The Red Menace

Jonathan Willis
March 26 2012 10:02AM

Oilers fans are, as has been noted here and myriad other places, in an interesting position. If the team loses, it does a better job of securing the second overall pick. If the team wins enough between now and the end of the season, they could conceivably slide out of the draft lottery entirely.

One thing that seems to be making it easier for fans is the so-called “Russian Factor.” The consensus top pick in this year’s draft is Nail Yakupov. The likely second pick – though there is some debate on this – is Mikhail Grigorenko. For many fans, that makes it easy to drop down – they want to see the Oilers pick a defenseman anyway, and they really would prefer the Oilers not draft a Russian.

This perspective is not unique to Oilers fans, or for that matter even to fans. The NHL has come a long way since the days when Sergei Fedorov and Pavel Bure were getting picked up for a song at the league’s annual Entry Draft. Of course, back then the fear was that the Russians couldn’t get out of the Soviet Union; today the fear is that they’d rather play for millions in the KHL than ride buses in the AHL or earn six figures on a three-year entry-level deal.

The KHL is a valid concern: Russia has poured money into the league, and done a good job of retaining their home-grown talent. Other concerns, however, are less valid.

For whatever reason, boasting a Russian name makes any player more vulnerable to accusations of being selfish or petulant or sporting a bad attitude. An alien, studying films of hockey broadcasts could be forgiven for thinking that an “Enigmaticrussian” is a human nationality.

And to be sure, there are examples. Alex Ovechkin is regarded by some as a partier; the pending UFA eligibility of Alexander Semin is openly talked about by some Caps fans as “addition by subtraction.” Ilya Kovalchuk was scratched by former Devils head coach John MacLean after supposedly being late for a team function. And of course, Alexander Radulov earned disdain for the way he walked away on his entry-level contract to earn many multiples of his salary more in the KHL.

There are two problems with this: first, in many cases the difficulties attached to Russian players in the NHL are overstated; second, when other players do these sorts of things it doesn’t automatically feed into perceptions about people of their nationality.

The second point is a big one. When Ray Emery gets exiled to Russia because of concerns about his professionalism, we don’t talk about those crazy partiers from Hamilton, Ontario. When an unflattering Dustin Penner picture turns up, or Kyle Wellwood fails a fitness test, or Dustin Byfuglien gets arrested at an interesting weight, we don’t hammer away on guys from Manitoba or Windsor or Minnesota. When Dany Heatley refuses to waive his no-trade clause to go to Edmonton, forcing the Senators to pay him a $4 million bonus, we don’t grumble on how intractable and money-hungry guys who grew up in Calgary are. There’s a long, long, long list of North American players with drug problems or alcohol problems or discipline problems or the problem of being born “Sean Avery.” Rightly, those problems don’t reflect on the person’s nationality; they reflect on the person.

It’s different with Russian players. If there’s a negative story about a Russian it reflects not just on the player but on Russian hockey players in general. Dany Heatley drops from 100 points to 50 points, and there’s a problem with Dany Heatley. Alexander Ovechkin drops from 100 points to 65 points, and there’s a problem with the Capitals’ Russian captain. Sidney Crosby sits out much of the season with concussion problems, and he’s playing it safe, setting a sterling example of how hockey players should behave after suffering a head injury. Andrei Markov sits out much of the season while recovering from multiple knee surgeries, and we hear barely veiled barbs about intestinal fortitude and ‘really, another setback? How surprising.’

It doesn’t matter that Evgeni Malkin is leading the league in scoring by a mile. It doesn’t matter that Pavel Datsyuk is arguably the best two-way player in the NHL, or that Sergei Fedorov was before him. It doesn’t matter that Dmitri Yushkevich played through everything – and begged to play through a life-threatening blood clot – in hockey’s largest media market.  The different standard remains.

In some ways, it’s hard to blame people who have this perception of Russian players – it isn’t like the hockey media doesn’t perpetuate it. Besides that, we don’t see Russian grinders – because they’re typically playing at home, for more money, in a country where they can speak their own language and live in a familiar culture. All we see is the top-end talent, and when that talent fails it’s perceived as a lack of will rather than something else.

There’s no evidence, of course, that Canadians would do any better on the whole if the situations were reversed. In fact, there’s evidence to the contrary – during the lockout Kazan Ak-Bars, one of the wealthiest KHL clubs, went out and recruited NHL stars. For their troubles they saw Vincent Lecavalier (30GP – 7G – 8A – 15PTS) outscored by Ruslan Salei and Jaroslav Hlinka and Dany Heatley (11GP – 3G – 1A – 4PTS) play the role of a poor man’s Alexei Simakov.

