There have been several Russian Free Agents who signed with NHL teams this summer. Artemi Panarin, Viktor Tikhonov, Alexander Burmistrov and now you can add Sergei Plotnikov to that list. On July 1 the Penguins announced the signing of the Russian winger to a one-year entry-level contract. Based on his age and draft status, he had to sign an ELC with the Penguins. He will have a cap hit of $925,000 with heavy performance bonuses.
Sergei Plotnikov's agent to SportFM: '17 teams were interested in Plotnikov. And Crosby was interested to play with Sergei' #Pens
— Igor Eronko (@IgorEronko) July 2, 2015
Usually teams have concerns regarding the length Russian forwards stay in the NHL and therefore are cautious in signing free agents out of the KHL. However, General Manager Jim Rutherford is not worried at all on the willingness Plotnikov shows to play in the NHL. Because he was still in a contract with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, he had to terminate it and Rutherford mentioned the 25-year-old Russian footed the $500,000 bill to get out of his contract.
That impressed Rutherford a lot and it sent the right signals to the Penguins organization: Plotnikov really wants to play in the best league against the best players. “Not many guys would do that,” Rutherford said, “Plotnikov has informed the team he could arrive in Pittsburgh as soon as August to get adjusted to the surroundings, the culture and to work out. Without us asking, he’s already talking about getting over here early. Some of the things he’s done speak volumes of his character.”
Coming Out Party
Plotnikov, a Komsomolsk-na-Amure-native, had his coming out party in the season 13/14 where he had a total of 49 points in 71 games and won the gold medal at the Worlds in Belarus. He had an impressive 12 points and finished third best in the tournament’s scoring list. He was on the Russians most dominant line together with Alexander Ovechkin and was selected into the tournament’s All-Star Game.
Last season he again showed decent numbers, scoring 37 points and being voted into the KHL All-Star Game and winning the silver medal at the Worlds in the Czech Republic. At this year’s tournament he only managed to score two points, which is because of his fourth line role and seeing less ice time than one year earlier in Belarus, where he lined up in the top scoring line.
Plotnikov is a winger with good size, listed at 6’2″ and 205 lbs. He uses all of his body for battles along the boards, protects the puck well and isn’t afraid to get involved physically. His big size allows him to play physical, finish checks and drive the net. His vision is above average and he has a nose for the net. He likes to go to the slot to screen and feels comfortable around the net. He often creates scoring chances passing the puck dangerously to the front of the net, where he finds teammates well. Plotnikov possesses a dangerous, accurate shot but is more of a pass first guy using his outstanding vision and offensive instincts. His offensive play away from the puck is very effective as he always looks for the most direct way to the net.
Areas for Improvement:
There are concerns about his average skating as well as mobility. He understands his defensive responsibilities but he still needs to work on them a bit more to improve his own zone game, he especially should use his stick more actively to take away passing lanes. He could use his accurate shot a bit more often and tends to make one pass too many.
Where Does He Fit in Pittsburgh?
In Pittsburgh he will meet Evgeni Malkin with whom he played in the last two World Championships and won the gold and silver medals respectively. Although Rutherford assembled a Russian support to help Plotnikov with the transition, it seems like Malkin will take care of his fellow countryman and get him used to the North American culture. “It will give Malkin an additional opportunity for leadership,” Rutherford said. “I think that will be good for him.”
Plotnikov’s contract also includes a European Assignment Clause, which allows him to return to KHL if he doesn’t make #Pens (or is demoted)
— Mike Colligan (@MikeColligan) July 4, 2015
Since Plotnikov is not a pure goal scorer and plays a good physical game, he would therefore fit into the Penguins’ third line, although he would have the skills to be a top-six-forward. It could be that Kessel takes the spot next to Sidney Crosby and with Patric Hornqvist, Chris Kunitz and David Perron, it looks like there is no space left in one of the top-six-winger spots. Plotnikov gives the Penguins more options and makes their roster deeper. If injuries occur to one of their top-six-forwards, then look for the Russian winger to fill the hole.
The Penguins don’t have a lot of cap space left with the recently acquired Kessel, therefore I believe it is a smart move by the Penguins to sign Plotnikov, who doesn’t take a lot of cap space away, but adds some international experience, size and skill to the lineup. His play seems to be NHL ready as well as his mindset and work ethic. The Russian winger is ready to take on the challenge in Steel City. The fact that Plotnikov paid a big amount of money to join the NHL for the next season probably feels like a punch in the gut for the KHL but shows Plotnikov’s willingness to compete with the best players in the world. It might even inspire some other KHL players to go down the same road in the future.