Russia’s first round at 2003 NHL Entry Draft

By Eugene Belashchenko

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2003 NHL Entry Draft –
First Round: A lightning fast start, with a sadly disappointing
finish for the Russians


On the 21st and 22nd of
June, 2003, NHL’s brightest minds gathered in Nashville for the
annual amateur NHL Entry Draft.   While being touted as
one of the deepest drafts in NHL’s history, as the first round of
the ceremony went on, it became increasingly apparent that the hype
did not include the prospects coming from Russia, some of whom
dropped deeper in the order then expected.  Fortunately, all t

youngsters, attending the draft all the way from Russia and the
surrounding former Soviet republics heard their name announced by an
NHL club. 


day started off quickly for the Russian contingent, with the
Columbus Blue Jackets
selecting Nikolai Zherdev fourth
overall. While the young Ukrainian forward from Russia was favored
to earn the top overall spot in the 2003 draft early this past
season, his lack of exposure outside of Russia shifted him down,
behind three North American players.  Zherdev appeared very pleased
with being selected fourth overall, though he did acknowledge his
hopes to have gone higher in the order.  He then went on to brush
off the issue of the draft order, promising to prove wrong those
that passed on him.   The talented forward looked composed and
attentive while answering the media’s questions. This was quite a
feat, considering that due to visa difficulties at the US embassy,
he had to endure a 17 hour journey from Russia that stopped over in
New York and Atlanta before finally landing in Nashville on Friday
evening, right before the draft.   He then attended interviews with
two NHL clubs on Friday night and two more on Saturday morning in
the hours leading up to the draft. Throughout this grueling ordeal,
he functioned on little sleep and a case of jet leg.  Columbus
officials appeared to be very pleased with their first selection in
the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, who, as they later acknowledged, they did
not expect to still be available at the fourth overall spot.  


Nikolai Zherdev was wrapping up his post selection interviews, the
turn came for the Montreal Canadiens to select at the tenth
overall spot.  The famed Canadian hockey club selected Andrei
from Belarus.   A well known young skater, Kostytsin
came onto the radar way back in December of the 2001-02 season,
while skating for Belarus’ U20 squad at the 2002 IIHF U20 World
Junior Championships. At just 16, the young forward showed
impressive signs of maturity and great potential.   During the
2002-03 season, he shined at both, the U20 and the U18 IIHF WJC
tournaments, significantly boosting his stock at the draft.  During
the summer of ’02, the young forward switched clubs, signing with
CSKA Moscow and moving to Russia from Belarus.  Kostytsin did have a
strong training camp with the Super League club, and received some
ice time early on in the season.  Unfortunately, he failed to make
an impact and was relegated back to the junior squad, hence, having
a relatively quiet season with his club team.  A major sticking
point of concern with this, seemingly can’t miss prospect, has been
his health, as he is an apparent epileptic.  A team drafting Andrei
Kostytsin stood the risk of the young player’s career being over
before it even started.  However, Kostytsin, who was very quiet and
reserved during the post selection interview, could not help himself
and was very clear on this issue:“I have seen several doctors
over since coming to North America, on the request of the NHL, all
test results have been good.   I want to concentrate on playing
hockey, it’s never been an issue for me.”
Only time will tell if
the Canadiens orchestrated a great steal when drafting Kostytsin at
the 10th overall pick. 


 As the draft rolled on through the first round,
many young players heard their names called and walked jubilantly
towards the stage on the floor of the Gaylord Entertainment Center. 
Interestingly, Kostytsin was the last player from the former Soviet
Union to be selected in the first round, with talents the likes of
Mirnov and Glazachev remaining overlooked until later in the draft. 


Nikolai Zherdev

1st Round: 4th Overall

NHL Club: Columbus Blue Jackets

HF Outlook: Zherdev will likely spend at
least the 2003-04 season back in Russia with CSKA.  He may remain
there for the 2004-05 season as well, but in all likelihood,
Columbus will want to see their prized first pick in camp next


Andrei Kostytsin

1st Round: 10th Overall

NHL Club: Montreal Canadiens

HF Outlook: After spending the majority of
the past season with CSKA’s junior squad, Kostytsin should earn a
spot in the club’s lineup this summer.  His situation is similar to
that of another future star drafted by Montreal, Alexander
Perezhogin, who needed two seasons after being drafted to establish
himself as a full fledged star and scoring threat at the Super
League level.  Kostytsin may make some significant strides this
coming season, but Montreal should be patient with him, leaving him
in Russia for at least two seasons.


Eugene Belashchenko’