Russia 2006 draft review

By Sergei Balashov

In a few years, the Washington Capitals may have a Russian as their franchise netminder. Lokomotiv Yaroslavl product Semen Varlamov was the first Russian to have his name called at the GM Place last Saturday in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, becoming only the second Russian goaltender after Yevgeni Ryabchikov to be picked in the first round. Ryabchikov was chosen by the Boston Bruins 21st overall in 1994 but failed to ever make it to the NHL.

In general, Russia had a great draft, especially compared to last year’s disaster when just 11 were chosen with the first player going 70th overall. The number of Russian draftees has been in decline over the past five years. Thirty-seven players were chosen back in 2001, followed by 31 in 2002, 30 in 2003 and only 18 in 2004. But if we look at the first three rounds, the numbers stay consistent. Ten of this year’s 15 draftees were picked either in the first, second or third round, the same as in 2004 which was probably the most successful draft for Russia in history. And most of the 2006 players, especially guys like Ivan Vishnevsky, Nikolai Kulemin and Yuri Alexandrov won’t take long to be ready to play in the NHL.

Vishnevsky, who already has experience of playing in North America, and Kulemin were perhaps the safest picks among Russians. Both Sergei Shirokov and Alexander Bumagin, who slipped down to the sixth round shouldn’t be ruled out and have every chance to go to the big leagues, perform at a high level and make significant contributions to their teams. Though the quality of the draft class won’t really be known for five years, as of now, the situation with these year’s draftees looks promising.

The lack of a transfer agreement between the NHL and the Russian hockey authorities was among the issues surrounding the draft. This problem is seen by many as a serious hurdle to signing players out of Russia. However, the new head of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation Vladislav Tretiak is expected to make reaching such an agreement with the NHL one of his priorities. Judging by the number of Russians taken, there wasn’t much of a scare on the part of the NHL teams that picked them.

Semen Varlamov, G (Lokomotiv-2, Russia-2)
1st round pick, 23rd overall by Washington

Picking a goalie so high signaled the Capitals’ determination to find a long-term solution for their goaltending situation. With Olaf Kolzig’s imminent retirement, the team has no quality goaltenders coming up behind him. In fact, they don’t even have a decent backup with talented but inconsistent Rostislav Stana the best netminder behind the aging Kolzig.

Varlamov has a great potential, but he is yet to be tested in the big leagues as he hasn’t played a game in Russian Super League. However, he posted great numbers for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl’s farm team posting eight shutouts in 33 games and keeping his GAA below the 2.00 mark. Varlamov’s assets include his mobility, vision, good reactions and quickness. Investing a first round pick in him was a gamble since it’s still unknown whether he’ll remain consistent and develop at same pace as he steps to the next level and goes to play in the Super League. On the other hand, the most recent Stanley Cup Playoffs proved that a goalie doesn’t need to be overly experienced to assume the starting duties right away and lead his team to the very top.

Ivan Vishnevsky, D (Rouyn-Noranda, QMJHL)
1st round pick, 27th overall by Dallas

Vishnevsky had a very productive season for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the QMJHL scoring 48 points in 54 games, very good even for an offensive defenseman. The speedy blueliner demonstrated outstanding skating technique, a solid accurate shot along with the ability to shift the momentum in his team’s favor when needed. He is certainly the best Russian defenseman in this draft class and one of the top skaters overall.

The Stars had just one pick in the top two rounds and spending it on Vishnevsky was fairly predictable since the team has a skilled but aging defensive unit which certainly needs some improvement. Vishnevsky is among the few players in this draft who could have an impact on their team right away.

Igor Makarov, RW (Soviet Wings, Russia)
2nd round pick, 33rd overall by Chicago

This pick looks like a reach on the Blackhawks’ part, on the other hand it’s not surprising knowing Chicago’s passion for Russian players. Makarov had a sub-par season with the Soviet Wings showing inconsistency and lack of work ethic. Just like Varlamov, he doesn’t have enough big league experience and doesn’t have a solid record of playing on the international arena making team Russia just once for the Four Nations tournament where he didn’t post anything besides a lowly -2 rating.

