It will be fascinating to look back on the 2021 NHL Draft years from now. So many seasons in 2020-21 were either disrupted, shortened, or even cancelled because of the global pandemic, and NHL scouts had limited opportunity to assess talent. In many ways, the draft was a crapshoot, especially in its later rounds.
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Time will show that many players were drafted too high, while others were late-round steals. The winners of the 2021 Draft can chalk it up to savvy scouting, but mostly luck and that might be the case with left-winger Matvey Petrov, who the Edmonton Oilers chose in the sixth round, 180th overall on day two.
Petrov Racking up Points in the OHL
Petrov is off to an incredible start to his major junior career with the North Bay Battalion of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). In his first 10 games, the 6-foot-2 Russian has eight goals and five assists. He also has two hat-tricks, the first in his OHL debut against the Peterborough Petes on Oct. 7, and the second against Colts in Barrie on Oct. 30. Two-time NHL All-Star Matt Duchene, now of the Nashville Predators, is the only other player in Battalion franchise history to record two hat tricks in his first season with the team.
As of Tuesday (Nov. 2), Petrov is tied for fifth in the OHL in goals and tied for eighth in the league with 40 shots. He also leads the Battalion in power-play goals (3) and points (5).
Petrov Had to Wait to Join Battalion
In June 2020, less than three months after the pandemic hit, Petrov was selected first overall by North Bay in the 2020 Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Import Draft. Then just 17, he was coming off a nine-point season in 21 games for Moscow Krylia Sovetov of the Junior Hockey League (MHL).
He was the first Russian to be chosen with the top pick in the CHL Import Draft since Andrei Svechnikov was selected by the Colts in 2017. But while Svechnikov came to Canada right away and won the 2017-18 OHL Rookie of the Year Award, Petrov had to wait for his OHL opportunity.
After the 2020-21 OHL season was delayed and eventually cancelled, Petrov remained with his MHL club in Moscow, where he recorded 22 goals and 20 assists in 58 games. He also represented his country at the 2021 U18 World Championship in April, helping Russia capture the silver medal.
He finally arrived in North Bay this September, and after just a few days practicing with the Battalion, he left for Edmonton to attend the Oilers rookie camp.
Season in Russia May Have Hurt Petrov’s Draft Stock
To give you an idea of the pedigree of a No. 1 CHL Import Draft pick, Svechnikov was selected second overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2018 and immediately joined the NHL club. He has 151 points in 213 games and leads the ‘Canes with seven goals and 11 points in 8 games this season (as of games through Nov. 2).
Heading into the 2021 Draft, Petrov was projected to be an early third-round pick. He was ranked 47th by FC Hockey, 62nd by Recruit Scouting, 67th by TSN’s Bob McKenzie, 74th by Dobber Prospects, and 76th by Draft Prospects Hockey. NHL Central Scouting ranked him 35th among European Skaters.
How is it that Petrov was still available when it came time for the Oilers to make their selection at No. 180? Maybe most scouts were unable to see Petrov play much in person. But more likely, they were skeptical about the calibre of competition in the MHL. Recruit Scouting’s analysis of Petrov concluded that “because he’s playing only in the MHL, he seems to be a long-term project who is a few years away from NHL.”
Edmonton’s brain trust may have felt the same way. After all, they had picks in the third and fourth round that they did not use on Petrov. Speaking to the media after the draft, the director of player personnel and amateur scouting, Tyler Wright, said that Petrov is “a skilled player that we liked. We weren’t quite sure if he was going to be there, but we were happy with it.”
Oilers Got Lucky Landing Petrov
Even if Edmonton saw something in Petrov that other teams didn’t, there was luck involved in this equation. Had he been playing under normal circumstances before the eyes of North American scouts and produced even close to the level he is now, he would never have slid so far down the draft board.
Teams generally have high hopes for their third and fourth-round draft selections, but the sixth round generally produces only three or four players who go on to have lasting NHL careers, while most of them don’t ever play a shift in the league. If Petrov falls into the former category, this pick will be a mammoth success for the Oilers, and if he reaches anything near Svechnikov’s level, then he will be the steal of the 2021 Draft.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.