Russian Russians

Jonathan Willis
July 10 2013 09:49AM

In 2013, the Oilers did something they have only done once before: drafted multiple Russians playing in Russia with top-100 selections.

The Picks

The following snippets come from Hockey Prospectus’ Corey Pronman.

83rd overall pick Bogdan Yakimov:

Yakimov had a decent season playing in the second-tier Russian pro league, and he was a final cut from the Russian World Junior squad. He is a big center, measuring in at about 6'5". He may not have the top-end tools of a typical top Russian prospect, but he is talented and he plays a good power game. His hands are above average, and while he can certainly make some moves and carry the puck into the opposing zone, he is not an overly creative forward. He also has pretty good hockey sense, as he makes quick decisions, sees the ice well, and positions himself effectively. As mentioned, he is a big body player, but he could use some more muscle to fill out and make the most of his frame. Still, he is effective when protecting the puck on the boards, and he will drive the net, making use of his physical assets. His main issue is his skating, as it is below average. His top speed and his first few steps are subpar, and while has shown some improvement, he must continue to progress in that area.

88th overall pick Anton Slepyshev:

Slepyshev was passed over in last year's draft, mostly due to signability concerns. Despite being ranked 17th in last year's Hockey Prospectus draft rankings, he falls to 45th this season, simply due to the depth of the draft class. He is an above-average skater, with agility and free movement, as his shiftiness makes him hard to check. He has a plus shot and he knows it, as his mentality is often shoot-first, even from distance. He can still make plays, and he does not have tunnel vision, but his playmaking skills are not his best element. His physical game has progressed, and he has added strength since last season. He can protect pucks moderately well. He will display physical effort, although it could be better at times. He also needs to work on his defensive game.

Yakimov has superb size and a north/south game, but skating is an issue, while the 6’2” Slepyshev brings a lot of skill but there are signability concerns.

The Last Time Around

It’s easy to say that thanks to concerns about their willingness to come to North America, Russians playing in Russia are undervalued. The last time around, though, that isn’t how things worked out for the Oilers.

In 2000, the Oilers selected Alexei Mikhnov 17th overall, Alexander Lyubimov 83rd overall and Yevgeni Muratov 274th overall.

Mikhnov was an interesting pick. The 6’5” forward had decent numbers in Russia’s second-tier league, and was an oddity in that unlike the Oilers’ other two Russian picks he hadn’t played in the World Juniors in the season before he was taken. He was also a bit of a reach pick, ranked 19th overall among European skaters by Central Scouting – interestingly Vladislav Luchkin, ranked 18th overall, went 225th in the draft while Artem Kryukov, ranked 14th overall by Central went 15th at the draft.

Development was also a huge problem. Hockey’s Future has the bullet points – Mikhnov being warned against going to the Oilers’ development camp, Mikhnov finally coming to Edmonton and the team discovering he needed glasses and then in 2006-07 coming to North America for less than 30 games before going back to Russia. Mikhnov has had a career in Europe, but didn’t really establish himself as an impact player in Russia until age 23, and though he showed flashes for the Oilers he didn’t stay in North America long enough to really tell if he could adapt to the game.

Lyubimov jumped from the third-tier Russian league to the top league at 20, and earned a spot on the World Junior team – he got five points in seven games as a defenceman at that age. He came over to North America two years later, played one season for the Central League’s Odessa Jackalopes then went back to Russia where he played in the second and third-tier leagues back home.

Muratov, a 5’9” dynamo who lit up the World Juniors (led the tournament in goals) as a 19-year old, just never came over. He had a decent but unspectacular career in Russia – including a bunch of years with Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk – but nobody ever got a chance to see how good he might end up being in North America.

By my count, that’s one likely decent player lost to Russian factors, one blown pick (perhaps thanks to the short viewing window of the World Juniors), and one late flyer that likely wouldn’t have worked out even if not for the Russian factors.