Be that as it may, Makarov does have the potential to develop into an above-average player but it looks to some that he’s unlikely to play to his fullest ability. He’s got a good enough size (6’1 183 lb) for a forward, he’s a decent skater who positions himself well and has the mobility to fill into the open spots in front of the net. Makarov has been given a lot of credit with this pick. If he works hard enough, he can fit into Chicago’s offensive system quite well. However, if he keeps going at same pace, his future in the NHL could be in doubt.

Yuri Alexandrov, D (Severstal, Russia)
2nd round pick, 37th overall by Boston

Alexandrov came out of Severstal, a team which has an assortment of young promising talents. He was highly valuable for his team throughout the season and quickly established himself as one of the top defensive prospects. Alexandrov is a stay-at-home type defenseman capable of performing man-to-man coverage quite well. His size isn’t suitable for a player of his style, however. He’s been working on his 6’1 185 lb frame to boost his ability to physically suppress the opposition and put additional pressure on the forwards.

Boston did the best they could with the first of their two second round picks. Both Phil Kessel, picked fifth overall, and Alexandrov can contribute right away, making certain emphasis on defense makes sense especially in view of losing Kyle McLaren who now patrols the blue line for San Jose.

Nikolai Kulemin, RW (Metallurg Mg, Russia)
2nd round pick, 44th overall by Toronto

Kulemin was picked right where most experts expected. It looks like the Maple Leafs’ scouts were among the many who were impressed with his performance at the World Juniors. Kulemin could eventually become one of the cornerstones of this franchise. His great work ethic, outstanding talents and ability to lead the team in the most critical situations gives us every reason to believe he’ll make the team pretty soon and be as successful as he was with Metallurg Mg, his Super League squad.

It would be best for Kulemin to spend another year in Russia and prove the meteoric rise that he underwent last season wasn’t pure luck. It would be good for him to work on the defensive side of his game and avoid unnecessary collisions on the ice. In general, it looks like the soon-to-be 20-year-old will be fully ready to perform on the NHL level next summer.

Artem Anisimov, C (Lokomotiv, Russia)
2nd round pick, 54th overall by NY Rangers

Anisimov is another representative of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl and another draftee who has a lot to prove and a lot of work to do before he can compete for a spot on the roster. He was one of the prime players on Lokomotiv’s farm team and showed up in the Super League for 10 regular season games posting just one assist. Anisimov has a solid frame (6’3 187), exceptional playmaking abilities for a player of his age and great passing skills. Anisimov is a player similar in a similar vein as Evgeni Malkin, but he’s got a very long way to go to even come close to matching Malkin’s skills.

Anisimov has been actively involved in international tournaments making team Russia for four such forums over the past year. He was constantly delivering strong performances always being one of the go-to players on the team.

Denis Bodrov, D (Lada Togliatti)
2nd round pick, 55th overall by Philadelphia

No one should be surprised with Bodrov going that high in the draft. Denis had a good season making the Junior national team for the World Championship thus getting every chance to showcase his ability. Bodrov is not big for a defenseman at 6’0, 185 lb, but it doesn’t affect his game. He is a reliable defensive defenseman and a valuable special teams contributor. This past season was his first Super League season which he spent with Lada. He appeared in 37 regular season games tallying two goals and two assists.

Alexander Vasyunov, LW (Lokomotiv-2, Russia-2)
2nd round pick, 58th overall by New Jersey

Vasyunov was Russia’s last second rounder and New Jersey’s first Russian draft pick. He made the squad for the U18 championship and delivered a decent performance scoring twice in four games. Vasyunov is blessed with a great scoring touch, above average hockey sense and very good skating ability. His aggressive style could benefit any power play unit and can be even more impressive if he works on his skating.

Picking him in the second round was more of a long-term investment on the part of the New Jersey Devils as it’s still unclear how long Vasyunov will take to reach his potential and if he’ll ever be valuable to the franchise.

