Russia has always been a major player when it comes to developing prospects for the NHL. From 2010-2020, there have been 27 Russians selected in the first round, including eight players in the top 10. The nation has become fluent at not only producing high-end players but also elite goaltenders. Tampa Bay Lightning first-round pick Andrei Vasilevskiy has won back-to-back Stanley Cups and the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2021, while recent Washington Capitals draft choice Ilya Samsonov has been making some noise.
Related: THW’s 2021 NHL Draft Guide
During the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, Russia saw four players get selected in the first round. That included highly touted prospect goaltender Yaroslav Askarov, who was selected 11th overall by the Nashville Predators. The Toronto Maple Leafs took Rodion Amirov 15th overall. The New Jersey Devils drafted Shakir Mukhamadullin 20th overall, and the Columbus Blue Jackets shocked the hockey world and took Yegor Chinakhov 21st overall.
Related: 2021 NHL Draft: Top 10 Americans
Although this year has been chaotic for North American scouts due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, several players got to play out full seasons in Russia, which was crucial for their development. Based on Central Scouting Service rankings, here are the top Russian-born players.
10. Vladislav Lukashevich, D, Loko Yaroslavl
There are a number of Russian defencemen set to be drafted this year. Don’t be shocked if Vladislav Lukashevich is this year’s version of Yegor Chinakhov. This past season, he played for Loko Yaroslavl in the Junior Hockey League (MHL), and despite being injured, he managed to total 19 points in 36 games. His hockey IQ and positioning on the blue line are remarkable. He always knows where to be at the right time, and because of that, he led his team in ice time with an average of 17:30 per game. Though he is undersized at 167 pounds, if he adds some strength, many teams will be looking for a defenceman like Lukashevich.
9. Kirill Kirsanov, D, SKA-1946 St. Petersburg
Likely the best defensive defenceman in his draft class, Kirill Kirsanov is a menace to play against. Kirsanov is 6-foot-1 and weighs nearly 200 pounds; he is a big and strong player who enjoys the physical game. His defensive awareness is excellent and one of the many reasons he was able to play 29 games in Russia’s top hockey league, the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). With his elite strength and hockey IQ, he can move fluently along the blue line and shut down plays. As a player in the KHL, he had three assists, and one aspect of his offensive game that stood out was his ability to make top-quality passes.
His playing style earned him a spot on Team Russia’s roster at the 2021 World Juniors, where he finished the tournament with one goal and one assist. My fellow THW colleague Dayton Reimer had this to say about Kirsanov’s performance at the World Juniors, “For Kirsanov, his performance there will be a major influence on where he’s taken in the upcoming draft, especially after he outshined Chayka.” While he is a project player, Kirsanov has all the tools to become a solid core defenceman in the NHL.
8. Ilya Fedotov, LW, Chaika Nizhny Novgorod
Ilya Fedotov’s best attribute is his scoring, and that was the case during the 2019-20 season when he played in the Russia U18 League, where he scored 20 goals and registered 56 points. During this year’s MHL season, he scored 18 goals in 54 games. He is a strong shooter and also possesses a strong motor that makes it easy for him to beat defenders. Fedotov has a clear path to the KHL currently, but his offensive instincts could be enough for an NHL team to bring him over to North America. One of the “boom or bust” prospects in this draft class, he could fit a top-six role in the NHL if his development goes well.
7. Artyom Grushnikov, D, Hamilton Bulldogs
In spite of not playing a single game in the OHL this season due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, Artyom Grushnikov remains ranked relatively high by scouts. He is a pure shutdown defenceman, and much like Kirill Kirsanov, he is not afraid to play the physical game. He is very active when it comes to board battles, and he uses his physicality to get the puck away from the opposition.
His passing is good, but the one knock on his game is the lack of confidence he has when it comes to offensive instincts. Grushnikov will have the chance to shine with the Hamilton Bulldogs in the upcoming 2021-22 OHL season, where we can look forward to seeing his development progress. Nonetheless, every team needs a shutdown defender, and Grushnikov can fit that role.
6. Prokhor Poltapov, RW, Krasnaya Armiya Moskva
Prokhor Poltapov had himself a great year in the MHL, putting up 52 points (25 goals, 27 assists) in 61 games. His performance this past season earned him a spot on Team Russia’s U18 roster for the WJC-U18 tournament. He shined with seven points (two goals, five assists) in seven games, winning a silver medal. He is a supreme power forward, although he is just 5-foot-11. Poltapov uses his body to not only throw big hits but also keep defenders off of him while he is in control of the puck. He is not afraid to drive to the net and take out anyone in his way, and he possesses fluent puck-handling abilities and is able to fool defenders with unique moves.
While there are a couple of knocks to his game, one thing that could improve his chances of making the NHL is his skating. He will need to work on that, along with his defensive instincts. Some scouts have noted that there are times when his defensive motor goes down when coming back into his zone and that he goes for a hit rather than a poke check. All in all, Poltapov’s two-way game is fairly sound, and overall, his style of game is well suited for North America.
