With their 135th overall selection in the 2022 NHL Draft, the Maple Leafs have selected 6’2, 183-pound Russian winger Nikita Grebyonkin.
A second-year draft eligible currently developing in the Magnitogorsk system, the 19-year-old Grebyonkin was among the league leaders in Russian junior league (MHL) regular-season scoring with 64 points in 58 games before adding 13 points in nine playoff games. That ranked him 17th in regular-season scoring and fourth in points-per-game in the MHL playoffs. Grebyonkin also made one big-league appearance for Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL.
The Maple Leafs arguably went with a couple of higher-floor, lower-ceiling forward picks to kick off the draft in Fraser Minten and Nicholas Moldenhauer. With an intriguing combination of size, playmaking skill, and speed, Grebyonkin probably represents a higher-upside swing, with the hope he can round out his game and become more consistent as he matures, fills out his tall frame, and develops his shot (while also hoping that if/when the time comes for him to cross the pond, there is less uncertainty about getting players out of Russia with the war and suspended KHL-NHL agreement).
The Leafs have now drafted five prospects out of the Russian junior league in the past three drafts; one is Rodion Amirov (who split time between the KHL and MHL in his draft year), two are goalies in the Kazan system the organization seems encouraged by the progress of, and the other is winger Dmitriy Ovchinnikov, who earned an entry-level deal and joined the Marlies at the end of last season. It’s far too early to judge the results concretely, but there are at least some signs of promise out of this group of recent Leafs MHL picks.
This is the second winger and third forward the Maple Leafs have selected in their first four selections of the 2022 draft (the other being goaltender Dennis Hildeby).
Nikita Grebyonkin pre-draft rankings:
- Ranked 46th by HockeyProspect.com’s Blackbook
- Ranked 51st by NHL Central Scouting (EU Skaters)
Nikita Grebyonkin Scouting Report
courtesy of the 2022 Blackbook (BUY NOW)
We want to see prospects with slighter frames who don’t project to be very big or imposing have backup options when players try to physically overwhelm them. They need to be able to fight through checks when they are pinned against the boards, they need to be able to drive through traffic in areas of the ice where they know they might get banged up to make a play, and above all else, they need to make sure that their talent doesn’t get suppressed by getting mentally intimidated, especially when their game is based almost exclusively on skill.
Grebyonkin not only doesn’t get intimidated, but he steps up, he leads with his natural line-driving instincts for the game, and he finds a way to generate high-danger chances with his fantastic mental-mapping ability that’s showcased through his high-level playmaking skill set. That skill set led him to have some of the best primary assist rates out of any draft-eligible player that played junior hockey this past season.
Grebyonkin couldn’t generate with his playmaking if he didn’t put himself in the right positions on the ice, and in order to do that with a thinner frame, he had to rely on one of the most elusive natural skill sets out of any prospect available. Nikita has a rare blend of deception, elusiveness, and puck-handling ability that makes sure he doesn’t have to rely on his frame too often. We want players to be able to take hits, but it’s an even better projection when they are almost impossible to hit in the first place, and that’s the true defining quality of Grebyonkin’s game.
It starts with his technical skating mechanics. Simply put, Nikita has some of the best inside and outside edges available in this class. He was the only player we viewed this season who threw a defender off balance with over three feet of space between them. That hopefully gives you a sense of how fast he can pivot and force weight shifts out of opposing players.
His edgework is compounded by an efficient and fluid skating base that’s mechanically sound; although, at times, he does lack top-end power in straight lines. He makes up for a lack of explosive power with split-second off-center evasiveness, coordinated linear crossovers, and exaggerated postural side steps that help evade incoming pressure through the neutral zone. As he hits the offensive line, he can incorporate attack skating by manipulating the opposing defenses’ pivoting base. He can spin on a dime, losing his man in the process.
This made him an incredibly effective zone-entry machine and caused fits for opposing defensemen and goalies down low around the goal line. He forces goalies to constantly shift laterally, work in and out of their reverse VH position, and make positional switches between the opposing center and defense. His skating allows him to drain teams rapidly while maintaining possession.
Nikita doesn’t just rely on his skating to set up his plays. He has a multi-faceted deceptive skillset. His deception is unique in the sense that he transitions seamlessly between exaggerated fakes and neutral fakes. As an example, he likes to load up on fake slap shots before finding his passing options, specifically when looking for the lateral weakside option, but he’s also capable of statically holding his posture before rapidly exploding into a potential shot or pass.
