The KHL is A-OK

The KHL is A-OK

Photo: RENE BAILLARGEON/QMI Agency

There are more than a few things I’ll never understand in life. Why do Americans want sports on TV in the middle of the day on the weekend? Who actually likes DJ banter on the radio? And why is the KHL considered to equal death for prospects?

The first two I’ve given up on and accepted as an unfortunate part of life, but the fear of the KHL seems like one that can be addressed easily. Simply put, I think the common perception of the prospects leaving for the KHL is wrong. In fact, the NHL should be encouraging some of their young prospects to consider going this route as it will potentially elevate their game.

Being pro-Russian prospect is easier this week with Vladimir Tarasenko returning to the Blues than it was a few weeks ago when Kuznetsov decided to stay in the KHL for another couple of years. Although, in his decision Kuznetsov does hint at the benefits to his development, and if you scan the Capitals roster there does not seem to be any certainty that a 20 year old offensive player will readily crack the lineup. If he continues to excel in Russia it seems that in two years it could be his spot to lose.

If you look at Columbus as an example of what not to do, that’s an organization that fears the way KHL operates. Both Zherdev and Filatov were thrown into the NHL lineup prematurely so they would not return to Russia, both faltered and were never given the chance to develop for playing in the highest calibre league.

While they were not ready for the NHL, it is questionable whether or not the CHL made sense for them either. Part of the reason why these players have been drafted so high is because they have proven they can dominate at this level. While they can refine their game in the juniors, there might be a greater advantage to these elite prospects taking on more accomplished goaltenders, skilled defenders, and generally more experienced opposition. Think of it as the NCAA route, where instead of an education your prospect gets suitcases full of money and experience against an even higher level of competition.

A few facts on drafted Russians in recent years:
22 Russians have been taken in the first 2 rounds of draft since 2006
19 in the 2006-2010 drafts (2 deceased)
14 of these Russians have already played in the NHL or AHL
7 are still playing in the NHL
4 of the Russians have never played in the KHL/Russian Super League

It goes without saying that is a pretty high success rate for any group in the draft, and certainly shows a commitment to playing in North America. Half of the players are still playing in Russia, but of those about five have already washed out as prospects for the NHL, and at least three will presumably consider a return if given the opportunity by their North American clubs.

From a Leafs perspective it seems foolish to exclude Russians from consideration because of this flight risk myth. Not only do Nikolai Kulemin and Leo Komarov prove that the Leafs organization can attract players away from the deep pockets of the KHL, but they are likely to have a chance to draft highly skilled players Russian born players as a result of other GMs buying into the foolish ‘enigmatic’ label placed on any player who might prioritize offense or fall victim to a poorly phrased interview in their second language.

Mikhail Grigorenko is certainly a player I would like to see in the Leafs organization, but if he can’t crack the roster I wouldn’t have any problem with him playing against tougher competition in the KHL rather than the QMJHL. Of course if he signs a five year deal that would be problematic, but I think that fear is unwarranted since that has not been the case with any recent draftees.

Grigorenko is an easy sell, and frankly I’ll be shocked if he’s available still at the time that Burke picks. The other Russians in the draft are hard to sell as beyond the elite, CHL products.

I for one would love to see the 35th overall pick (34th if New Jersey does in fact forfeit their pick) used to take Andrei Vasilevski (again assuming he’s available.) Largely regarded as the best goaltender in the draft (though Subban and Dansk also have strong support), he is the one most likely to slide down the rankings. Where he has an advantage over the other two is that he will likely be the one facing the highest level of competition if he stays in Russia. While I know that taking a goaltender high in the draft is never a popular decision, Vasilevski has the potential to be an elite level goaltending prospect that the Leafs have sorely lacked since Felix Potvin.

Additionally, players like Nikita Gusev, Nikolai Prokhorkin, and Anton Slepyshev, who are already playing in the KHL, could be available in the later rounds and are certainly worth gambling a pick on as they continue to gain experience in what should be regarded as a strong development league, especially for offensively gifted players and goaltenders.

The odds are quite high this year that the Leafs will add a Russian (or American born Belarussian) at the draft and pre-emptively I’d like to quell the ridiculous fears about the KHL threat. The Leafs have two great Russian speaking ambassadors in Kulemin and Grabovski who should make the organization an attractive destination for their countrymen.

And now some links…

Misinterpreting Moneypuck- Cam Charron with a reminder that Moneyball(puck) is just as much about finding players who are the best value, and not just advanced stats (though they certainly help.)

NHL Combine Results- While the value the Combine adds to draft rankings is debatable, here are the top finishers in each area. I’m preparing myself for a Tom Wilson lovefest.

Rangers Contact Predators about Radulov- I’m pretty sure Larry Brooks has had every talented player being traded to the Rags at some point or another. This might not be a call for Burke to make as well.

NHL Player Usage Charts- Quantifying that Jay Rosehill is useless and that the Leafs are very lucky they have Carl Gunnarsson.

Tim Thomas Confirms He’s Taking A Year Off- Loosely translated: “I have to go now, my planet needs me.”

Andrey Osadchenko has an Interview with Greg McKegg- Leafs Nation provides some insight into one of the organizations better prospects.

Scout’s Take on the top Goaltenders of the 2012 Draft- Justin Goldman of the Goalie Guild breaks down the top goaltenders. I remain open to the Leafs taking one of these guys in the 2nd round.

Is Jake Gardiner physical enough to be effective in the NHL playoffs?- Michael Langlois asks the question, hopefully some day we get to find out the answer.

Jon survived in the wild for several years but now lives in captivity. His diet consists of meats and grains. He is on twitter dot com. Visit him at twitter.com/yakovmironov or his oft-neglected site yakovmironov.blogspot.ca