5. Dmitri Kostenko, D, Lada Togliatti
He is one of the older eligible players in this year’s draft class, but Dmitri Kostenko has proven that he is yet another player to add to the polarizing prospect’s list. Kostenko spent this season between the MHL with Lada Togliatti and the VHL — Russia’s second division of pro hockey. He primarily played in the VHL, where he put up 10 points in 40 games; while he was in the MHL, he registered nine points in 10 games. He is more of an offensive defenceman, as he loves to jump up into the rush and create scoring chances for his teammates.
He is solid on the blue line, and when it comes to his transition game, he moves the puck up the ice with confidence. The consistent concern surrounding Kostenko is his lack of play when it comes to his defensive responsibilities. Like my THW colleague Mathieu Sheridan noted, “As a defender, this is definitely something he is going to have to work on in the future but something that can indeed be taught.” Next year, Kostenko will suit up or Spartak Moskva in the KHL, where he can further his development in order to make a jump to the NHL.
4. Alexander Kisakov, F, MHK Dynamo Moskva
Alexander Kisakov is all about offence, as his wicked release helped him register 36 goals and 76 points this past season in the MHL. While he boasts one of the best releases in his draft class, Kisakov is smooth in his movement, being able to fake out defenders and goaltenders with ease. My THW colleague Hadi K. had this to say, “Kisakov’s goal totals are no fluke: the young Russian winger boasts a tremendous release, which blends soft hands, quick-twitch muscle activation, excellent weight transfer and catch-and-release ability to ensure maximal efficiency with each shot.”
In this draft, Kisakov has one disadvantage — his size. Due to his 5-foot-10 height and 140-pound weight, there will not be any physicality coming out of him, which sometimes turns scouts off. Despite a great deal of potential, Kisakov is another project player who has a chance to become a premier NHL player should he continue to develop properly.
3. Fyodor Svechkov, W/C, Ladia Togliatti
Fyodor Svechkov has become one of Ladia Togliatti’s top-tier players over the course of the last five years. Born in the city of Togliatti, Svechkov is considered by many to be the team’s hometown hero. He is a two-way forward with excellent versatility who can play all three zones. He put up 15 points in 15 games in the MHL this past season before being promoted to the VHL with teammate Dmitri Kostenko, where he put up 15 points in 38 games.
Svechkov played a key role in Team Russia’s run in the 2021 IIHF WJC-18; in seven games, he registered 10 points (four goals, six assists) and helped secure the silver medal. He has a strong motor, and when you combine that with his elite vision, positioning, and offensive awareness, he makes for a unique package. Due to these traits being a dominant part of his game, his defensive abilities are exceptional. He is always in the right place at the right time. Svechkov has the chance to become a high first-round pick. He will look to further his development when he suits up for SKA St. Petersburg next season in the KHL.
2. Daniil Chayka, D, CSKA Moskva
Daniil Chayka, like Artyom Grushnikov, had his OHL season cancelled by the pandemic. Chayka decided rather than wait for the season to start in Guelph, Ontario, he would return to Russia and play hockey in the MHL, VHL, and eventually the KHL. He recorded 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists) in 56 games with the Guelph Storm in 2019-20. When he played with CSKA Moskva in the KHL this past season, he recorded two points in 11 games and looked confident. When it comes to offence, he’s not the most reliable player; however, his size and mobility make him a valuable pick.
Although he has a slender frame, he battles hard along the boards and in front of the net. One of his biggest assets is his incredible reach, which allows him to poke the puck away from opposing players with ease. While he does maintain a good and above-average skating stride, he can be caught flat-footed. Nonetheless, Chayka has the right tools in the toolbox to become a top-four defenceman at the NHL level.
1. Nikita Chibrikov, LW/RW, SKA St. Petersburg
Another top prospect who boasts an incredible shot is Moscow native Nikita Chibrikov. He split his season’s between the MHL, VHL, and the KHL. Throughout the year, he played 16 games in the KHL, where he had two points. Additionally, he played 20 games in the VHL, recording eight points (three goals, five assists). His unpredictable and flashy game earned him a spot on Team Russia for the 2021 IIHF WJC-18 tournament. On top of being named captain, he recorded 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in seven games, putting him fourth in the tournament.
He is quick and elusive, excels at getting the puck up the ice, and is always in the right position. His vision is elite, which allows him to get passes off that sometimes aren’t seen by defenders. He does not shy awaits from physical play, and he battles relentlessly for the puck. Chibrikov is the total package. He will return to the KHL next season with SKA St. Petersburg, where he will have the opportunity to make an even larger splash.
Whether it’s in the first round or throughout the entire draft, there will be a strong presence from Russia. As well as the players listed above, keep an eye out for prospects like Daniil Sobolev, Artem Guryev, Matvei Averochkin, Daniil Lazutin, and more to be selected during the draft.
Born and raised in Kamloops B.C. and a die hard fan of the Kamloops Blazers, hockey has always been apart of my life. Now, I am looking to get into the sports media world and make it a career. I will be covering the Winnipeg Jets for The Hockey Writers.