Regardless, Russian hockey players have a given reputation, among some fans, media, and probably the guys coaching and managing teams too. And that leads to regrettable situations where folks would rather not see their team take a chance on a given draft-eligible player, simply due to his nationality. Jason Bonsignore doesn’t work out and we’re still fine with seeing Americans drafted; Alexei Mikhnov doesn’t work out and the Oilers better stay clear of the Red Menace.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Oil Is My Blood
March 26 2012, 10:08AM
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The Oilers should be too soFISTicated to go after Russians so high in the draft. You've got to go with the BPA, emphasis on the A for available. ELC vs big $$ back home??

Too big a risk. Stick with who we know. Ryan Murray!

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#2 Rickfoon
March 26 2012, 11:35AM
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As an Oiler fan I can't help but think about Ulanov routinely using his face to block shots #Tough as nails

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#3 VK63
March 26 2012, 01:21PM
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Rickfoon wrote:

As an Oiler fan I can't help but think about Ulanov routinely using his face to block shots #Tough as nails

It actually doesn't hurt that much when you are drunk.

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#4 Sloppy Joe
March 26 2012, 10:16AM
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Willis wrote:

"In some ways, it’s hard to blame people who have this perception of Russian players – it isn’t like the hockey media doesn’t perpetuate it. Besides that, we don’t see Russian grinders – because they’re typically playing at home, for more money, in a country where they can speak their own language and live in a familiar culture. All we see is the top-end talent, and when that talent fails it’s perceived as a lack of will rather than something else."

I think this is really insightful and goes right to the heart of the Don Cherryesque stereotype of Russian players (and euro players, generally).

For me, the thing with drafting russians is simply that (1) they can make more money (at least initially) by playing in the KHL; and (2) they can make that money playing at home. It is an extremely appealing option for them, and you can't fault them for making that choice.

I've got nothing against Russian players per se. It's just that there is an added element of risk when drafting them (although with Yakupov and Grigorenko, the fact that they're currently playing in the CHL should be seen as considerably mitigating that risk, imo).

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#5 michael
March 26 2012, 10:18AM
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Ryan Murray fills our Draft a Ryan quota. NHL"ready" defenseman I have heard some say. Able to move the puck. Alternatively we have Filip Forsberg out there. MY overall preference would be to trade down or trade the pick outright for a prospect that is already at par withe group we currently have. I would be happy to trade for Ryan Johansen or Brett Connoly.

If we do get a lottery pick the odds are looking more and more like it will be the 5th pick. The Canadians and Wild are awful. The Leafs are falling so fast it makes my head spin. I think we surpass those teams and the Hurricanes and the Islanders stay ahead of us.

Who would have thought the Canadians would be this awful?

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#6 Alan Hull
March 26 2012, 10:30AM
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Jonathan,

You're not wrong about the stereotyping of Russian players, and I imagine if there was a Steven Stamkos or John Tavares at the top of this draft rather than Yakupov, Grigorenko and Galchenyuk (even though he's American), people would be for more excited for the Oilers to potentially draft one of these guys.

That said, I think there is also some legitimacy to the fact that people now feel that the need for high-end offense has been addressed, and while you can never have too much of it, adding a player like Grigorenko is adding depth to what is considered by many to be the strongest place in the organization at the NHL level (top six forwards).

Many people feel the need to add a Dman, but, as I'm sure you already know, just have one discussion with Derek Zona and he'll give you a dozen reasons why that is not the ideal solution either.

I tend to agree with Derek and think the best solution is to trade the pick outright. Not trade down 5 spots...just trade it. Shoot for the stars and try to land a young impat Dman in his early 20s from a team that is desperate to add young high-end offense. (Read: Phoenix and OEL)

I don't think the best move this year is to draft any of the Russians...or a Canadian or an American or a Swede for that matter. I think this is the year where it is time to get better now and that (potential) lottery pick is the best bargaining chip the Oilers have.

That said, I completely agree there is a common belief that its okay to pass on these guys because they are Russian and that things would be different if this was the year of Taylor v. Tyler.