This Time

All that can be said with any amount of certainty is that both players look like decent prospects. Yakimov’s presence at the NHL Draft, as well as the obvious connection to Nail Yakupov (a Russian-born player but a less risky one in that he was playing in North America during his draft year) would seem to make him a decent bet to come over at some point. Slepyshev is very likely a player, but it’s going to be interesting to see whether he exhibits any interest in playing NHL hockey.

I personally like both picks, and wonder if we'll see the Oilers go to Russia - at least with late picks - more often in the future.

Recently around the Nation Network

One of the significant stories in recent days - and on a similar note - was the departure of Alex Burmistrov from the Winnipeg Jets for the KHL:

It's definitely a frustrating day to be a Jets fan. Still, we have to hold out hope that Burmistrov will be back after his two year contract with Ak Bars Kazan. The Jets will still hold his rights two years from now, and his departure makes room for a UFA addition who may be able to slide up to the second line should Jokinen or Setoguchi hit a cold streak.

Click the link to read more, or alternately, feel free check out some of my other pieces here:

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Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#1 Supernova
July 10 2013, 10:10AM
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Very worthwhile choices, risk worth taking.

What is the historical percentage that those picks have made the NHL?

possibly under 10%, makes those choices even better.

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#2 Truth
July 10 2013, 10:37AM
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Does anyone know how Yakimov looked at the development camp? Can't remember hearing much about him there. The story was Klefbom, as it should have been.

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#3 Ducey
July 10 2013, 10:43AM
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A review of the Oilers drafts shows they have taken a lot more Russians than I thought. Most of the picks were never heard from again.

The reality is that these types of players are going to have to play in the AHL for a period of time to learn to play the North American game. Most of them do not want to because of the money they can make in the KHL.

Hopefully Yakipov will be enough of a draw that a guy like Zharkov or Yakimov will do a year in the AHL for the chance to play with him.

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#4 oilers2k10
July 10 2013, 10:47AM
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I really like both of these picks,

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#5 Aitch
July 10 2013, 10:47AM
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Yakimov - small sample of highlights, but I liked how he took the puck out of the corner to the front of the net. Reminded me of Big George - even down to the backhand shot. He also seems to have a quick release, even if the feet aren't the fastest.

Slepyshev - loved how he created space for himself in front of the net as he saw the play develop.

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#6 Dman09
July 10 2013, 10:51AM
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I remember there being comments about one of the Russians at camp looking pretty bad during drills but then just lit the place up once he had a puck on his stick.

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#7 EHH Team
July 10 2013, 11:13AM
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Ducey wrote:

A review of the Oilers drafts shows they have taken a lot more Russians than I thought. Most of the picks were never heard from again.

The reality is that these types of players are going to have to play in the AHL for a period of time to learn to play the North American game. Most of them do not want to because of the money they can make in the KHL.

Hopefully Yakipov will be enough of a draw that a guy like Zharkov or Yakimov will do a year in the AHL for the chance to play with him.

I also hope that Yakupov's presence and influence might lead to more Russians accepting the need to develop through the AHL with a goal of making the Oilers.

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#8 madjam
July 10 2013, 12:03PM
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Yakimov's tier 2 pretty much says it all - very unlikely to play at NHL level -perhaps AHL max. Not enough NHL skills . That's my take on Yakimov just gathering from Willis 's resume and short hilite reel in tier 2 Russian hockey league . . Slepychev has NHL skills in a few areas and has a decent shot at NHL at sometime . Having seem him play (Slepychev) I was impressed and was happy to see Oilers draft him . One out of two is not bad .

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#9 Oilcan
July 10 2013, 12:19PM
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Aitch wrote:

Yakimov - small sample of highlights, but I liked how he took the puck out of the corner to the front of the net. Reminded me of Big George - even down to the backhand shot. He also seems to have a quick release, even if the feet aren't the fastest.

Slepyshev - loved how he created space for himself in front of the net as he saw the play develop.

