Dmitri Buchelnikov was one of the first big surprises in the 2022 NHL Draft, going in the second round despite most fans and even public scouts having no clue who he was. Buchelnikov was drafted as an overage prospect who was first eligible for the 2021 Draft but had to wait another 12 months before hearing his name called. There were some rumors around the 2022 Draft that he would be in the mix for a few teams, though the assumption from most people was that he’d be going in the fourth round or later.
Nevertheless, the Red Wings took a swing on his offensive upside, taking Buchelnikov with the 52nd overall pick in the draft. This was a pretty off-the-board pick in the second round, but Detroit hasn’t been shy about getting their guys and had just traded away their only third round pick for the signing rights to Ville Husso so they clearly wanted to make sure they landed him without risking anyone else taking him before their next pick in the fourth round.
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Since being drafted, Buchelnikov has endeared himself to many Red Wings fans as an undersized forward with tons of skill, a surprisingly hard shot, and a proven track record of success in junior and against pros. What exactly makes him special, how far has he come since being drafted, and how much longer can fans expect to wait before they see him wearing the Winged Wheel? Let’s dive in!
Buch has tons of skill with the puck, routinely making grown men look silly with slick moves through skates and sticks at the VHL level (the second tier of pro hockey in Russia). When you watch him play it’s clear that Buchelnikov’s calling card is his shot, affectionately referred to as the “Buch Bomb”. He has a great one-timer that he used to his advantage in the VHL last year but his wrist shot is excellent as well, and will likely allow him to produce well in the KHL soon as well as in North America some day.
Buchelnikov is 5-foot-10 which limits his NHL projection, especially since he’s not very physical (like a Logan Stankoven) and doesn’t have the speed to make up for his lack of size. His offensive skills are very strong and will need to pop in the NHL if he wants to hold down a regular role in an NHL lineup. Buchelnikov is a strong playmaker as well doing a lot damage from the flank on the power play.
Most players under 5-foot-11 need to have at least one elite trait if they want to make the NHL, something that makes them the exception to the rule that undersized players struggle in the NHL. Someone like Johnny Gaudreau has succeeded because of his elite skill and hockey IQ while others like Conor Garland excel when it comes to evasive skating and a high compete level. I think Buchelnikov’s skill and shot are high-end enough for him to break through someday and become a good NHLer.
Buchelnikov was passed over in the 2021 Draft after scoring 37 points in 46 games in the MHL, Russia’s top junior league. He followed that up with a phenomenal year as the league’s second leading scorer where he scored an absurd 75 points in 56 games. That season clearly put him on the radar of NHL teams who were intrigued by his incredible offensive potential. Few people in the public scouting sphere were aware that Buch had been garnering so much NHL interest in the lead up to the draft so Detroit selecting him in the second round was a shock to many, myself included.
What’s Next for Buchelnikov?
SKA St. Petersburg is one of the titans of the KHL, with a constant stream of pro-ready talents and high-end prospects coming in and out of the lineup. We saw last year that even Matvei Michkov couldn’t earn a regular lineup spot for them (at least not one with enough prime ice-time) so he was loaned to HK Sochi where he could get tons of ice-time and function as a high-end player. Michkov has already been loaned to HK Sochi again this season as was a healthy scratch for SKA as the season began.
Buchelnikov has begun this season in the VHL once again, though there’s no guarantee he sticks out the whole season there as he’s proving that his offense is elite compared to that league. He scored 28 points in 35 VHL games last season and has come out of the gate hot this season with seven points in his first four games. If Buchelnikov keeps this up for much longer it will be hard for SKA to ignore him and he may earn a call up. Top 2024 Draft prospect Ivan Demidov is currently playing for the team in the KHL but he could be a candidate to join the VHL team to get more ice time as the 17-year-old is still pointless after the first four games of the season.
When Could Buchelnikov be in Detroit?
Buchelnikov is obviously undersized, but he plays hard and has top-six upside if his skill and shot can translate to the NHL and his body can handle the physicality. I don’t think he’s likely to become a top-six winger in the NHL at this point, but the possibility is there still because his offense is just that good. With two years remaining on his KHL contract, the hope is that Buchelnikov is a good top-six forward in the KHL by the time he’s eligible to sign with Detroit.
He’s got the type of play style that excels in a big role but doesn’t necessarily work in a bottom six spot. Buchelnikov’s value is almost exclusively on the offensive side of the game so he’ll need to really pop offensively in the KHL soon if he wants to be a meaningful player in the NHL.
If he can hold down a top-six spot in the KHL before his contract ends then he will have the inside track on making the Red Wings’ opening night lineup out of training camp at the beginning of the 2025-26 season (two full years from now). All signs point to Buchelnikov wanting to play in the NHL someday so I’m not particularly worried that he won’t come over, and I think there’s a good chance he can be a full-time NHLer pretty soon after he makes the move to North America.
The bottom line is that Buchelnikov is still a long shot to become a high-end NHL player, but his offensive potential is exciting enough that he still cracks the top-10 of Red Wings prospects for me. There’s a long ways to go for him as he finishes out his contract in Russia but I think the odds of him becoming a good scoring winger in the KHL are good and that gives him a chance to become a depth scoring option in the NHL who would likely play in the middle six.