
this first installment of the “Report Card” series, Russia’s first rounders
Alexnder Syemin, Denis Grebeshkov and Anton Babchuk will receive their


Position: Left Wing
Drafted By: Washington Capitals
Stats: Lada Togliatti – 35 games 9 points (5+4), 30 PIM


Washington drafted Alexender with
their second consecutive pick, 11th overall. After the draft, it became apparent
that the team was not yet prepared to sign their newest member to a contract and
though they preferred him coming over to North America and playing in the
juniors, it’s tough to convince a player to play for free when he can command a
very respectable salary in the Russian Super League. Despite Alexander’s solid
performance with Traktor Chelyabinsk in Russia’s Upper League, there were
serious concerns that he would not be able to make a smooth transition to the
Super League. Alexander did not have a stellar preseason with Lada and the fans
observed that he did not look dedicated or excited to be on the ice. No one
doubted his talent, but many began to doubt his commitment to making Lada’s
opening day roster. However, Lada’s coach, Petr Vorobiev, deemed Alexander could
not only play, but make an impact in the Super League, and with several roster
moves made a spot for the talented young forward on the team’s second line.


Alexander instantly won many fans over
in Lada’s opening game against Spartak Moscow. He was always a threat, skating
swiftly into Spartak’s zone, doing everything except getting on the scoring
sheet, and was recognized as the game’s third star. Lada struggled early in the
season and many fans observed that Alexander seemed to be the only player on the
ice really trying to make something happen. Unfortunately his dedication did not
reflect on the scoring sheet, and he remained without a goal until the mid
October, when he scored his only goal of the season thus far against Salavat
Yulayev. 20 games into the regular season, Alexander has maintained his spot on
Lada’s second line and has done quite well, besides a couple of healthy
scratches in early October. He got the team through some tough times and now it
appears Lada’s once struggling third unit with Detroit’s Igor Grigorenko and
Montreal’s Alexander Buturlin is clicking and producing valuable points. He
hasn’t been productive, but gave Lada a scoring threat on the second line,
forcing the opponents’ defenses to adjust.  After the winter break he has
gotten his scoring touch back again and has

been lighting up the light with
relative consistency. 


At 18, Alexander has already made his
debut with the ’83 Russian National team at the Four Nations Tournament in the
Czech Republic held in early November.  Surprisingly, he was not a member
of Russia’s U20 squad at the 2002 World Junior Championships in Sydney and
Halifax, Canada.  Despite his low scoring in the Super League, Alexander

was too talented to be left off the
roster.   It seems that he has taken the brush off as a challenge and
has really picked up his Super League production since the winter break. 
He is likely to regain his spot on the U20 squad for the remaining tournament of
this season.  Alexander’s effective transformation from an Upper League to
a Super League player, as well as his accomplishments with the U20 National Team

deserve him a “A-” for his grade thus
far this season.



Position: Defenseman
Drafted By: Los Angeles Kings (15th overall)
Stats: Lokomotiv Yaroslavl – 37 games, 7 points (0+7), 24 PIM
Ceska Poistovna – 3 games 0 points, 2 PIM

Karjala Cup – 3 games 1 point (1+0), 2 PIM

U20 WJC: 6 games 2 points (0+2), 6 PIM


The Los Angeles
Kings surprised many by drafting Denis so early in the first round. Though
considered to be a great prospect, his skill set, relatively average size and
somewhat curbed development over the previous season made him more of a “safe”
late, rather then a mid first round choice. However, be that as it may, Los
Angeles picked Denis 15th overall. The talented defenseman made it clear before
nd after the draft that he intended to return to Russia and continue to play
for Lokomotiv during the 2002-03 season.


In July there was significant concern
that there would actually be little space for Denis on Lokomotiv’s blue line. He
spent most of the previous season either on the bench or the third defensive
pairing getting four or five minutes of ice time per game and it did not appear
that things would be any different. However, Denis came to Loko’s training camp
collected, determined and ready to put a serious fight for a roster spot. After
the dust settled, he managed to beat out several experienced defenseman, as well
as fellow ’02 draftees Alexei Stonkus and Denis Grot, and earned a spot on
Lokomotiv’s top defensive pairing.


Having their defenseman skate on the
top defensive pairing of the Europe’s best league’s top team probably made LA’s
management very happy. They, however, weren’t ready for what happened next. If
LA fans considered Gebeshkov’s achievement with Lokomotiv as a sign of the
things to come, they must have gone into orbit when Vladimir Plyuschev invited
the forward to the Russian National team’s training camp for the Ceska Poistovna
Cup, the first leg of the EuroTour. Denis came to camp as an underdog amongst
the best defensemen in Russian hockey. Soon, however, he earned the honors of
playing on Russia’s top defensive pairing with a veteran and former Philadelphia
Flyers prospect Vladislav Boulin. Russia won the tournament and Denis delivered
a solid performance.


