by Corey Pronman
Russia made their last cuts today so here’s a brief overview of their roster. I have notes on most NHL prospects although I don’t for a few players such as the goaltender Makarov.
Mikhail Grigorenko, Center, Buffalo Sabres (Quebec-QMJHL): Grigorenko was on Russia’s second line last year at this event prior to being injured and this time around could play a top role although he’s penciled on the second line again. He’s been great in the QMJHL, being among the league’s top scorers and flashing the elite skill and hockey sense he possesses.
Alexander Khokhlachev, Center, Boston Bruins (Spartak-KHL): Khokhlachev has been average in the KHL but looked quite good during the Super Series vs. the CHL. He’s a high-end playmaker who has shown some added speed this season which will help his prospect stock. This will be Khokhlachev’s second appearance for Russia.
Yaroslav Kosov, Right Wing, Florida Panthers (Magnitogorsk-KHL): Kosov is a good all-around player who has above-average speed, an impressive power game, solid defensive value and shows a fine amount of skill as well. He surprised some initial observers of him in the previous World Juniors as he quickly climbed the Russian depth chart. He’ll start this tournament again on their fourth line.
Nikita Kucherov, Right Wing, Tampa Bay Lightning, (Rouyn-Noranda-QMJHL): Kucherov transferred to the QMJHL with some thinking he’d light up goalies with former linemate Mikhail Grigorenko, but was traded from Quebec after playing 10 games with them. He’ll line up with Grigorenko now though and try to put his great playmaking and scoring ability to work.
Nikita Nesterov, Defense, Tampa Bay Lightning (Traktor-KHL): Nesterov is arguably Russia’s top defender at this tournament and while he’s not a world killer prospect, he is certainly above-average. Nesterov is a mobile physical defender who can make a good outlet and has a nice shot from the point. His upside isn’t too overwhelming though.
Valeri Nichushkin, Center/Wing, 2013 draft eligible (Traktor-KHL): Nichushkin is a potential top 10 pick in the upcoming draft. He has good size, he’s an elite skater with a high-end amount of skill whose raw talent level can dazzle on any given shift. I’d say his hockey sense is average though and it’s the one question mark I’d put on his future projection. He could surprise at this tournament for a draft eligible.
Maxim Shalunov, Right Wing, Chicago Blackhawks (Traktor-KHL): Shalunov was seen as a risk/reward pick in his draft season due to his talent level and inconsistency. This season he’s been pretty quality in International play and a little more well rounded than a few years ago. He’ll get third line duty and it will be interesting to see how he fares against top teams.
Anton Slepyshev, Left Wing, 2013 draft eligible (Novokuznetsk-KHL): Slepyshev is a very interesting prospect, a player who I rated in the first round last summer but went undrafted has played well in the KHL the last two seasons relative to his age. However when I asked one scout about why Slepyshev was not selected last June he said, “If you’re really a top prospect you don’t get passed over.” The scout noted concerns about his true talent level and getting him to come overseas. That same scout though said he was more impressed with him this season. Slepyshev will be a top 6 winger for Russia.
Andrei Vasilevski, Goaltender, Tampa Bay Lightning (Ufa-MHL): Vasilevski is having another quality season and will be an interesting player to watch after a dominant World Juniors as a 17 year old. He isn’t a lock to be the starter though. Of course goalie performances can go any which way in a short sample, but Vasilevski’s tools are unique, and he can be fun to watch. He is one of the game’s better goalie prospects.
Nail Yakupov, Right Wing, Edmonton Oilers (Neftekhimik-KHL): Yakupov has been very impressive in the KHL for his age, maybe even performing a tad above expectations. He’s a dynamic skater, puck handler and shooter who can perform unusual plays anytime he has the puck. He should be a treat to watch on the large ice surfaces.
Daniil Zharkov, Right Wing, Edmonton Oilers (Belleville-OHL): Zharkov is a very interesting prospect because he has the tools you want to see. He has good size, skates well, impressive puck skills and a nice shot but you look at his production in the last two seasons in the OHL and you wonder what’s wrong? Some say hockey sense, some say work ethic, but I honestly don’t know yet. He is likely the team’s 13th forward.
Russia also has a few interesting undrafted players like Sigarev and Tkachev who are very skilled players that have impressed me at one time or another this season. Sigarev will play on Russia’s top line with Khokhlachev and Yakupov. Albert Yarullin was a player I liked in his draft season in 2011 and while he’s a small defenseman, he plays well in his own end.