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#7 Gazmort
March 26 2012, 10:34AM
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@Willis

I agree with your arguement that the character flaws of individuals has unfairly tarnished an entire region, but I do think that the existence of the KHL creates a strong deterrent to selecting a Russian-born player. If a player of any other nationality had the option to go home to play their sport, AND get paid much more (at the front end, anyway), most would do it. Think about it in terms of Canada - suppose that an olympic-level volleyball player could compete in Canada instead of Europe (where competitive volleyball is big), and get paid the same or more to do it - most would come home. It isn't a critique of someone's character - it's just human nature to want to be at home, among the familiar, especially if you can make as much $$$.

I'm against BPA in this draft (assuming the BPA would be on of the Russians when the Oilers are up), unless the due diligence has been done and there is a strong indication that these guys have the desire of Malkin/Ovechkin, and not that petulant little snot Radulov.

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#8 Brett B.
March 26 2012, 10:38AM
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I've heard that Grigorenko may end up being a Malkin type player... can the Oilers afford to pass that up? take the big skill guy and trade one of our smaller guys?

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#9 Gazmort
March 26 2012, 10:44AM
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I was driving hard for a Gagner + Oilers 1st Rnd for Subban + Habs 1st Round back before the trade deadline when the Habs were still relevant and the Oil looked like a lock for bottom-two.

Man I wish that'd happened now...and don't tell me the Habs wouldn't do it. Have you seen who they have in charge!?

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#10 vetinari
March 26 2012, 10:46AM
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I think the greater reason why Europeans are perceived as being "weaker" or more "tempermental" than their North American counterparts is because they are playing thousands of miles from home and there is less incentive for them to "suck it up" and "play nice" with teammates and coaches when there are European leagues closer to their homes which are attractive and viable alternative career paths.

In other words, a Canadian player playing on a Canadian team making a playoff push is more likely to want to come back earlier into the lineup from an injury than a European player. It only stands to reason and it works both ways. Guys like Forsberg and Jagr accomplished what they wanted in the NHL (although Jagr is back for a another run) and then went on to play in the European leagues for a significant period.

I would be interested to hear from someone like Struds who recently was playing in Europe to talk about how North Americans are viewed by European fans when playing in their leagues?

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#12 Sliderule
March 26 2012, 10:50AM
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If they sign a couple of free agent defencemen this will be the last shot at the lottery we have for hopefully 10 years. If the russians are BPA you take them.Radulov ran away but as you know he is back with Nashville and they will get most of his best years. I am sure the young Russians have noted this and will continue the commitment they already have shown for north American hockey.

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#13 CCostall
March 26 2012, 10:51AM
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Nice column Jonathan.

I certainly agree with the comments above in that we need to use this pick as trade bait. Everyone and their dog has addressed what this team is lacking, overall grit and some legit bodies on the blueline. These guys come at a high price as we all know and unless we are willing to give away the future offense of this team, we have nothing to offer.

I think we are better left to trade for a proven d-man than wait another three years for Dumba or Murray to catch up. I'd rather take a gamble on Klefbom or Musil instead.

Either way, I think we are still in a good position whether we finish strong in these last couple of weeks or crap the bed. You never know how the dice will roll as there is no guarantee the 30th place team gets the first pick anyway. We could gain some momentum going into next season and secure some enviable trade bait in the process.

Maybe for once things are starting to look up....

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#14 Dman09
March 26 2012, 10:59AM
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First off if your in the lottery you never trade the pick because I don't think any team would be willing to give to a top impact defensemant for a question mark plain and simple.

As to who the Oilers should draft I think that will entirely depend on how the scouting team has players ranked and what they bring. The team does have the talent up front now but unless there is a defenseman in that top 10 that the scouting staff is willing to stand a 100% behind as NHL ready, it does nothing for this team at the moment. They have a lot of young defensman coming into the system and adding to the pile for 3-4 years of development won't change anything. Unless they are sure Murray is ready for NHL duty, they should be taking the BPA regardless of whether or not he is Russian. Who would you rather draft, Malkin or Pouliot????

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#15 Dman09
March 26 2012, 11:02AM
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CCostall wrote:

Nice column Jonathan.

I certainly agree with the comments above in that we need to use this pick as trade bait. Everyone and their dog has addressed what this team is lacking, overall grit and some legit bodies on the blueline. These guys come at a high price as we all know and unless we are willing to give away the future offense of this team, we have nothing to offer.

I think we are better left to trade for a proven d-man than wait another three years for Dumba or Murray to catch up. I'd rather take a gamble on Klefbom or Musil instead.

