Denis Yachmenev coming into his own in Khabarovsk

By Eugene Belashchenko

When the Florida Panthers drafted a young Denis Yachmenev 200th overall at the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, little was known about the young prospect beyond the fact that he is the younger brother of the former linemate of Wayne Gretzky during his Los Angeles Kings days, Vitali Yachmenev. Denis did spend some time in the Canadian juniors in North Bay with some marginal success, which was enough to get him drafted, but not enough to make his name well known in the hockey circles.

After spending another season in the juniors, Yachmenev returned to Russia and by all accounts “fell off the radar”. The young Florida’s prospect return to Russia coincided with the return of his brother, Vitali, after the latter played out his deal with the Nashville Predators and was not resigned. The two brothers signed both signed with Amur (Khabarovsk), which at the time had very high aspirations of effectively competing in the Super League (Russia 1). Denis likely owed his spot in Khabarovsk to his older brother, who commanded a lot of clout with the club, at least early in his stint with Amur. Unfortunately for the NHL veteran, the club’s aspirations were not in line with its management, coaching and overall roster depth. The club struggled mightily, and Vitali Yachmenev’s line was the only one displaying any level of production.

For Denis, the club’s decline was a blessing in disguise, as he began to see more and more ice time once Amur’s playoff plans were permanently put on hold and the club had little chance to remain in the Super League. The young forward skated in every game during the latter two months of the regular season. After the conclusion of the season, despite his brother leaving Khabarovsk for the wealthier Super League club Ak Bars (Kazan), Denis signed a new contract with Amur, expecting a bigger role with the club, which was now relegated to the High League (Russia 2).

The young Yachmenev’s hopes materialized during the 2004-05 season. After struggling to make the lineup early in the season, he finally secured a spot on the roster and went on to have successful season, recording 21 points (7 goals +14 assists) in 42 games. Even more impressing was his +/- rating. A 0 in this category was quite an achievement when considering his awful -37 with Saginaw during the 2001-02 season. While his 21 points did not put him in the top three scorers of his club, Yachmenev clearly proved that he belonged and was able to effectively produce at the High League level.

Yachmenev did not let down in the playoffs either, helping his club reach the semifinals. His three goals through the first two rounds of the playoffs put him in a four way tie for Amur’s scoring lead. Beyond the goals, Yachmenev continued to be a concern on the ice for the opposing clubs despite the increased quality of play in the playoffs. Despite being one of the youngest players on the squad, his ice time did not diminish even slightly during the playoff run.

The 2004-05 season has been a solid stepping-stone for Yachmenev in his young career. After graduating from the junior leagues, it was apparent that his arrival in the Super League (Russia 1) was too early, and he needed more time to prepare. His High League (Russia 2) experience has done him a lot of good, as he has visibly gained confidence in his own ability and has become a more effective and mature player on the ice. That said, Florida Panthers fans should not expect him in the NHL next season, but the young forward continues to fulfill his potential and his name should continue to remain on their “radar” in the coming years.