I thought slepyshev couldn't make it over cuz of paperwork? So he wasnt at the camp?

So either he was there and I apologize for doubting you or he wasnt there and your "observations" are LIES...which is it sir? Haha

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#10 LinkfromHyrule
July 10 2013, 12:20PM
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@Oilcan

I think he was referring to the highlight videos included in the article

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#11 Oilcan
July 10 2013, 12:31PM
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LinkfromHyrule wrote:

I think he was referring to the highlight videos included in the article

Ah all makes sense now. I thought he was replying to the comment asking about how they looked at the camp.

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#13 Truth
July 10 2013, 12:56PM
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By all accounts the Yakimov pick suits MacT's comments about drafting players emphasizing skill and not footwork/mobility/speed. These are apparently traits that MacT says are easier to fix. I think that is against the traditional viewpoint of grabbing a big strong fast athlete and turning him into a player.

To me, you can't teach hockey sense and footspeed is marginally improvable. These hockey players have been skating/powerskating for most of their young lives. It is foolish IMO to think they will one day turn from Laraque into Bure. However, there is no chance a 6'5" player with good skill and speed goes 83 overall.

A smart hockey mind that can skate and is willing to engage should be the target. Stick skills are improvable, as is minor mobility around the ice; edges, pivoting, defensive angles, etc.

Slepyshev is interesting. I believe he tweeted out something along the lines that it is very encouraging to be drafted by a team with many Russians already in the system. Maybe the Oilers are trying to be the "Russian friendly" NHL team.

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#14 Ogie Oilthorpe
July 10 2013, 01:25PM
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Way off-topic BUT...

Did anyone else laugh out loud watching Seguin's interview with Horcs sitting next to him over on puck daddy?

Horcs' lean in was a beauty, had to get a little time on the camera.

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#15 Buke
July 10 2013, 01:36PM
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Truth wrote:

By all accounts the Yakimov pick suits MacT's comments about drafting players emphasizing skill and not footwork/mobility/speed. These are apparently traits that MacT says are easier to fix. I think that is against the traditional viewpoint of grabbing a big strong fast athlete and turning him into a player.

To me, you can't teach hockey sense and footspeed is marginally improvable. These hockey players have been skating/powerskating for most of their young lives. It is foolish IMO to think they will one day turn from Laraque into Bure. However, there is no chance a 6'5" player with good skill and speed goes 83 overall.

A smart hockey mind that can skate and is willing to engage should be the target. Stick skills are improvable, as is minor mobility around the ice; edges, pivoting, defensive angles, etc.

Slepyshev is interesting. I believe he tweeted out something along the lines that it is very encouraging to be drafted by a team with many Russians already in the system. Maybe the Oilers are trying to be the "Russian friendly" NHL team.

Oh please! There are numerous examples of top six NHL talent going at or after #83 in the draft. Just off the top of my head

Pavel Datsyuk #171 Henrik Zetterberg #210 Johan Franzen #97 Patrick Sharp #95 Valtteri Filppula #95 Joe Pavelski #205 Ryan Malone #115 Martin Erat #191

You are right that if he had top end foot speed he would be higher ranked and likely taken in the first round.

Look how many GM's were wrong about Datsyuk and zetterberg in their draft years.

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#16 John
July 10 2013, 02:05PM
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David Perron traded to Oilers according to RDS

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#17 Bank Shot
July 11 2013, 10:33AM
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Supernova wrote:

Very worthwhile choices, risk worth taking.

What is the historical percentage that those picks have made the NHL?

possibly under 10%, makes those choices even better.

Looking through past drafts it becomes apparent that NHL teams were taking a shedload of Russians in the late 90's and early 00's. Despite there not being as strong of a rival Russian league at the time these guys appear to have busted at a rate much higher then the historical norm.

Lots of failed Chistov's taken high in the first, and the second rounds and beyond were almost universal flops. I'm not holding my breath on thee guys.

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