Russia NHL Entry Draft Preview

By Eugene Belashchenko

As the draft approaches, it is time to examine what the Russian hockey system has to offer this year. While this year’s crop is not by the best of the past decade, it still offers a few gems. This article will examine the potential of Russia’s top eligible players, discussing their successes and struggles during the past season leading up to the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. 

1) Alexei Cherepanov, RW
Projection: Mid first round

His presence at the top of the Russian rankings should not be a surprise to anyone. This young player has consistently been the most talented and surprisingly productive young player in the Russian Super League. A fluid skated with an above average top speed, Cherepanov is a smart and technical player who has also proved an ability to learn quickly, adapting in just a few months to the rigors of the professional game in the Super League. He obviously did not accomplish this alone, and had some great teachers in his linemates Popov and Kuryanov, who are exceptional young hockey players in their own rights. As a result of skating with such experienced and productive players, significant pressure was relieved off Cherepanov, giving him a chance to develop and eventually blossom. This has helped Cherepanov immensely, since he is not by any stretch a big player and has not yet filled in his 5’11 frame. One concern about this young forward’s game is his consistency and ability to stay motivated. 

He played very differently in the Super League and with Russia’s U20 squad when compared to his level of activity and aggressiveness while with the U18 squad. A player who beat the Super League rookie record and was U20 Team Russia’s top scorer should not be average just a point a game at the U18 World Junior Championships. The last two players who performed this well both in the Super League and on the International arena were Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, and while Cherepanov undeniably has loads of talent, he is not in the same elite echelon as those forwards. In regards to his offensive skills, he does, however, remind a bit of Alexander Radulov and Washington Capitals prospect Ivan Nepriayev when he was at that age. Cherepanov’s consistency and lack of physical presence are a concern, though his upside is immense.
Draft Projection: Overall, the speculation of this young forward being drafted in the top five spot will unlikely materialize.  In fact, he may not hear his name among the top 10 forwards, even though, talent wise he may deserve to be there in the latter part of the top 10. Cherepanov may have to wait because of the continuing lack of transfer agreement between Russia and the NHL, which would make it harder to sign him. Additionally, considering the pay grade of Russia’s young hockey stars back home, it would be difficult for an NHL team to wrestle him away and convince Cherepanov to develop in the AHL for a season or two, which also hurts his prospects. Still, no team will be able to resist his great upside and this young player will be off the board in the top 20.

2) Sergei Korostin, RW
Projection: early 2nd round

Sergei Korostin is deserving of the #2 spot, as this young forward is a better and faster skater than Cherepanov and can handle the puck at full speed. Even more impressively, he does not hesitate to forecheck and crash through the opposition, which is an admirable quality and shows a style of play that is compatible with the more physical North American hockey. Still, he does not yet see the ice as well as he should at the Super League level and should better utilize his linemates. Considering HC Dynamo head coach Krikunov’s “love” for young players, Korostin saw very little ice time with the Super League club despite being promised the ice time and thus not being loaned to a High League (Russia 2) club for development purposes as a lot of other young Dynamo players have been in the past. 

Internationally, he delivered at the U18 WJC, scoring in key games against difficult opponents. Both he and Cherepanov combined for more than half of Russia’s goals, potting 5 each. Part of the reason why the Russian squad was so successful at this tournament is the spreading of the scoring threat with Cherepanov and Korostin skating on the first and second lines, as Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin did a few years back in 2002, the last time Russia played the underdog and surprised everyone with a silver medal finish. 
Draft Projection: Korostin’s upside and attitude when he is on the ice is admirable. He has also been consistently a strong performer at the international level and finished strongly at the U18 World Junior Championships. Still, considering his average size and lack of experience of playing against professional players in the Super League or High League (Russia 2), it makes him a skilled project pick and will also drop him to the second round. While he could be the second most promising young player out of Russia, Korostin may not hear his name until the latter half of the second round.

3) Maxim Gratchev, LW
Projection: early 2nd round

The only reason Gratchev is in this list is because of his Russian heritage, even though this 88 born prospect has been playing in North America for many years and has become well known to North American audiences over the past three seasons in the QMJHL. Gratchev is a solid built player who is hard to knock off the puck and possesses an impressive determination. He does need to work on using his linemates better, though he has become much better at this during this past season.  

