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2020 NHL Draft Profiles: Russian Forwards

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Possession-focused wingers? Power forwards? A neutral zone commander? All available if the Sens dip into Russia this year.

2007 NHL Entry Draft Portraits
Ruslan Bashkirov was the last Russian drafted by the Senators in 2007.
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

2007. That’s the last time the Ottawa Senators drafted a Russian player. You’ll have to go back two more years to 2005 to find the last player the Sens drafted out of Russia directly as opposed to a CHL Import. With the departure of amateur scout Boris Shagas a few seasons later, the Sens haven’t had a staff based in the area since.

While the Sens have a well-documented aversion to Russian players, there are signs that things are changing. With only ~50 Russian players in the NHL, the Sens will likely feature at least three next season in Artem Anisimov, Nikita Zaitsev, and the recently-signed Artem Zub. While that work is mainly done by the team’s pro scouting department with little connection to the amateur group, there’s a chance that the team might be willing to draft a player out of Russia, so here are four players and two honourable mentions that they should consider.


Marat Khusnutdinov (C)

Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
SKA-1946 St. Petersburg MHL 5'9" 165 lbs 18 - 55 #12 (Euro)

Marat Khusnutdinov is a player I was skeptical about for most of the season. Middle-of-the-road scoring totals in the MHL for a potential first round pick? It just sounds like the recipe for a prospect to disappoint right out of the gate. But after diving deeper and listening to why scouts are so high on him, I’m now aboard the Marat hype train.

Khusnutdinov plays on the MHL’s strongest team, SKA-1946 St. Petersburg. Starting off the season in a bottom-six role, his ice time increased as the year went on, and so did his production. By the second half of the season he was scoring over a point per game, finishing the season with a total of 38 points in 44 games. His teammates certainly helped him at least a bit — SKA-1946 had numerous players last season who could’ve stepped into the KHL. Despite that Khusnutdinov finished the season with a relative GF% of +9.96.

Unfortunately MHL data is pretty limited beyond goals and points — Will Scouch has manually tracked a handful of games which he breaks down in his video, although it’s tough to compare to other players, not only because of his team’s strength, but the MHL in general is a chaotic league with defensive systems that eclipse the QMJHL in their relaxedness. But based on how Khusnutdinov plays, there’s plenty of reason to believe he was the one driving play.

The hallmark of Khusnutdinov’s game is his versatility, with a diverse set of strengths that he can apply in a wide variety of scenarios. It begins with his motor which is always working at a fast pace, whether it be chasing down loose pucks or carrying the puck through the offensive zone. His top-end speed is fantastic, albeit not in the elite echelon of this draft class. But he’s a prime example of a player who knows how to use his feet effectively, applying pressure in the right scenarios to keep opponents on their toes.

I’m also really a fan of Khusnutdinov’s offensive awareness, something that he approaches very tactically and with a strong amount of creativity. He tends to excel more at making plays than being the goal-scorer, setting up teammates from seemingly anywhere in the offensive zone. Whether if be cutting to the middle to draw in defenders, finding seams at a high speed from the wing or even working behind the net, his ability to work at a high pace has been standout even amidst a strong forward corps. It rarely felt like he was on the receiving end of a teammate’s brilliant play, even though as a whole roster they always seemed to be two steps ahead of their opponents. The confidence he possesses with the puck on his stick to make quick and creative plays is a hard thing to teach, and has the potential to take Khusnutdinov reallt far at higher levels.

And at the very least, it’s really fun to watch.

Another positive is how his style of play translates as a natural centreman. He’s a hard worker in all three zones, putting in just as much dedication to the backcheck as he does to his creative playmaking. He’s not afraid to fight and retrieve pucks, although with his relatively slight stature at 5’9” and the weakness of the MHL, there’s fair concern as to how that may translate going forward. But even if he doesn’t end up being a player who grinds out pucks along the boards, that’s completely fine by me as long as he continues with his stellar defensive awareness, which he often showed he could comfortably do last season.

There are a variety of downsides to why some may be lower on Khusnutdinov, hence why there’s still a decent chance of him falling to the second round. The height may scare some teams away, and his lack of a skill that is truly elite makes his projection to the NHL a bit more uncertain. Will his offensive skills propel him into a top-six role, or will he be more of a defensive third line player? Could his slight stature limit him to being just a really good AHLer? There’s a wide variety of outcomes.

