2020-21 Team: SKA St. Petersberg (KHL)
Date of Birth: September 19, 2002
Place of Birth: Tver, Russia
Ht: 6-foot-1 Wt: 198 pounds
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2021 first-year eligible
- NHL Central Scouting: 30th (European Skaters)
- Bob McKenzie (TSN): 64th
- Peter Baracchini (THW): 78th
- Matthew Zator (THW): 55th
- Andrew Forbes (THW): 62nd
- DobberProspects: 56th
- Smaht Scouting: 90th
The 2021 Draft is filled with top-end defensemen. Owen Power, Brandt Clarke, Luke Hughes, and Simon Edvinsson have all been projected to be top-five picks at one point in the season, while Corson Ceulemans, Stanislav Svozil, Carson Lambos, Sean Behrens, and Olen Zellweger are likely to follow them in the first round. That’s a lot of talent on the back end, and with several more options behind them, 2021 could potentially be the most dominant draft for defensemen since 2008, when four defenders went in the top 10.
Related: THW’s 2021 NHL Draft Guide
It may be time to add another name to that list. Kirill Kirsanov has emerged as one of the best defensive defensemen in the 2021 Draft. His 6-foot-1, nearly-200-pound frame also makes him one of the strongest and has made the teenager a very difficult player to handle in Russia’s lower leagues. Last season, he played 40 games with SKA-1946 St. Petersburg in the MHL, Russia’s developmental league, where he put up 4 goals and 13 points, the fourth-highest total from a 17-year-old defenseman.
But even then, it was clear that he had outgrown the minors, and St. Petersburg’s KHL team called him up for the 2020-21 season. Although he eventually would split the season between the KHL, MHL, and VHL (a minor league comparable to the AHL), Kirsanov still played 29 games in Russia’s top hockey league, the highest total of any draft-eligible Russian prospect, and recorded three assists.
One reason Kirsanov was able to stick in the KHL far longer than his peers was his calm, patient demeanor on the blue line. He has excellent defensive awareness and knows where he should be to either break up plays or take away lanes from opposing forwards. Furthermore, he doesn’t often get caught by a misplay, since he’s usually in the right position to begin with. He plays a very smart, defensively-sound style, and paired with his elite strength, his ability to shut down players is tough to match in this year’s draft.
But he’s not all defense. Another very impressive trait is Kirsanov’s offensive positioning. Once he has the puck, he is able to deliver quality forward passes thanks to his high intelligence on the ice. The way he holds his stick has been described by some as somewhat strange and has prevented him from executing plays quickly and effectively. However, he possesses the awareness of how a play will develop and the creativity to move the puck up to players who have a better offensive game.
All of this was put on display at the 2021 World Juniors, where Kirsanov joined fellow draft-eligible defender Daniil Chayka, who many expected to be a top-15 pick early in the year. But as the tournament wore on, it was Kirsanov who impressed scouts more, finishing the tournament with a goal and an assist en route to a fourth-place finish. According to one scout, “He moved the puck, he skated, he looked smart and he looks thick. His puck game was as good as anybody out there. He helped himself; he caught my eye for sure. He was easy to find because he was around the puck.”
For North American scouts unable to go overseas to scout juniors, the World Juniors will prove invaluable in this year’s draft. For Kirsanov, his performance there will be a major influence on where he’s taken in the upcoming draft, especially after he outshined Chayka.
Other THW Draft Profiles:
Kirill Kirsanov – NHL Draft Projection
With so many top defensive prospects available this year, Kirsanov will likely get pushed down to the second round. He’s signed to St. Petersburg for two more seasons, meaning he likely won’t come to North America at least until he’s 20 or 21, and then will likely need some time in the minors before he’s ready for the NHL. He’s a bit more of a project, and that may dissuade some teams from using a higher pick to select him. But those that take the risk are likely to be rewarded down the road. If he’s still available in the third round, he’ll be a steal.
“…Kirsanov may be the most discussed 2021 NHL Draft defenseman from the MHL, and for good reason — the big blueliner was a calming influence not only for his MHL club but also as a minute eater for two gold medal-winning U18 teams. He shows good passing ability, specifically his impressive bank passes.” Ross Martin, The Draft Analyst
“Kirsanov has consistently impressed me whenever I’ve watched him over the last year at the club and international levels. He’s not a defenseman who is going to generate a ton of offense, but he’s a truly excellent defender. He’s a strong skater with excellent gap control and breaks up a ton of rushes. He’s a very clever puck-mover, and because of that and the skating, I do think he is going to generate some offense. But his role is certainly more of a steady all-around defender rather than a high skill type.” Corey Pronman, The Athletic (from ‘The 2021 NHL Draft ranking: Corey Pronman’s top 35 prospects’, The Athletic, 8/10/20)
“Kirsanov outgrew the junior hockey ranks two seasons ago and established himself as a steady defender for SKA in the KHL. He won’t wow you with any particular skill and his skating screams average, but he delivers results and continues to earn the trust of coaching staffs at multiple levels.” Steve Kournianos, The Draft Analyst
- Defensive awareness
Under Construction (Improvements to Make)
- Top-end speed
Despite his abilities with the puck, Kirsanov doesn’t have a high offensive upside and projects to be a more defensive defenseman in the NHL, likely on a second or third pairing. Given that he’s so consistent at his age and has already appeared in several international tournaments, an NHL comparable could be Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who has been a consistent stay-at-home defenseman for the San Jose Sharks and has been chosen to represent Canada on numerous occasions thanks to his reliability on the back end.
Risk – 3/5, Reward – 3/5
Fantasy Hockey Potential
Offence – 4/10, Defence – 8/10
As previously mentioned, Kirsanov is a regular on the international stage, starting back in 2019 when he suited up for the Russians at the U17 World Hockey Championship, where he claimed a gold medal, plus 23 more international contests. He claimed another gold medal at the 2020 Hlinka Gretzky Tournament and was on the 2021 U20 World Junior team. This season, he was one of the youngest players selected to Team Russia for the 2021 European Hockey Tour.
Kirill Kirsanov Statistics
An elementary teacher by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.