In Part 3 of highlighting players eligible for the 2021 NHL Draft, I will be taking a look at some of the top Russians that will be available when the draft rolls around. Another country that is filled with talent and who are continually a force to be reckoned with on the rolled stage, Russia has some really exciting players coming up over the next few years.
With talented players such as Vasili Podkolzin and Rodion Amirov having been drafted early on in the past two drafts, Russia has another cohort of players that could see their names called early on. Without further ado, here are five Russian players to watch for this upcoming season.
In my opinion, the best draft-eligible Russian player at this point in the season, Nikita Chibrikov has been off to an amazing start in the Junior Hockey League (MHL). Playing for SKA-1946 St. Petersburg, he has scored three goals and added five assists for eight points in eight games. He has also suited up in nine KHL games for SKA St. Petersburg where he has scored a goal.
What impresses me the most about Chibrikov is his ability to create plays with his elite skating ability. Chibrikov is a quick, fluid skater who opens up in the neutral zone and is able to effectively cut between defenders on his way to the net. He uses his edges to make quick cuts in the offensive zone and likes to circle back to find a teammate in the slot. Chibrikov also has a lightning-quick shot. Given time and space, he is able to pick where he wants to put it and makes the opponents pay.
Chibrikov is also no slouch when it comes to his play without the puck. His ability to read the play as it is unfolding allows him to effectively position himself in the defensive zone to cut off passing lanes. At times, he may disappear from the play, but when he is on, he is dangerous at both ends of the ice. Another thing I love about Chibrikov’s game is he does not shy away from contact. He has great lower body strength and is hard to knock off the puck. Although he may be smaller than some of his opponents, he does not back down from a battle and does not back down in puck battles.
Chibrikov has proven that he is a force to be reckoned with when he hits the ice. Currently averaging only 10:38 of ice time a game, Chibrikov has proven that he can be effective and could see a rise in his ice time. He is my favourite to be the first Russian player taken at next year’s draft and at the moment, no one is really close to overtaking him.
Another very solid player, Fyodor Svechkov can make an impact at both ends of the ice. Currently playing for Lada Togliatti of the Supreme Hockey League (VHL), he has accumulated one goal and three assists for four points in 13 games. He has also suited up for Ladia Togliatti of the MHL where he has collected three points in four games.
What impresses me the most about Svechkov is the fact he will not back down from anyone. When he is standing in front of the net, he battles hard to get positioning and is able to jump on loose rebounds if the chance presents itself. With the puck on his stick, he uses his deft stickhandling ability to gain time and space for his teammates and can set them up with ease.
Svechkov is very effective at using his body to shield the puck from other players. His lower body strength makes him hard to knock off the puck and results in few turnovers for his team. While Svechkov still needs to work on his skating and being more fluid with his stride, his effort is amazing to watch. He goes hard on the forecheck and is not afraid to throw the body to get the puck back.
Svechkov was ranked a B prospect by NHL Central Scouting and has proven that he is one of the better draft-eligible Russian players. With him playing against men, he will be better equipped at handling the physicality at the pro level. If he can better his all-around game and his consistency, then other teams better watch out.
A name who some people might not have heard of, Dmitri Kostenko is quickly changing that. Currently playing for Lada Togliatti of the VHL, he has accumulated four assists in 12 games. He has also suited up for Ladia Togliatti of the MHL, where he has two assists in one game.
What impressed me the most about Kostenko is the fact that he is so versatile. He loves to jump into the rush and uses his quick edges and great stickhandling ability to dance around his opponents. Even if he gets caught up and the puck is transitioned down the ice, he is more than capable of getting back to defend the front of the net. While he may not be the tallest defenseman on the ice, Kostenko is more than capable of clearing the front of his net of any danger posed.
Currently averaging 16:42 of ice time, Kostenko makes his presence felt every time he steps on the ice. He loves to lay the body given the chance and his coaches trust him on the penalty kill. Kostenko is great at anticipating the pass and shutting down passing lanes as he averages 4.9 takeaways a game.
While he has not played a game since Oct. 14, Kostenko has clearly impressed NHL scouts as he was ranked as B level prospect in their rankings that were published a short time ago. If Kostenko can continue the level of play that he is currently at then many NHL teams will be yearning to call his name come draft time. Kostenko is an exciting prospect and I am excited to see what he can do throughout the rest of the season.
One of my personal favourite players in this year’s draft class, Daniil Chayka has shown why he is one of the better Russians eligible in this year’s draft. Currently playing for Krasnaya Armiya Moskva of the MHL, he has collected an assist in two games. He has also suited up for Zvezda Moskva of the VHL but has been held pointless in five games.
Chayka is at his best when he has the puck on his stick. He makes a great first pass out of his zone to his forwards breaking through the neutral zone and loves to jump into the rush with them. He is a great skater who can get up to top speed quickly. His stride is very fluid and he can weave his way through traffic with ease. From the backend, he is great at walking the blue line and getting a shot off. It is heavy and he is good at getting it on net through traffic.
Standing at 6-foot-2, Chayka has great size for a modern defender. He is not afraid to throw his body around and will not shy away from a physical battle. Like Kostenko, he is effective at clearing the front of his net of any danger posed. Another thing I liked from Chayka is the fact that he is very solid in his positioning and how he closes off the opponents when they enter the zone. He keeps them to the outside and effectively cuts off their options to cut back into the slot which. helps limit scoring chances.
With questions still swirling around with the Ontario Hockey League, it seems as though Chayka will be staying put in Russia for a while longer. He has shown that he can make an impact wherever he plays and will be welcomed back with open arms by Storm fans if the OHL season gets going in February.
A player who I have had my eye on for a long time, Prokhor Poltapov is dynamic in so many ways. Currently playing for Krasnaya Armiya Moskva of the MHL, he has scored two goals and added five assists for seven points in 14 games.
What really caught my eye with Poltapov is the way he commands the game with the puck on his stick. Currently averaging 3.1 entries into the offensive zone per game by stick handling, he uses his skating ability to cut around his opponents and creates scoring chances for his teammates. He has a great shot and can place the puck where he wishes. He is relied upon heavily during the power play, averaging 2:01 of power-play time a game and I see him being able to be a solid contributor on a power-play unit in the NHL one day.
Although not as strong as his offensive capabilities, Poltapov is solid in the defensive zone as well. Averaging 2.5 takeaways a game, he plays with an active stick and can intercept passes with ease. He is able to quickly transition the puck up the ice, making him a dangerous player in all three zones. While he also needs to work on not giving up the puck, this can be fixed with time and development.
With NHL Central Scouting’s draft grades coming out last week, Poltapov was ranked a B prospect. Some people may have been surprised by this but I think if he continues to play like he has so far, he will only rise as the season goes on. He has the chance to be a special player and I am excited to see what he can continue to do in the MHL as the season progresses.
Exciting Crop of Players
This may be one of the better Russian draft classes in recent memory. With great prospects at every position, this crop of players has the chance to be something special. Russia has continually proven that they can produce great young players who have gone on to become impactful in the NHL and it speaks volumes about what they are able to do in terms of their development.
All stats were provided by InStat Hockey.