2024 NHL Entry Draft Coverage: On Anton Silayev

Musings on one of the biggest wildcards of the 2024 draft class

2024 NHL Entry Draft Coverage: On Anton Silayev
Photo by Klim Musalimov / Unsplash

If the draft was held this past November, I would've expected Anton Silayev to go second overall. He has so many rare characteristics that make scouts salivate: he's 6-foot-7, possesses four-way mobility, played his draft year among men, and set the KHL record for points by a draft-eligible player – beating ex-Senator Vladimir Tarasenko by one. While his stock faded over time, it's hard not to see Anton Silayev leaving Vegas without being picked in the top-10, and if the Sens want to, he might be there for the taking at 7.

Anton Silayev, D (Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod)

6'7", 207 lbs, shoots left

Background: Silayev's history before this past season doesn't scream "top pick", which is going to confound plenty of scouts in the lead-up to draft day. His standout accomplishment in 2022-23 is that his junior team won the MHL championship, but it was hard to argue Silayev played a major role – he ranked 6th among defenders in points with 8 in 41 games, and just two in 17 playoff matches.

Fast forward to the start of the 2023-24 season, and Silayev finds himself playing on an up-and-coming Torpedo squad led by head coach Igor Larionov, who's willing to counter decades of KHL frugalness in playing top prospects and instead, chooses to elevate the roles of a number of young players. Case-in-point? Silayev recorded six points in 12 games in September, starring in a top-four role (with PP2 duty) and taking home "rookie of the week" honours twice; meanwhile, teammate Nikita Artamonov, who's also draft-eligible, played won another "rookie of the week" honour on the basis of his top-line role. Moreover, Habs prospect Bogdan Konyushkov played the minutes of a #1 defenceman at age 20 and Avs prospect Nikolai Kovalenko led the team in points.

Silayev saw his progress stagnate in the new year, failing to record a single point in Torpedo's 21 regular season games in 2024. This fact has become a flag for scouts who like to see continuous improvement as a player's draft year progresses. While I don't disagree philosophically, I think it's important to recognize that it's tougher to see that growth with a player in a men's league. In an interview posted in February, Silayev himself noted that the coaching staff asked him to pick his spots better in terms of when he jumped into the rush, which could've made his play more conservative.

To Silayev's credit, he recorded two assists in his first KHL playoff series, as Torpedo was defeated by perennial contenders SKA St. Petersburg in five games. He played a larger role in the MHL playoffs, where he finished off his season with three points in 10 games as Chaika Nizhny Novgorod made it to the semi-finals. All-in-all, he averaged 14:54 of ice-time a game in the regular season and 16:43 in the playoffs – a remarkable feat for a 17-year-old in a men's league.

Scouting Report: Silayev's calling card is his combination of size and mobility. Usually, players his size struggle being mobile, and rely on their strength, physicality, or reach to find success. But like what excited the Senators about Tyler Kleven, Silayev possesses a fluid skating stride, which could be quite the tool in all three zones with proper development.

When things are going well for Silayev, he's using his mobility to his advantage. Defensively, that looks like holding the proper gap on opposing forwards, calmly tracking their position even when they try to move east-west, and using his stick or his physicality to re-take possession of the puck. Offensively, that looks like jumping into the rush – a move that likely surprised opposing teams in the first-half of the year – or finding gaps to get shots on net (averaging 1.6 a game). While he continues to grow into his body, Silayev shows signs of becoming a dominant physical presence, as you can see in these two clips here.

Check out more video of Silayev in action in this free article from Josh Bell of McKeen's Hockey.

When things aren't going well, Silayev can rush his decision making and get trapped by opposing pressure. When pucks are chipped past him and he has to make quick decisions on retrievals, he can rush a pass – leading to icings or clears off the glass without possession – or even get pinned to the boards. When he does try to make a play with the puck, he can sometimes hold onto it for too long, and then be unable to evade pressure with his skating. The structure of playing in a men's league means that this can happen often – players are usually in the right places – so if you don't make a decision right away, you're eaten alive by the opposing team's forecheck or neutral zone trap. What scouts will have to assess is whether they trust the foundation of his game is solid enough that quicker processing will come with further time and exposure, which is why the strong start (surprise!) but worrying new year (no longer a surprise!) is a question mark.

Stats: Despite its relative ups and downs, I can't emphasize enough how rare Silayev's season was. Before him, the most amount of points a U18 defender produced in the KHL was two, and since 2010, only four U18 rearguards played more than 10 regular season games in a season. The three most recent examples are first-round picks in Shakir Mukhamadullin (27 games, 20th overall selection), Dimitri Simashev (18 games, 6th overall selection), and Mikhail Gulyayev (13 games, 31st overall selection), but none of these players averaged more than 7 minutes of ice-time per game. It's interesting that all four of these players reached this feat in the last five seasons, as there's evidence that suggests the quality of Russian leagues, the KHL included, has been in decline for the past few years.

Lassi Alanen, EliteProspects' Director of European Scouting, had an article in October that broke down Silayev's first two months. I encourage you to read the full piece, but some takeaways were that while Silayev hasn't been generating offensive chances at a higher rate compared to his predecessors, his instincts in transition (entries, exits) have showcased progressive intent – even if his execution isn't quite there yet. Moreover, he excelled in breaking up plays through the offensive zone and defensive zone, and his retrieval rate, which is something that we noted earlier can be a work-in-progress, ranks well compared to his peers.

Finally, while this isn't quantitative information, it's important qualitative context given the socio-political climate in Russia right now. Fans might be aware of the swirling rumours around top prospect Matvei Michkov, where the mystery around him and the inability of many teams to hear from SKA St. Petersburg might have led to many passing on the player until he eventually fell to Philadelphia. In his most recent article in The Athletic, Corey Pronman noted:

Silayev has been the opposite. He’s had plenty of interviews with NHL teams already. Within an hour of making first contact with his agent, I was on a phone interview with Silayev. Silayev has secured his visa for June and discussed his plans to come to development camp for whichever NHL team drafts him. He has a Hall of Fame and three-time Stanley Cup champion coach in Larionov. Larionov is regularly in contact with NHL personnel and says he’s had conversations with NHL GMs about Silayev. There’s no guarantees with KHL players, but there are positive signs that Silayev will come over when he’s ready to play in the NHL, likely in two years when his current deal with Torpedo expires.

Further reading & watching:

What do you think about Anton Silayev? Let us know in the comments below!

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