Either way, I think we are still in a good position whether we finish strong in these last couple of weeks or crap the bed. You never know how the dice will roll as there is no guarantee the 30th place team gets the first pick anyway. We could gain some momentum going into next season and secure some enviable trade bait in the process.

Maybe for once things are starting to look up....

You also never know if some teams would be willing to pass over the russian and the oilers may even be able to draft them lower down kinda like Couturier, at least i think it was him that slide last season.

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#16 Bob Cob
March 26 2012, 11:05AM
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The Oilers won't finish out of the lottery, don't kid yourself. If they are lucky enough to draft with the top pick they have to keep it, if not it's my opinion they should try to trade the pick in a package for a proven top pairing defenceman because as we all know defenceman are harder to develop. This is the summer that will make or break Tambellini's time as GM.

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#17 Craig1981
March 26 2012, 11:13AM
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I don't blame the russian playiers going home and not choosing here. If I was a pro soccer player offered $60,000-800,000 (depending on what league my fanchise sent me to) to play in the Spainish elite league or make 4mill tax free in Canada I would at least think about it

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#18 John Chambers
March 26 2012, 11:16AM
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@Alan Hull

Columbus' reticence to draft a Russian will be exploited by a savvy GM. We don't have a savvy GM, so we won't do it. Some of the concerns about drafting Russians are legitimate, but players who've played in the OHL and have stated their outright desires to play in the NHL, as Yakupov has, are worth the risk.

Plan B should be to do as you say - flip the pick for a top-pair defenseman who can add value to the lineup immediately.

Plan C should just be to draft Dumba or Murray, give them a couple of more years outside the NHL to develop, and hopefully have them make an impact on the big club by 2015.

In conclusion: Our 4th overall pick + Oscar Klefbom for Nail. Get 'er done.*

*it won't get done

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#19 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
March 26 2012, 11:20AM
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Damn you Bill Hunter!

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#20 michael
March 26 2012, 11:35AM
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There definitly is a varience in the opinions. My feeling is that whteverwe do or don't do will satisfy some and not others. The options for ST are certainly there for him to explore. Heck would you trade the #3 overall for 2 of Tampa Bays second round picks this year and TBays first next year? Or trade down for washingtons 2 1st round picks. Or trade it outright to Montreal for Paccioretty. ST at no other time in his riegn has he had so much leeway. The cupboards are full and we the cap space to effectively make an offer for a Ryan Suter or a Zach Parise. How good would that be? Parise with Hall and Hemsky. We are in an enviable position right now. If I am the other 29 other GMs in the league I would be ensuring I have ST on speed dial at the draft this June.

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#21 book¡e
March 26 2012, 11:41AM
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The threat of the KHL is basically this. The KHL has 'Russian' requirements, requiring a percentage of players to be Russian. Also, players who leave the NHL to play in the KHL return to their home language and culture and a location closer to 'home'.

So, while Canadian or Swedish players could choose to go to the KHL, they are far less likley than Russian players because being in Russia would be seen as a big negative.

So, basically put, at every negotiation with a Russian player, every demotion, etc, there is fear that the Player has an easy and attractive 'out' that does not exist with other players (where you basically have a very powerful 'monopoly' position).

With that said, I say draft the Russian and get him hooked up with some nice Edmonton girl as a girlfriend/wife.

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#22 jdubbs
March 26 2012, 11:50AM
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i thought in all the previous drafts the goal was to draft the best possible player available now Oilers nation is screaming to draft a d-man? i think that is still the best way for the oil approach the draft, take the best player available and he can be worked into the line-up with some competent managing....regardless if he's russian, swedish, canadian, jamaican...

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#23 South of Cowtown
March 26 2012, 11:59AM
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The risk of a Russian draft not working out in the long run is real. Going to the highest bidder seems to be a trait. At the least, it is a perception that a lot of GMs adhere to. As to trading the pick, it has to be a skater, no more prospects please. This summer Tambo has a chance to step up and be a team builder. We have a couple holes to fill, free agency and a clever trade or two is the obvious way to do that. This team has to toughen up. There is no way a guy like Sarich should have gone unchallenged the whole game. He was a wrecking machine running around at will. Good game for him, not even a facewash. Dubnyk is making a pretty serious bid for #1, he still has work to do. So, find another goalie? I'm on the fence there. Another top 4 D? Yup. Some brawn playing center? Yup. Sorry Belanger.

