Sunday, March 7, 2010

Will there be big impact of Russians in 2010 draft? Nyet!

For those who are hoping for a healthy dose of Russian hockey prospects into Boston's system at the 2010 NHL draft, prepare to be disappointed.

I got some pretty good intel this weekend that they are not at all interested in high reward/high risk types like Vladimir Tarasenko and Evgeni Kuznetsov, both of whom are playing in Russia this season.

"Talent-wise, Tarasenko is a clear top-five pick but things being what they are, I don't know that he will even be picked in the first round this year," said Kyle Woodlief, chief scout and publisher of the Red Line Report during a break in the action at the 2010 NEPSIHA playoff tournament in Salem, NH. "There are (NHL) teams out there who simply aren't willing to gamble anymore with Russian players regardless of any upside they may have."

Is Boston one of those teams?

One NHL source tells me that they very well could be.

"Look at their recent drafting trends," the scout said. "Have you seen them take any Russians since 2006? The draft demographics are obviously going vary from year to year, but look at a team like the Islanders and then the Bruins. Hold up their drafts over the last three years side-by-side and tell me what you see."

In 2006, the B's took defenseman Yuri Alexandrov with the 37th overall selection in the second round. They haven't had kascha and borscht since. The Islanders have picked one Russian in each of the last three entry drafts (to include Max Gratchev, the Russian-born, but Stoughton, Mass.-trained forward who wasn't signed and is currently with the Rochester Americans of the AHL), though none of those have come in the top-three rounds.

The Detroit Red Wings, once one of the most prolific Russian-drafting teams, hasn't been to the Motherland for hockey talent since 2004 (Gennady Stolyarov in the 8th round). In 2003, the Columbus Blue Jackets picked three Russians in the draft to include Nikolai Zherdev fourth overall. In the six drafts since, they've take a grand total of three Russians, one of them being the recently defected sixth overall pick in 2008 Nikita Filatov, whose departure from North America for the KHL has exacerbated the dilemma NHL teams face when drafting Russians.

"The lack of a transfer agreement (between Russia and the NHL) is an obvious deterrent," the scout said. "But when you also present the risk posed by these guys upping and leaving whenever things don't go their ways, teams are simply saying, 'Enough!' We can't afford to expend critical assets like draft picks on players who have other options available to them like the KHL and some of whom have used that as leverage against the NHL teams who own their rights."

The NHL Central Scouting Service's Gary Eggleston said in the context of why NHL teams aren't drafting a lot of kids out of the prep (high school) ranks anymore that the seven-round draft has taken away a lot of the willingness to gamble a bit on raw, tough-to-project, long-term talent, especially when at times, teams may have only four or five picks in any given year after trades. He wasn't referring to the Russian conundrum when making his point, but you can apply his logic to players from that country as well.

Players like Kirill Kabanov, Alexander Burmistrov and Stanislav Galiev, all of whom are playing in North America in the CHL might be seen a little differently by NHL teams because they are here, but the questions will still abound.

In Kabanov's case, he has a bad wrist that he recently had surgery on, and according to one report, missed a team bus to Halifax recently, so is not in the coach Danny Flynn's favor as the critical part of the season approaches. Burmistrov has been dogged by rumors that he must leave the Barrie Colts next year to return to his Russian team and play there, which isn't going to help him land inside the top-10 if true. Of the three, Galiev seems to come with the fewest concerns, but he's small and pretty one-dimensional, so where he'll go in the draft is anyone's guess at this point.

As fans, it's easy to simply look at a player in a vacuum and dismiss the concerns about their signability and the risk involved in taking someone who may not possess the level of commitment an NHL demands from him. But to take so myopic a view is to not understand the reality of the modern NHL draft process and is akin to Don Quixote tilting at windmills.

You may, in your heart of hearts, think the Bruins should swing for the fences and take the risk involved with high end Russian players, but don't hold your breath come June 25. If recent history is any indication, Boston will look elsewhere for its on-ice future.


  1. Kirk, what are your thoughts on seeing Yuri Alexandrov play for the B's next season? Seems like if it doesn't happen next year it'll never happen. He was at the rookie camp this year, so that is a positive but I assume he's getting more and more comfortable in the KHL and he can make plenty of money there if he stays.

  2. The Herald reported that the Bruins are in the process of negotiating with Alexandrov to sign him. We'll probably find out whether they were successful by May or thereabouts.

    The problem with these Russians and this pertains to Alexandrov as well-- is that the lines of communication are difficult to maintain. The B's had been left with the impression from one of Alexandrov's "handlers" that he wasn't interested in coming over. Only a chance conversation with a mutual friend revealed that Alexandrov was wondering why he hadn't been invited to any of the team's development camps, and in the span of just a few weeks, he was over and skating with the prospects.

    The experience has, I believe, left the Bruins and many other NHL teams frustrated and wary. There are so many other factors that now go into drafting, developing and signing Russian players, that I just don't think GMs are willing to deal with the hassle unless the kid is a true generational talent.

    We'll see what happens with Alexandrov, but none of the Russians in this particular class are generational, franchise-type players, so I don't believe you'll see the Bruins bother with any of them. That's all subject to change if a particular value is too tempting to pass up, but the likelihood of that happening is pretty low.