Further to that, his production in the MHL adds some legitimate concern as to whether he’ll progress to the NHL at all, or whether a team will be burned by another player failing to translate outside the MHL, such as German Rubtsov or Ruslan Iskhakov. Khusnutdinov’s a player that I think you need to see to believe, and while personally I’m at the point where I’m convinced of his skills, it’s duly understandable if the risk that comes with selecting a 0.86 P/GP MHLer is too much for a team to feel comfortable swinging on.

While there’s a chance he’s taken in the mid-to-late first round, I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for Khusnutdinov to drop to the second round where the Sens could potentially find themselves a home run selection. He’s a true two-way player who is working hard no matter which square inch of the ice his skates are touching, and offensive awareness that rivals players who will be selected in the top-20. He’s also currently putting on a show in the new MHL season alongside 2023-eligible superstar Matvei Michkov, which has been dazzling to watch. His future projection may be a bit sticky, but in the meantime I’ll be championing M A R A T.

Highlights

I also recommend checking out the scouting reports from Eric Dunay (On The Forecheck), Josh Tessler (Smaht Scouting) and Alexander Taxman (Future Scope Hockey) which contain plenty of video. The aforementioned report from Will Scouch is also excellent if you want to hear directly from Marat’s biggest fan.

And if you’re especially curious, the MHL makes all of their games free to watch on their YouTube channel!


Alexander Pashin (LW)

Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Tolpar Ufa MHL 5'7" 154 lbs 33 - 89 #22 (Euro)

An electrifying offensive winger, the July-born Pashin is one of the shortest players in this year’s draft class, but also one of the most skilled — especially relative to where he’s expected to be picked.

Pashin really broke out last season, scoring 10 points in 17 games as a true 16-year-old in the MHL and scoring five points in six games as part of Russia’s gold medal-winning U17 squad. That tournament — a best-on-best for the U17 age group — helped scouts see that Pashin could score among his peers despite his size, and put him into the same conversation with previously profiled Russian players like Vasily Ponomaryov, Daniil Gushchin, and Marat.

This year, Pashin expanded his game in the MHL (39P, 37GP) and internationally. At the Hlinka Gretzky, Pashin scored seven of his team’s 18 goals, including two in the gold medal game, to bring home the trophy for Russia. At the U19 World Junior A Challenge, Pashin’s four assists saw him finished tied for second in team scoring.

His performance this past year really put Pashin in good company statistically. First, he was only one of 19 players to break the points-per-game mark in Russia’s top junior league, and was one of just two 2002-born players to do so. Among draft-eligibles, Pashin ranked third in points-per-game, after teammate and consensus first-round pick Rodion Amirov, and the October-born Maxim Beryozkin. Second, his 1.05 points-per-game rate ranks tenth all-time among draft-eligible players in the MHL (min. 20GP) — right behind names like Nikita Kucherov (1.41), Nikita Gusev (1.19), Artemi Panarin (1.16) and Denis Gurianov (1.09).

While you can argue that top Russian talent find their way to either the tier-II VHL or the KHL to play against men, there’s a big disparity about young players getting development time depending on their team, so it wasn’t the case for Pashin and his compatriots above. To his credit, Pashin was rewarded for his performance with two VHL games and one KHL game near the end of the season.

If we dig a little deeper, Pashin’s statistics aren’t just buoyed by powerplay time, where we’d expect a player with his skillset to thrive with more time and space but struggle at even-strength. Via the invaluable Pick224, his primary points-per-game at even-strength (0.54) was fifth among draft-eligibles, and his all-situations primary points-per-game (0.70) ranked third. I will note that when browsing the Pick224 data, it was astounding to see that Tolpar Ufa had a +139 goal differential this season, meaning that Pashin had quality teammates capable of sharing the offensive burden, especially when compared to a player like Dmitri Ovchinnikov (below). But Pashin’s relative numbers raise no red flags about him being a floater on such a strong team.

Obviously, Pashin’s strengths are with his well-developed offensive game. While we harp on small players all the time for their size, one of the benefits of being one of the smallest players at every level is that you’re forced to develop a style of play that allows you to have success anyways, especially if you’re going to “make it” at the international level. Pashin’s done that. He loves attacking the middle of the ice, especially with control, and it helps when he has incredibly soft hands in tight spaces — a skill that will only help him at the NHL level when every puck is contested in small areas. As his 22 assists indicates, he’s an extremely dangerous passer and loves to find his teammates hanging out in the slot. Off-puck in the offensive zone, Pashin features good habits like stopping near the net instead of flying past it.

Pashin’s size and defensive game are obvious warts for the young forward. He can shy away from physical play, especially in the defensive zone, that leads to lots of uncontested puck battles. While he does well to present himself on breakouts as an exit option, he has not shown that he can consistently mark or break up plays when the opponent has possession.

