Sound the sirens! Run to your shelters! The Russians are invading! No, seriously. In the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, 8 Russians were taken. You look at that number and think, “Hey. That really isn’t that many.” And you’d be right in that regard. However, this is the first time in four years that the number of Russians has increased. Dont believe me? Refer to the chart below:
Vladislav Namestnikov was in a group all by himself having been selected as the only Russian in the first round by Steve Yzerman’s Tampa Bay Lightning. Having been at the draft and meeting with Namestnikov for a few minutes afterwards, it was certain that he was elated and humbled to be the the only Russian called on Friday night. When I asked him if he had any idea about the Lightning picking him in the first, his answer was short and sweet, “Nope. I had no idea. But I am very excited.” A man of few words, Namestnikov needs not say much when he has the talent reminiscent of his uncle, Slava Kozlov.
A flawless two-way forward with game breaking speed, Yzerman knew exactly the type of player he was in for when he took Vladislav 27th overall, but Stevie Y was not done there. In the 2nd round, he picked up Nikita Kucherov, a winger whose stock had been on the rise and left everything out on the line at the U18’s a few months back. And in the 5th round, the Lightning picked up defenseman, Nikita Nestorov of Chelyabinsk. I guess in a few years we will be able to call them the Tampa Bay Bratiya (Russian for “brothers”).
The Boston Bruins also made a splash in the 2nd round, going with Namestnikov’s fellow OHL comrade, Alexander Khokhlachev. A consistent offensive threat with the hands to match, picking Khokhlachev seemed to be a bold move by the Bruins brass. We all know the debacle that was Sergei Samsonov who overstayed his welcome in Beantown, but the Bruins figured Khokhlachev would be a keeper and picked their second Russian in the past two years. I guess being 3rd in rookie scoring in the OHL certainly helps your case on being a high draft pick, eh? But in all honesty, Khokhlachev’s game, albeit skillful, brings grit and toughness even with his small stature.
When all is said and done, the draft in Minnesota was very productive for Russians, the talent in this years draft will make themselves a staple for Eastern Europeans that are selected in later drafts. Guys like Nail Yakupov, Alex Galchenyuk, and Mikhail Grigorenko should take notice of these players as, they too, will be standing on stage at the NHL Entry Draft.