According to a report out of Russia, the Edmonton Oilers have signed Anton Slepyshev, a third-round pick of the club in the 2013 NHL Draft.
— Igor Eronko (@IgorEronko) May 27, 2015
We still await official confirmation on this side of the Atlantic, but as TSN’s Ryan Rishaug notes this is hardly a surprising development.
At this point nothing official between Oil and Slepyshev but it seems very likely. 2 sides been talking 4 some time now. Would be 3 yr 2wy
— Ryan Rishaug (@TSNRyanRishaug) May 27, 2015
That three-year, two-way contract is the NHL’s typical entry-level pact, which Slepyshev would automatically be be assigned, with the only question being the exact structure of performance and signing bonuses (as a third-round pick, nothing onerous should be expected).
Way back when I was a teenage fan of the Oilers, the team drafted a big winger out of Russia. Alexei Mikhnov was the final first round pick of the Barry Fraser drafting era, No. 17 overall, and there was a lot to like about him. He was a massive (6’5″, 218 pounds today) power forward prospect and while his numbers never really got to where they ideally would have been he was that “big winger with skill” the Oilers have been searching out for the better part of two decades.
Every training camp, I remember wondering if he’d come over from Russia, and most years I’d be disappointed. One year he made the trip — just a brief visit, not to play — and the Oilers discovered that he had wretched eyesight and needed glasses.
It took better than half a decade before Mikhnov finally arrived in North America at the age of 24. He played 27 games for Pittsburgh’s farm team (putting up 18 points) and appeared in two contests at the NHL level. He didn’t stay the full season; he returned to the Russian Super League and hasn’t been back since.
It’s a bit of a horror story from a development perspective, and presumably the KHL for all its faults has improved the quality of assessment and development in Russia in the 15 years since Mikhnov was drafted. But it speaks to the need to get players over early, to teach them the North American game and get them into an entry-level position (an AHL job) while they’re still raw enough as players to accept an entry-level position.
The Russian Pipeline
One of the underrated things that Craig MacTavish did during his time as general manager was accept Russia as a legitimate source of NHL players. For years, the Oilers rarely made forays overseas — Mikhnov was a rare exception and did not inspire confidence — but under MacTavish’s watch the Oilers sought out European free agents playing in the KHL and drafted Russian skaters developing on the far side of the Atlantic.
It’s still early to judge the results, but the third-round selections of Bogdan Yakimov and Anton Slepyshev stack up well to those that preceded them. Edmonton had no picks in the third round in 2007 or 2008; here’s what they’ve done with those picks since 2009:
- 2009 (2): Troy Hesketh, Cameron Abney
- 2010 (1): Ryan Martindale
- 2011 (2): Samu Perhonen, Travis Ewanyk
- 2012 (2): Jujhar Khaira, Daniil Zharkov
- 2013 (2): Bogdan Yakimov, Anton Slepyshev
Zharkov didn’t work out, but he wasn’t a European hire; he was playing in the OHL when he was picked, dramatically reducing the risk of getting him to come overseas and increasing the number of scouts who saw him play live.
Yakimov and Slepyshev both look like players who might be able to make a difference. Yakimov is a physical specimen, a 6’5″, 232 pound pivot who scored pretty well as a 20-year-old AHL rookie. Slepyshev is a 6’2″ winger with good speed who scored 25 points in 58 games this year (his age 20 season), a total which based on past experience projects to ~30 points over a full 82-game NHL season. Both are likely to start next year in Bakersfield.
Edmonton has gone from a team that largely ignored Russia and had problems when it didn’t to a club that drafts players and gets them to North America quickly. We don’t know yet if they’ll be rewarded for the shift, but the results so far are encouraging, encouraging enough that Peter Chiarelli should probably continue down his predecessor’s path in this respect.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) May 27, 2015