Draft Projection:  Overall, he is a reliable and “safe” selection who has the potential to develop into a solid second line winger.  While this young player may not be more talented than some of his Russia based counterparts, a la defenseman Roman Teslyuk (#44/2004 by Edmonton Oilers), he may benefit greatly from playing in North America and hear his name called by the middle of the second round ahead of them. 

4) Ruslan Bashkirov, RW
Projection: early to mid 2nd round

Ruslan Bashkirov appears to be the better half of the twin combo that hit Quebec and effectively made their case to replace another Russian, Alexander Radulov, who enjoyed a phenomenal 2005-06 season in the QMJHL. The young player did the absolute right thing by leaving the HC Spartak system, since the club disintegrated last summer and has only recently come back to life with a new infusion of funding. As a result, the Bashkirovs would have likely been stuck in the juniors again, warming the bench with some Super League squad, or possibly catching on with a High League (Russia 2 squad). A talented sniper with an impressive scoring touch, Bashkirov has also impressed with his aggressiveness and competitiveness. He has an above average top speed, though he does need to continue to work on his skating stride. 

Draft Projection:  In some regards, Bashkirov had first round potential prior to the 2006-07 season. He performed well during this season, but some of the deficiencies in his game, such as his skating ability and average size have become quite apparent and thus he will likely have to wait until the middle of the second round.

5) Maxim Mayorov, LW
Projection: Early to mid 2nd round

Mayorov is a project pick and reminds of Vladislav Evseev (with a bit less speed and aggressiveness) and Alexander Polushin at that age. While this is not exactly a flattering comparison now, but of those were considered first round selections and were picked high in the second round in their respective years. What has hurt their careers recently has been a lack of development beyond their natural ability and lack of work ethic to continue striving to develop and raise their game to the next level. Mayorov plays a similar style to those two players and it remains to be seen if he can continue raising his game. He has delivered a solid season in the Russian High League (Russia 2) with Neftyanik Leninogorsk, but failed to make much of an impact on Russia’s national squad, eventually missing the U18 WJC. 

The young winger forward definitely has impressive size at 6’2 and 192 pounds. However, his work ethic has not been consistent and he has not been able to make a significant impact on Russia’s national team. A pure sniper, this young forward has wheels on him, solid puck handling and can surprise some with a burst of speed and then a precise wrist shot. He does however need to improve his defensive play and become a bigger physical presence. Instead of returning into his own zone, he often tends to float and look for an offensive breakout chance, which at times cost his team dearly. To continue advancing and developing, Mayorov needs to work harder and constantly try to raise his game and not fall into the trap of relying on his natural ability and sub par competitive field. 

Draft Projection: Mayorov has a lot of potential, but is a project selection at best as he has not proven too much thus far in his career on the international arena or in Russia. While speculation has been circulating around that he will be selected in the first round, it’s just as likely that this young prospect will be picked early in the second round. 

6) Vitali Karamnov, C
Projection: Mid third round or later

Karamnov is a talented two way center who is an impressive skater. He has physically grown quite a bit over the past season, though still needs to improve his overall strength. Preferring to create a scoring chance for his linemates rather than shoot himself, Karamnov is a playmaker with an above average vision of the ice. Still, he does have a dangerous wrist shot and can put the puck in himself. Defensively, his work ethic is fairly solid. Overall, he reminds a bit of Mikhail Yunkov, who prior to the draft was solid in most categories, but did not stand out in one area in particular. A long time linemate with Korostin in the Dynamo system, the young forward suffered the same fate as Korsotin, remaining in Dynamo’s reserve for most of the season instead of being given a chance to play in the High League (Russia 2). He also did not do himself any favors with a sub-par though defensively reliable performance at the U18 WJC.  

Draft Projection: 
Mid third round at best. Karamnov just hasn’t done enough to impress and unlike Yunkov, he didn’t have to solid snipers like Radulov and Voloshenko on his wings to make him look good. Still, mid third around is not at all bad, but more was expected from this promising young center.

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