While, more often than not, he’s successful stickhandling in tight spaces, there are obvious battles where he’s just overwhelmed physically and loses the puck. At the end of his scouting report that I cited above, Dylan Griffing noted that “Pashin has all of the tools to be a great, creative winger at a higher level, but needs to work on being more consistent and making decisions faster with the puck on his stick.” I concur!

Expect Pashin to play another few seasons in Russia, likely aiming to get VHL minutes this season that will be a good test for his offensive and defensive game. He could be taken in the second-round like other “A” rated prospects by NHL Central Scouting, or be a later-round option given his size. It’ll be intriguing to watch who takes a chance on Pashin’s electrifying toolkit come draft day.

Highlights

You can also watch Pashin’s profile on Scouching here.


Dmitri Ovchinnikov (LW)

Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Sibirskie Snaipery Novosibirsk MHL 5'10" 161 lbs 48 - 117 NR

Dmitri Ovchinnikov may be one of the draft’s more cherished players inside the blogosphere, and one of the most disrespected outside. In reality I think Dmitri Ovchinnikov falls somewhere in the middle, but for a player who’s unranked by NHL Central Scouting but has been ranked as high as the top 50 by various public sources, Ovchinnikov’s a player I think is definitely worth discussing.

One of the younger players in the draft, Ovchinnikov’s 2019-20 season saw rapid growth from September to March. He started off as a depth player for Sibirskie Snaipery Novosibirsk (I dare you to pronounce that first try), then worked his way up to being one of the MHL’s most dangerous players in the second half. He even received a two game call-up to the KHL, and was good enough for them in their 2020-21 training camp that as of writing, that’s where he’s currently playing.

With 55 points in 54 games, Ovchinnikov was his team’s only player to score over a point-per-game rate last season, good enough to rank fourth among draft-eligible players (behind Amirov, Pashin & Beryozkin). The majority of that came in the second half too when he finally started to see top-line ice time, putting him on a steep upward trajectory heading into the new season.

The most appealing trait to Ovchinnikov’s game is his pure speed. His stride may look a bit awkward and light, but it gets the job done to the point that he’s almost always the fastest player on the ice. His quick pace isn’t just limited to footraces either, with a knack to jaunt himself into plays at a moment’s notice, something that’s made him dangerous as both a goal-scorer and play facilitator. I don’t use the term playmaker because he isn’t very often making creative plays or using those around him to generate chances. But he’s very good at spotting open ice, getting there, and finding a teammate in an even more dangerous position.

I’m also a fan of Ovchinnikov’s positional versatility — he played roughly equal parts last season as a centre and a winger, and seemed to translate his skills well to both. At centre he can be incredibly dangerous as a puck-carrier through the middle where he’s best at navigating the neutral zone, and from the wing he’s excellent at seeking opportunities to drive to the net and get the puck to dangerous areas. Some have taken this as a downside — his faceoff taking and defensive abilities leave much to be desired, making him a hard player to project whether he’ll play centre or wing down the line. But for a player expected to fall to the later rounds and spend at least a couple more years overseas, that’s something I’m honestly not very worried about at this point, especially since he showed comfort in either role.

The most immediate flaw with Ovchinnikov’s game is his lack of strength, which could make or break his development path. At 5’10” he’s already on the smaller end for draft prospects, but his style of play makes him prone to getting bumped around a lot, something that isn’t complimented too well by the way his feet move light and quick while skating. We know he can be a smart player and can find just the right spots on the ice, but if he wants to continue playing his style that’s reliant on breaking through defenders and driving pucks to the net, he’s going to have to learn to better handle himself when getting shoved around. This was apparent in even just the six minutes he played in the KHL last season, and may be a big adjustment factor for his development.

As alluded to in the profile on Khusnutdinov, the MHL is a weird league to scout for many reasons, and I think that might be driving a lot of the divisiveness on Ovchinnikov. It’s rare that you find players with a nose for the net in the MHL, but that’s what Ovchinnikov brings. It’s rare that you find players with such high-flying speed in the MHL, but that’s what Ovchinnikov brings. It’s rare that you find players who can confidently blaze through the middle in the MHL, but that’s what Ovchinnikov brings. He stands out like a sore thumb, which makes it difficult to compare whether these are things he’s really exceptional at, or if he’d look significantly more average in a different league. Again, I think he’s somewhere in the middle here, but these are understandable reasons why he may fall past the first couple rounds.