The same can be said for his puck handling. Some prospects are overly reliant on specific pre-set moves, but Grebyonkin blends rapid hand speed with dynamic and high-speed processing reactions to what the defenses are giving him. He will elongate himself purposely to try and create a false lane before rapidly pulling the puck around a defender’s triangle or through it. When these qualities are melded together, he is difficult to read for opposing players.
There are times when he can inadvertently telegraph his intentions, though. He’s incredibly deceptive when getting through the initial layer, but when he is set up around the net area, defenses are aware that he’s probably looking to thread a pass, which draws to his innate playmaking instincts and his poor shooting mechanics. Nikita has trouble synchronizing his wrist, snap, and slapshot; meaning, he rarely generates the power and additional torque necessary through his frame when releasing the puck from certain angles. Defenses picked up on this trait.
We discussed how effective he is at getting down low around the goal line, but he had to be overly reliant on his playmaking. When he would curl from the goal line and fire a shot instead, he wasn’t consistently dangerous. This issue extends to when he shoots off the rush with speed from high-danger areas as well as when he attempts to generate one-timers from his wheelhouse.
Occasionally, his shot was threatening, but he doesn’t project to score goals from the hash marks and out very often. Mechanically speaking, Nikita needs to develop the ability to drive through his hips while simultaneously transferring through his core and shoulders. He has good recognition of where to place a shot when evaluating the triangle of an opposing defenseman. He can occasionally score impressive goals off of catch and releases due to his high-end dexterity, but unless he develops his mechanics, he will be more reliant on his playmaking at the pro level.
If you are going to be more reliant on one specific skill and you’re not a natural dual-threat, the prospect better be good at that one dimension. Fortunately for Nikita, his playmaking is where he shines brightest. He’s comfortable on his backhand, and he’s capable of well-timed saucer and chip passes over layered sticks primarily on his forehand. He is very good at blending his handling into his playmaking, and he can time weak side and backdoor options.
His sense for the game is high-end; he’s an aware and cerebral player who can shift his speed to readjust lanes. Above all else, for a possession driver with a slimmer frame, he’s remarkably adept at remaining on balance, which allows him to remain consistent within his passing angles while simultaneously relying on his edgework.
The biggest drawback to Grebyonkin is the consistency within his skill set in general. On his best day, he was dominant against the top teams at the MHL level, and he was the best player on the ice — let alone on his team — in some of our viewings. However, there are times when his execution rates suggest he can’t get to that top-six threshold.
He has the talent on any given play. We’ve seen him beat entire teams by himself while showing absurd handling; we’ve seen him make magnificent tape-to-tape no-look passes, but we’ve also seen him botch what should be routine plays and have plays break down on him a bit too much for us to feel comfortable with the top-six projection.
He’s capable of elite plays, but without the execution rates, we can only rank him so high. We project Grebyonkin as a top-nine energy winger who can play on a PP2. He does bring additional value when he isn’t producing, which does make him a very interesting prospect.
He projects to have a significant entry-rate upside at even strength, and he is not a liability in his own end; it just isn’t a significant strength, either. He maintains a good pace, plays hard most of the time, and can generate pressure on opposing teams with his speed on the backcheck; it just won’t be what he’s known for.
GM Kyle Dubas on Nikita Grebyonkin
We tried to do as much homework as we possibly could on his situation and what he wanted. With where we had him on the list, with our pick, the decision that was made was, “Let’s pick him. Let’s see how that situation continues to play out over time here knowing that it could be a bit of a longer path for him.” We really like what he brings competitively and as a player at that level.
Nikita Grebyonkin Video
Nikita Grebyonkin Statistics
|2018-19||Metallurg Magnitogorsk U16||Russia U16||35||25||30||55||4||22|
|Metallurg Magnitogorsk U17||Russia U17||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Russia U16 (all)||International-Jr||3||1||0||1||0||-|
|2019-20||Metallurg Magnitogorsk U17 “C”||Russia U17||30||18||28||46||18||17|
|Russia U17 (all)||International-Jr||3||1||0||1||0||-|
|2020-21||Metallurg Magnitogorsk U18||Russia U18||3||0||1||1||0||-3|
|Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk||MHL||54||12||22||34||30||22|
|Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk “A”||MHL||58||17||47||64||6||39|