Kirill Tulupov, D (Neftyanik Almetyevsk, Russia)
3rd round pick, 67th overall by New Jersey

New Jersey continued the trend picking another Russian with their first third round pick. Tulupov virtually came from nowhere appearing on the scouts’ radars after the U18 championship where he was one of the top defensemen. His most conspicuous advantage is his size. Tulupov not only possesses an impressive 6’3 220 lbs frame but also takes full advantage of it not letting any of his opponents get away with the puck easily.

He loves to check, sometimes a little too much and clog the speedy forwards that try to create traffic in front of the net. Tulupov also has a hard and accurate slap shot and a decent skating ability, especially for a player of his size. His value on a penalty-killing unit can’t be overestimated.

Tulupov is most certainly a worthy draft pick but he’s still a few years away.

Vladimir Zharkov, RW (CSKA-2, Russia-2)
3rd round pick, 77th overall by New Jersey

Another unexpected third round pick. Zharkov also caught attention at the U18 championship where he had three points in six games and took a couple unnecessary penalties but looked rather good overall. The fact that he went in the third round serves as a sign that the Devils are putting certain expectations into this player who, just like their previous two picks is going to take quite some time before his actual value is clarified. As of now, Zharkov should be more worried about making CSKA’s roster for the upcoming season.

Pavel Valentenko, D (Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, Russia-2)
5th round pick, 139th overall by Montreal

Montreal Canadiens’ director of player personnel Trevor Timmins compared the big Russian blueliner to another player in the organization, Alexei Emelin. “He’s a defensive defenseman with a big, heavy shot who plays physical,” Timmins explained.

The young Russian caught Timmins’ eye during his participation in a Russian touring that played against CHL All-Stars. “After that we sent some scouts out to watch him – the rink where they went to see him was nasty cold – probably the coldest, most unpleasant place they’ve ever seen,” he said.

The young defenseman has good size standing 6’2 202 lbs. He spent his whole career in the Neftekhimik system.

Sergei Shirokov, RW (CSKA, Russia)
6th round pick, 163rd overall by Vancouver

Shirokov’s talents may have been underestimated due to his relatively small 5’10 176 lbs frame and his tendency to undergo occasional slumps when his productivity considerably declines.

He spent the past season with CSKA and posted good enough numbers with seven goals and six assists in 39 regular season games. Shirokov’s draft value went up after the World Juniors. He got off to a good start but slowed down in playoffs. Shirokov’s skating skills and passing ability helped him develop an effective duo with speedy forward Nikolai Lemtyugov (STL).

He was the oldest Russian taken, having turned 20 in March.

Alexander Bumagin, LW (Lada Togliatti, Russia)
6th round pick, 170th overall by Edmonton

Alexander Bumagin clearly was a steal in the sixth round. Don’t let the numbers confuse you as Bumagin might develop into one of Super League’s top players as soon as next season. He made Lada’s roster last season and ranked first on his team in scoring with 25 points in just 48 games. His downsides are his size (6’0 180 lbs) and the fact that he still hasn’t had a chance to perform at the international level where he could draw all the attention from the scouts and the media. Bumagin could be one of the very few sixth rounders that actually have a shot at the NHL.

Denis Kazionov, LW (HC MVD, Russia)
7th round pick, 198th overall by Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay has already drafted Denis Kazionov’s brother Dmitri in 2002 so this pick seems quite logical. Kazionov spent the 2005-06 season with HC MVD in Russian Super League. He appeared in 26 games with just one assist. He’s an average-skilled sizable forward perfectly suitable for checking lines. Kazionov isn’t expected to become more than a checker.

Andrei Popov, RW (Traktor Chelyabinsk, Russia)
7th round pick, 205th overall by Philadelphia

Popov played for Traktor in Russian Higher League in 2005-06 making 14 appearances and scoring three goals and three assists. Popov’s chance came when he made team Russia for the U18 championship where he did pretty much nothing besides posting a multipoint performance in an 8-0 thrashing of team Belarus. He’ll have a better chance to develop if he goes to the upper level and tried to make a Super League team. Otherwise, it doesn’t look like much is going to come out here.

Jason Menard contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.