Despite Grebeshkov’s solid play in
training camp and in the Ceska Poistovna tournament, Vujtek still gambled a bit
by penciling the 18 year old on his top defensive pairing. Several games into
the season it became quite clear that his gamble paid off. Thus far this season,
Lokomotiv has not yet lost a single contest and each night Denis has been
consistently in the starting lineup. He has also represented Russia at the Karjala Cup EuroTour tournament. 
He then was one of the team’s leaders at the U20 WJC in Canada, where the
Russian squad struck gold.  The talented defenseman has thus far exceeded expectations, and deserves an “A”
for his grade thus far this season.


Position: Defenseman
Drafted By: Chicago Blackhawks (22nd overall)
Stats: Ak Bars – 12 games, 1 point (0+1), 4 PIM

SKA – 8 games 2 points (2+0), 6 PIM

Anton’s relatively
late selection in the first round of the ’03 draft was a big surprise. Many
slotted him much earlier then the 22nd overall spot where Chicago selected him.
Prior to the draft Anton signed a contract with Ak Bars Kazan of the Russian
Super League. After the draft, at Anton’s request, Kazan let him skip part of
the preseason training to attend Chicago’s rookie camp in early July. Anton
impressed Chicago’s management at the camp with his size, and unexpected level
of maturity. He played well against other rookies and showcased his powerful
shot and physical toughness. After the camp Chicago’s management wasted little
time and signed their ’03 top choice to a three year contract, but allowing
Anton to remain in Russia with Ak Bars for the 02-03 season. The duration of the
contract will begin when Babchuk arrives in North America and plays for a
professional team over here.


After the conclusion of the rookie
camp, Anton returned to Russia and joined Ak Bars for the remainder of the
preseason. He played relatively well in the preseason, though by the home opener
he was still considered the seventh defenseman on Ak Bars depth chart. This
wasn’t a knock on Anton’s ability, but more a testament of Kazan’s depth at
every position. Anton either received little ice time or warmed the bench for
the first few games of the season. The prospects were not looking too great for
Anton, but then the Ak Bars’ defensive corps began to sustain injuries and
Babchuk was brought into action. First the team’s top defenseman Erofeev went
down, and he was then followed by Zavyalov. Instead of breaking up the defensive
pairings, Kazan’s head coach Yuri Moiseev replaced the injured Zavyalov with
Babchuk on Ak Bars top defensive pairing. Anton handled his new responsibility
well, but his lack of experience showed and he seemed a bit hesitant and slow.
Despite his shortcomings, Anton proved that he could handle the high level of
responsibility. Towards the end of October though, Anton’s ice time decreased
and he warmed the bench for the final three games of the first third of Super
League’s regular season. Things have been further complicated for Babchuk with
the arrival of New York Rangers defensive prospect Fedor Tyutin in Kazan. Russian Hockey Federation appeals court ruled that Fedor
could play for Ak Bars, but SKA and Ak Bars had to come to an agreement before
that happened. The two teams agreed on leaving Tyutin with SKA until the winter
break of the season, after which he would sign a deal with Ak Bars. The arrival
of the talented defenseman further complicated Babchuk’s situation.  After
the permission of Kazan’s management, Anton’s agents started looking around the
Super League for a good fit for the young defenseman and ironically they found
it in St. Petersburg.  Despite some circulating rumors that the Tyutin
trade to Ak Bars and Babchuk’s arrival in SKA were somehow connected, the two
trades did not have a direct link, as Anton’s agents acted independently.   
Anton received plenty of ice time with his new squad and showcased his slap shot
on several occasions. He has not been scratched once thus far, but after a hot
start has settled on the team’s third or fourth defensive pairings.


As was the case with Alexander Semin, Anton Babchuk made his debut on the Russian National U20 squad at just 18. Anton
delivered a solid performance with Team Russia ’83 at the Four Nations
Tournament in the Czech Republic. It was a great surprise that he was overlooked
for the U20 2002 World
Junior Championships in Halifax, Canada.  A strong possibility that may
explain his absence would be the adversarial relationship that has apparently
developed between Babchuk and team’s coach, Rafael Ishmatov.   His
absence was felt strongly after Vladimir Korsunov was knocked out with a back
injury.  Without Korsunov and Babchuk, Russia lacked the size and power on
the blue line, though, fortunately, the team still collected the gold at the
tournament’s end.   Anton’s relatively low “B” is not due to his lack of ability, he has
proven that he is able to compete with those beyond his own age. The talented
defenseman has made the transition to the Super League and is definitely gained valuable experience in Kazan,
and is
continuing his learning in St. Petersburg. Anton has made a smooth transition to the U20
national squad, but being overlooked for the U20 squad definitely hurt. The lack of ice time in the Super League
with Ak Bars was hurting his development and the move to St. Petersburg has
definitely helped alleviate that situation.


– Eugene