Russian Russians

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:

  • Supernova

    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.

    • Buke

      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.

  • Ducey

    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.

    • Ducey

      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.

  • Aitch

    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.

  • Ducey

    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.

  • Ducey

    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 .

    • I don’t think we should be writing Yakimov off because he played in the VHL/MHL rather than in the K.

      Consider these numbers, all from this season.

      Valeri Nichushkin: 15GP, 0.67 PTS/GM (VHL)

      Bogdan Yakimov: 37GP, 0.59 PTS/GM (VHL)

      Valeri Nichushkin: 9GP, 0.89 PTS/GM (MHL)

      Bogdan Yakimov: 11GP, 1.18 PTS/GM (MHL)

      Now, there is a *ton* those scoring numbers don’t tell us. But what they do suggest is that, scoring-wise, Yakimov’s production in Russia is perfectly acceptable for a player in his age group.

  • Truth

    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.

    • Buke

      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.

  • Ogie Oilthorpe

    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.