This year’s NHL draft brings about a lot of talent, as it does year after year. However, the crop of Russian players is not as copious as years past (most noticeably the 2010 NHL Entry Draft). You will not find the likes of a Burmistrov, Tarasenko, Kuznetsov, Kabanov, Galiev, or Kitsyn. But a new breed of Russian hockey player is quickly coming into the fold. The two notables in this year’s draft are, the OHL’s, Vladislav Namestnikov and Alexander Khokhlachev. Most likely first or second round draft picks, these two Russians have taken the next step in achieving their dreams of playing in the NHL by coming across the ocean from Russia to play in the top junior league in the world.
Team: London Knights
Weight: 170 lbs
2010-2011 season statistics: 68 GP, 30 G, 38 A, 68 PTS, 49 PIM, +12
Namestnikov’s biggest asset is his speed. His lightning-quick acceleration is one of the best of all the prospects in the draft, so you know he is as good as gone if he gets by a defender. He played over in Russia for two years for his hometown, Khimik Voskresensk, before jumping to the OHL. Having developed his smooth stickhandling in Russia, he has shown flashes of brilliance with his hands many times while playing for the London Knights. A smart, offensive player, Namestnikov’s vision on the ice far exceeds his competition and is able to see plays develop with ease. His passing may not be quite as impressive as Khokhlachev’s, but he knows how to get his teammates the puck. His shot power isn’t the fastest, but it is deceptively quick and VERY accurate. His only knock throughout the season has been his size. For a 6 foot player, Namestnikov really needs to bulk up quite a bit to achieve success at the NHL level. At the junior level, knocking Namestnikov off the puck is quite difficult given his skill set and patience with the puck, but in the NHL, Namestnikov will face much better players who know how to capitalize on defensive chances. Building some muscle mass could do wonders for Namestnikov’s game, making him faster and more consistant in his all-around game. Namestnikov has yet another advantage that many players might not have. Vladislav’s father played in the NHL for the Vancouver Canucks and his uncle is former Russian star, Vyacheslav Kozlov, a catalyst on Detroit back when the Russian 5 was playing together. I asked him if Slava gave him any advice when coming over to the CHL, to which Namestnikov replied, “Him and my dad told me to keep my head up when I came to Canada.”
Namestnikov has the skill set to succeed in the NHL, but he still is a few years away before making an impact. He might be the first of the two Russians to be selected in June either in the first or second round.
Team: Windsor Spitfires
Weight: 175 lbs
2010-2011 season statistics: 67 GP, 34 G, 42 A, 76 PTS, 28 PIM, +4
Alexander Khokhlachev has been placed in a slightly better situation than his fellow Russian, Namestnikov. Khokhlachev was drafted by the reigning Memorial Cup champs, the Windsor Spitfires, 23rd overall in the 2010 CHL Import Draft. Khokhlachev’s supporting cast makes for more impressive statistics, but that, by no means, takes away from his tremendous skill and hockey sense. Khokhlachev’s foot speed is no where near as fast as Namestnikov’s but his simple style of game, high hockey sense, and fantastic passing abilities make Khokhlachev a desirable target in this year’s draft. His deceptive quality is his finishing abilities. It often gets overlooked with how well he can set players up, but his wrister is blistering. His skating is flawless, and he is able to break down plays so well to create offensive chances. As with Vladislav, Alexander also lacks the physical presence and will need to tack on some mass in order to exceed at the next level.
General managers don’t have much to worry about in terms of the “Russian Factor” with these two prospects as they are taking a page out of Burmistrov’s book and making the move to North America to pursue the dream of playing in the NHL. I full expect both to be selected within the first two rounds of the upcoming draft in June, and in all likeliness, both maybe be taken within a handful of picks from each other.