The Edmonton Oilers have been at the bottom of the standings for what seems like an eternity to many. They have had a multitude of top end draft picks over the past few years and have a total of four first overall picks.
Some of you may be scratching your head counting Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Yakupov….
The fourth is Russian forward Anton Slepyshev. Now granted his was first overall in the KHL which is certainly a tier below the NHL, but still a selection of note.
Prior to being selected 88th overall in 2013 by the Oilers, Slepyshev was chosen first in 2011 KHL Junior Draft, going to the Metallurg Novokuznetsk.
The Russian Factor
Over the years there have been certain characteristics stigma associated with Russian players as NHL prospects.
The generalization with top Russian prospects has been that they are extremely talented with great puck skills and sublime individual ability. Unfortunately they have also been considered to be incredibly inconsistent and somewhat unreliable.
There is also the concern that many of them will not leave Russia and will not commit to playing in North America after being drafted. Or leave to go back to Russia early on.
First round picks like Alexander Radulov, Nikita Filatov, Nikolay Zherdev and Alex Burmistrov in recent years have unfortunately played into the stereotype.
Of course as we look across the league today, these players should be considered the exception rather than the rule as some of the NHL’s best are Russian imports.
Alex Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin and Vladimir Tarasenko are among the league’s stars and have all but dispelled the stereotype.
As recently as two years ago Edmonton took a Russian, Nail Yakupov, first overall because at the time he was the consensus best player available.
While the stereotype itself may be moving to the rearview mirror, that doesn’t mean there aren’t still concerns about Russian prospects by some scouts.
“There is a mitigating circumstance with the Russian Factor,” said one exec. “That’s a whole due diligence process.”
Anton Slepyshev falls into that category.
Draft eligible in 2012, he was considered talented enough to go in the first round, but projected more likely later into the second round due to consistency concerns.
As it turned out he did not get drafted at all in 2012 as there were also concerns that he had no plans to leave Russia regardless of where he was drafted.
The Oilers took a flyer on him the following year based on his talent, and are still waiting to see if there will be a return on their investment.
An Enigmatic Talent
Anton Slepyshev has all the tools to be a star in any league. He has decent size at 6’2” and 187lbs, he can skate like the wind and has superb puck skills to go with a rocket of a shot.
He has been described by many as similar in style to NHLers Vladimir Tarasenko and Evgeni Kuznetsov.
However when you look at his early numbers, they are decidedly underwhelming.
In his first three KHL seasons, he never registered more than 7 points and was a non-factor on many nights. In 2012 after registering just 3 points for Metallurg he was traded to Ufa, where in the next year and a half not much changed.
This season started out similarly to those prior, with him playing limited minutes and providing even more limited production.
Playing in the Spengler Cup in December though, something just clicked. He had a sensational tournament and was named to the all-star team.
He followed up the tournament returning to Ufa and earned much more ice time, especially on the power play, and as a result his production drastically improved.
Players of the Week 20: F Anton Slepyshev (@hcsalavatyulaev), 2GP, 2G+2A, +4.
— KHL (@khl_eng) January 27, 2015
Anton Slepyshev's-EDM ice time in the KHL this season by game since November pic.twitter.com/rgHruB3wIh
— Corey Pronman (@coreypronman) January 19, 2015
Prior to the Spengler Cup Slepyshev had managed 13 points in 40 games for Ufa. Since that time he has had 12 points in 18 games to finish out the regular season.
The Oilers are keeping their fingers crossed that he plans on coming across the pond to North America as his KHL contract expires after this season.
How Does He Fit With The Oilers?
In a perfect world, Slepyshev would come over to Edmonton in the summer and push for a spot in the NHL for next season.
In all likelihood the Oilers would like for him to get some AHL seasoning first as they have done with fellow imports Iliro Pakarinen and Bogdan Yakimov. Hard to compare though as Slepyshev has far more talent than those two players, but is far more one-dimensional.
Step one will be getting the equally talented but enigmatic Russian to training camp and let the chips fall where they may.
With Edmonton searching for talent at just about every position and struggling to attract players as free agents, having an impact player already in their system would be a huge plus.
With his KHL contract expiring and the KHL itself facing significant economic pressure, the chances of him coming to North America next season seem quite good.
Time will tell if he follows in Tarasenko or Kuznetsov’s footsteps and becomes a productive top six forward, or is the next Nikita Filatov and never fulfills his immense potential.
Either way, the Oilers want him in camp to state his own case on the ice.
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Carl covers the Edmonton Oilers for THW as well as providing additional prospect coverage. Follow him on twitter @carlTHW, connect on Facebook or contact at email@example.com for questions, comments or if you’re interested in him writing for you.