The Lost Russians

Thomas Drance
September 26 2011 11:28AM


Remember Kirill Koltsov?

Editors note: Andrey Osadchenko is the senior Russian Correspondent at the Nations Network. He writes regularly in Russian at allhockey.ru, and has a series of web videos called "Joining the Rush" with Steve Dangle. Today Andrey catches up with some of the former Russian-born draft picks of the Canucks organization. The piece underscores why drafting Russian-born players has gone somewhat out of style; simply put, it's a risky proposition. 

For generations, Russia has been known as a "promised land" in terms of producing skilled hockey players. Among all NHL teams, the Canucks would know that. After all, they were lucky enough to have arguably the best Russian players in the history of hockey on their roster in Igor Larionov and Pavel Bure.

Recently the Canucks haven’t relied on Russians, apparently having switched their preference to Swedes instead. However, they still own the NHL rights to quite a few ruskies with varying levels of notoriety. Sergei Shirokov’s move across the pond a couple of seasons ago proves that in modern hockey, anything can happen - so it's possible that one of these guys could end up with the team at some point. That said - it's probably a stretch. Let’s take a look at the Russian "prospects" the Canucks have drafted over the past decade, and evaluate whether or not it was worthwhile to draft them.

Evgeny Gladskikh

  • Age - 29
  • Position - RW
  • Height - 6’0
  • Weight - 198
  • Drafted – 2001 round 4 #114 overall
  • Current club – Yugra (KHL)

Classic Russian winger – tremendous puck control, hockey sense and wrist shot. He spent most of his career playing for his hometown team Metallurg Magnitogorsk, which ironically may be the reason he never really became a star. It is extremely hard to get a significant amount of ice-time when you play for a big club like Metallurg.

Evgeny played over 400 games in the RSL/KHL and had four 20+ point seasons. He also played 5 friendly games for Team Russia in which he managed to score 2 goals. Last season he struggled to earn a spot on Torpedo Nizhnyi Novgorod line-up and spent most of the season in the VHL – a second tier Russian league.

Chances of him ever opting for North America are scarce. He’s never played outside of Russia and apparently intends to keep it that way.

Who the Canucks could have drafted instead.

Kyle Wellwood, Cody McCormick, Mike Smith, Dennis Seidenberg, Marek Zidlicky, Jussi Jokinen, Brooks Laich, Derek Boogaard, Cristobal Huet, Johnny Oduya, Marek Svatos, Milan Jurcina.

Ilya Kablukov

  • Age – 23
  • Position – Centre
  • Height – 6’3
  • Weight – 183
  • Drafted – 2007 round 5 #146 overall
  • Current club – Atlant (KHL)

The pinnacle of Kablukov’s career was in 2006 when he was called up to play for Team Russia at the IIHF U18 World Championship. However, in 6 games he didn’t pick any points. And it seems to be the story of his entire career.

Kablukov was always considered an average player. His skating is far from perfect, and his skill level doesn't stand out either. In sum, his on-ice productivity is below average. He played 201 games in the RSL/KHL and scored only 14 goals and 38 points. Interestingly enough, in his draft year Kablukov played 24 games for CSKA and didn’t get any points but still was drafted by the Canucks.

Any chance of him coming over? Is there really a reason that he should?

Who the Canucks could have drafted instead of him?

Carl Gunnarsson, Frazer McLaren, Paul Postma

Ilya Krikunov

  • Age – 27
  • Position – RW
  • Height – 5’11
  • Weight – 174
  • Drafted – 2002 round 7 #223 overall
  • Current club – Torpedo (KHL)

Krikunov is an alumni of Crystall Elektrostal – a club that plays in a second tier Russian league and known for giving their youngsters the opportunity to showcase their skills. Having so much of ice-time on his hands Ilya developed at a very young age, which gave him an edge among his peers.

He played for Team Russia at both U18 and U20 IIHF World Championships. Amazingly enough, he picked up 3 goals and 11 points at the U18 tourney in 2002. It very well may have been the reason the Canucks bothered to pick him.

Unfortunately, ever since then his career has gone downhill. He had a single 10-goals season and two 20+ point seasons in Russian elite league. Giving the way he performs and his age there’s only one conclusion to make – he wasn’t born to play in the NHL

Who the Canucks could have drafted instead of him?

Derek Meech, Maxime Talbot, Petr Prucha, Dennis Wideman, Jonathan Ericsson.

Sergei Topol

  • Age – 26
  • Position – LW/C
  • Height – 6’1
  • Weight – 181
  • Drafted – 2003 round 8 #252 overall
  • Current club – Mechel Chelyabinsk (VHL)

Even in 2003 - Topol was an odd pick to say the least. Topol (his last name literately means ‘a poplar’ in Russian) was born in a hockey-obsessed town of Omsk. He had a bigger body than his peers, which was good for him during early stages of his junior career. Other than that, though, he had nothing to offer.

As usually happens in situations like this, Sergei was unable to find his legs in pro hockey. He tried to crack the Avangard Omsk line-up for several years but his attempts were futile. He played a few years in Russian minor leagues before trying to get a spot in the KHL – this time he was fighting for a spot with Metallurg Novokuznetsk. Once again – it didn’t work out for him.

He currently plays in a second tier Russian league. Future NHLer? Yeah, probably not.

Who the Canucks could have drafted instead of him?

Matt Moulson, Tanner Glass, Jaroslav Halak, Nick Tarnasky, Brian Elliott.

Kirill Koltsov

  • Age – 28
  • Position – D
  • Height – 5’11
  • Weight – 192
  • Drafted – 2002 round 2 #49 overall
  • Current club – SKA St.-Petersburg (KHL)

Terrific offensive defenseman. Wonderful skater, puck-disher and shooter. The only thing he has, which, many people wish he didn’t - is the attitude. When Kirill is in the mood – there’s hardly any better defenseman in the KHL. And when he’s not – well, you’d better keep him off the ice. The Canucks are probably aware of this, since Koltsov played 2 seasons for the Manitoba Moose.

Koltsov is always considered as one the candidates to play for Team Russia, but has only one IIHF World Championship under his belt. Having said this, it has to be mentioned that he has won championships in the RSL and the KHL, and boasts a couple gold medals from the U18 and U20 IIHF World Championships.

If the Canucks were able to somehow convince Koltsov to try his luck in North America one more time, and were willing to make Koltsov an offer that could compete with his current contract (which expires in 3 years) -- they'd still will have to deal with his attitude. It’s probably better for the Canucks to look for a d-man somewhere else.

Who the Canucks could have drafted instead of him?

Jiri Hudler, Tomas Fleischmann, Johnny Boychuk, Gregory Campbell, Matthew Lombardi, Erik Christensen, Valtteri Filppula, Aaron Rome, James Wisniewski, Tom Gilbert, Ian White.

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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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