Overall, we’re still left with a prospect who has some fantastic individual tools, but may need some time to figure out how he’ll put it all together, along with some time in the gym. He’s an exciting skater playing in an exciting league, and is a player I would definitely take my chances on with one of the Sens’ handful of late-round picks.

Highlights

Additionally, Will Scouch did an excellent video breakdown of Ovchinnikov, who like for Khusnutdinov will give you the perspective of one of their biggest fans. Dylan Griffing, another Ovchinnikov fan, has a great clip-filled breakdown on Dobber Prosepcts.


Maxim Groshev (RW/LW)

Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk KHL 6'2" 194 lbs 57 - 99 #25 (Euro)

The biggest forward we’re profiling today with a pro-ready, 6-foot-2, 194-pound frame, Maxim Groshev spent most of the season playing among men in Nizhnekamsk. The December-born forward features a balanced, power game, with puck-rushing and north-south instincts being key. Unlike the other forwards we’ve profiled, Groshev is likely a safe bet to feature in a team’s middle-six some day.

Groshev’s consistently shown throughout his short career that he can play beyond his age group. As a 15-year-old, Groshev scored 1.65 points per game in Russia’s top U17 league — comparable to Amirov’s 1.77 — and jumped straight into the MHL the next season. On a deep, veteran team, Groshev had a respectable 20 points in 47 games, but really stood out as an underager at the U18s on a silver medal-winning Russian squad.

This past season, Groshev was one of just 10 draft-eligible skaters to play in the KHL, and one of six to play more than 10 games. He led them all in scoring with seven points in 36 games. Groshev playing in the KHL makes it hard to find statistical comparisons, but that rarity is a good thing in my books. There are only ~10 draft-eligibles to receive games in the KHL every season, and Groshev’s point totals are the highest since Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov in 2014-15.

Here’s a look at what we like about Groshev. Like his first KHL goal, most of his impact is going to come from here — his play in front of the net. How he gets there is important as well, where he often powers through the middle of the ice, or cuts between defenders while protecting the puck with his wide frame. What gets me most excited about Groshev is his two-way game. As you’ll see below, if Groshev can consistently channel his inner Mark Stone by stymieing defensive breakouts, stripping opponents of the puck, and accelerating into a breakaway, you have a player who will be a positive value in the hardest zone to win — the neutral zone.

Groshev’s an interesting contrast to some of the other smaller and high-scoring players we’ve profiled today. He has not scored at the same rate — even at the U18 level — but has been trusted to play against men, even suiting up as a rare draft-eligible for Russia at the U20 World Juniors. His size has allowed him to outmuscle smaller, weaker opponents, but that size advantage will likely evaporate at the NHL level where there are a plethora of players who are just as strong as he his. What he gains in a translatable style of hockey, he loses in terms of his creativity with the puck, as he commits to being a north-south player.

For Groshev to reach his full potential, he’ll have to work on two things: increasing his pace of play to disrupt offences as they transition, and improve his skating — especially his two-step acceleration — to allow him to make plays like that consistently. As you’ve seen in the clips, he features a solid wrist shot and a good top speed for his size, but will need to add these aspects to dictate play while he’s on the ice as compared to some of his possession-focused peers.


Honourable Mentions

Player Pos Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Player Pos Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Maxim Beryozkin LW/RW Loko Yaroslavl MHL 6'2" 201 lbs 85 - 185 #23 (Euro)
Ivan Didkovsky LW MHK Dynamo Moskva MHL 5'10" 185 lbs 94 - 181 #77 (Euro)
  • Like for Finland, there’s only a small handful of honourable mentions that we think deserve discussion this week, else we’d be reaching really deep into the MHL trenches, where only the brave dare to lurk.
  • One player who has caught my interest is Maxim Beryozkin, a powerful 6’2” winger who plays physical and uses every bit of it to his advantage to score. As Tony Ferrari pointed out during his appearance on Draft Debaters, he’s always exciting — throwing big hits, making big plays, scoring big goals. His 1.06 P/GP is also strong for this year’s Russian draft class. But his skating, particularly his acceleration, will need a lot of work going forward if he’ll want to keep up at the pro level.
  • The antithesis to Beryozkin, Ivan Didkovsky is a much more gifted skater who lacks in physical presence. There are some tools to really like, most notably being his wicked powerful shot and his penchant for being in the right place to use said shot. He had some good chemistry going with fellow draft-eligibles Dmitri Zlodeyev (the playmaker) and Bogdan Trineyev (the power forward), also suiting up together at international tournaments. But Didkovsky constantly plays at a higher pace and was the highest scorer of the three, hence why he’s my player of intrigue in these honourable mentions.