Nichushkin tops Russian draft crop at mid-season

By Alessandro Seren Rosso

Bogdan Yakimov - Russia

Photo: At 6-5 and 202 pounds, Russian forward Bogdan Yakimov possesses the type of size that NHL teams currently covet in a forward prospect (courtesy of Derek Leung/Getty Images)

Considered one of the top birth years in Russian hockey, the 1995 class has seen several of the top players leave Russia to play Major Junior Hockey in North America, a fact that is reflected in this list of 2013 prospects.

Most of the top 1995 players (like Nikita Zadorov, Nikita Serebryakov, Sergei Tolchinsky, or 2014-eligible Ivan Barbashev) already decided to cross the pond and most likely will have a better chance of being chosen at the 2013 NHL Draft. But other good prospects remain in Russia, prospects that should get some attention during the draft, particularly the players in the first half of these rankings.

Here, then, is a list of the some of the top Russian prospects available for the 2013 NHL Draft.

Valery Nichushkin, RW, Traktor Chelyabinsk

Two years after Maxim Shalunov (CHI) and Nikita Nesterov (TBL) were chosen at the NHL Draft, one of the top hockey schools in Russia, Traktor Chelyabinsk, will once again have at least one of their players chosen by an NHL club. Let’s remember that the Ural team also recently produced two players of the caliber of Evgeny Kuznetsov (WAS) and Slava Voynov (LAK), among others.

The 2013 candidate, Valery Nichushkin, is a large winger whose biggest strength lies in his size and his body control on the ice. He is not as skillful as the top Russian prospects usually are, but he knows how to make use of his mass and is a very good skater. Nichushkin is a versatile player whose stock has certainly increased after his successful WJC campaign which included an OT, game-winning goal. On the less bright side for NHL  teams, Nichushkin this summer signed a new 3-year deal with Traktor which might scare off some NHL franchises.

Anton Slepyshev, LW, Salavat Yulaev Ufa

After being overlooked during last year’s NHL Draft, Slepyshev remains one of the top players available amongst the ones playing in Russia. His WJC wasn’t his best hockey (he tallied just one assist in seven games), but he missed a big part of the season due to a serious shoulder injury. Slepyshev is a gifted player with a very good shot and above-average skating ability. Talent-wise he is definitely an NHL-level prospect, but since he was undrafted last year he might well be overlooked this year, too. Slepyshev has just been acquired by Salavat Yulaev Ufa – one of the leading KHL teams – so it will be interesting to see how he will perform with a top team.

Pavel Buchnevich, W, Severstal Cherepovets

A smallish winger, Buchnevich is a typical Russian forward with lots of skill and speed to burn who must improve the physical part of his game. Buchnevich is having another excellent season in the MHL after last year’s good performance and is expected to play a leading role at the upcoming U-18 WJC. Buchnevich is an excellent sniper and can be dangerous at any level of play thanks to his great shot. He needs to improve his size and physical play, but the potential is definitely there.

Bogdan Yakimov, C, Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk

Yakimov is a good-sized player who could raise some attention in June, especially if he manages to have a good second half of the season. His skating was an issue last year, but he worked to improve it over the summer and the results are evident in his game. Yakimov was among the last cuts at the recent WJC, but he will most likely he represent Team Russia at next year's event. The Nizhnekamsk, Russia native is a good faceoff man and his size and gritty style can be very useful in North America.

Vyacheslav Osnovin, C, Traktor Chelyabinsk

Osnovin is another player who was surprisingly overlooked during the 2012 NHL Draft, even more surprising than others considering that he was invited to the NHL Combine. The 6’0”, 180-pound prospect is a natural center whose passing skills are very impressive. He can feed any player on the ice and this ability, paired with his very good skating, makes him an excellent offensive prospect. He can work on his defensive game and physical skills, but he has some potential. Osnovin is expected to play a leading role at the next U-20 WJC.

Artyom Prokhorov, W, CSKA Moscow

Another smallish player, Prokhorov is an interesting forward with good sniping ability. Prokhorov had a good showing with Russia at the World Junior A Challenge, so it is likely that North American scouts had a good look at him. Whether this performance will be enough to get Prokhorov drafted is still uncertain, but the dynamic winger is a good candidate to skate at the U-18 WJC this spring, where it will become more evident as to whether he can manage to overcome his small size with his talent.

Sergei Stetsenko, D, CSKA Moscow

A solid defensive defenseman, Stetsenko has surely been noted by scouts during one of the many international tournaments he played in with Team Russia. A regular on the national team in his age group, Stetsenko can combine an aggressive game with good defensive abilities. At times, he can be too aggressive and must work to avoid too many trips to the penalty box. We’ll have a good chance to evaluate his true value at the next U-18's.

Alexander Sharov, C, CSKA Moscow

Another player in these rankings from CSKA Moscow, Sharov is a valuable playmaker who can score as well as pass the puck and is an interesting offensive player. He is not small by any means (6’1”, 180 lbs.), but he surely has room for improving his physical strength and play. Sharov is a good prospect who in other years would have received more attention. But nowadays, drafting a Russian is considered too risky and thus he might well end up being passed over, like many other players on this list.

Ruzal Galeev, W, Ak Bars Kazan

Galeev is another very interesting player with above average offensive ability. The Kazan, Russia native has smooth hands and good wheels, and unlike other forwards on this list, he has some defensive experience as he used to play on the blue line. Galeev has always been more of an offensive defenseman, however, so his defensive skills are not as good as one would expect, so he'll certainly need some work on this part of his game. Galeev is a regular for Team Russia among 95-born players and so he should make Russia's roster at the next U-18 WJC.

Andrei Filonenko, G, CSKA Moscow

Filonenko might be considered the new Igor Bobkov (ANA) as he is a huge goalie (6’5”, 220 lbs.) with good mobility and goaltending skills. But Filonenko has had little exposure so far, in spite of having excellent stats in the MHL. Filonenko is a very interesting prospect for his size alone. It will be interesting to see if he’ll make the U-18 roster, however, as he'll likely have to beat out Nikita Serebryakov of the Saginaw Spirit (OHL) and Spartak Moscow’s Igor Shestyorkin.

Follow Alessandro Seren Rosso on Twitter @AlexSerenRosso