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#24 Dan the Man
March 26 2012, 12:04PM
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I completely agree with you Jonathan that there are unfair generalizations of Russian players but maybe the fact that there are a much smaller number of Russians (3.4%) than Canadians (53.5%)playing in the NHL contributes to this.

If a couple of Russians are seen as problematic it's much easier for people to paint them all with the same brush whereas if a couple of Canadians are causing the same problems for their teams, well those must be isolated cases because most Canadian hockey players are fine upstanding citizens.

Oilers should pick the BPA. If it's Grigorenko GREAT! We could use a big skilled centre. If it's Murray, that would be great as well, obviously we need some help on the back end.

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#25 They're $hittie
March 26 2012, 12:13PM
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Willis,

I don't really know fully, but with all the issues with the Canadian players you said, myself, I was pretty criticizing of them especially heatley. Any player that acts like a douche should be criticised regardless or nationallity. Including doughty who put himself ahead of the organization.

I think a big difference in the examples you used was that the Russians (with the exception of Dany) were high picks, mostly first round, and they also command a much higher salary. Where as the other examples were not and are not tying up as much of their teams cap. Ovechkin and Radulov were the star players of there franchise and have a lot more responsibility to there team. Richards and Carter were considered partyers and not committed and they were flushed out of their system. This is the risk. If you grab a player like Grigorenko in the 3rd round that is awesome, less risk.

Dasyuk, Bure, Federov, were not first round picks, the risk on them was less and the turned out to be great players. Malkin is a great player and proves the bias wrong.

But there is a concern, a valid one, as so there would be a concern for a Canadian player. Sean Couturier dropped significantly because his effort level was in question.

and for the record I want yakupov he is consensus number 1. However despite the central scouting reports grigorenko is questioned by a lot. Why take a risk on a center just because he is big when there are more pressing concerns.

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#26 Alan Hull
March 26 2012, 12:21PM
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@John Chambers

If the Oilers were able to do get CBJ to take a deal like Klefbom and #4 for #1 due to CBJ's fearn of drafting a Russian (they won't be able to) they should do so and then immediately call Montreal and ask them if they have interest in a 2nd lottery pick...price is Subban. Then call PHX and tell them price of OEL has just gone up if they want #1 overall. Price is now OEL and Gormley for #1, Omark and Teubert.

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#27 Syd Zork
March 26 2012, 12:29PM
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Package Grigorenko, Omark & PRV for Carey Price. Hell, agree to take Kaberle if necessary. Nothing wrong with getting one of the next Olympic goaltenders.

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#28 Craig1981
March 26 2012, 12:53PM
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Syd Zork wrote:

Package Grigorenko, Omark & PRV for Carey Price. Hell, agree to take Kaberle if necessary. Nothing wrong with getting one of the next Olympic goaltenders.

It would take much much more than that. Look what Colorado had to give up last year to get a young goalie no where near a good or proven as Price.

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#29 Ryan2
March 26 2012, 01:05PM
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I don't think it is as big an anti-Russian issue. For me, it is more of a quality of the draft talent issue. I don't mind if the Oilers slip down into the 4 - 6 pick range this season since the current view appears to be that there is only one top end player, Yakupov, and the next 4 or 5 players are relatively close to each other in value/potential.

If the Oil can't land the #1 spot then I am not sure which way they should go. As much as the talking heads like Murray, his d-zone awareness looked weak to so-so at the WJHC. Mind you, that would mean he fits right in with most of the d-men on the current Oilers' roster so maybe he will be "NHL ready" for the team from the get go. ;)

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#30 FastOil
March 26 2012, 01:14PM
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You make good points JW. Why don't I trust that the team will be able to manage and support so many players of different backgrounds?

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#31 Oilcan
March 26 2012, 01:17PM
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Alan Hull wrote:

If the Oilers were able to do get CBJ to take a deal like Klefbom and #4 for #1 due to CBJ's fearn of drafting a Russian (they won't be able to) they should do so and then immediately call Montreal and ask them if they have interest in a 2nd lottery pick...price is Subban. Then call PHX and tell them price of OEL has just gone up if they want #1 overall. Price is now OEL and Gormley for #1, Omark and Teubert.

Why trade Yakupov and Klefbom for Subban? Or even for Ekman-Larson, yes they are both good and we have some solid kids but Yakupov is great and Klefbom could be too. I would strive for much more if we were picking Yakupov. Better yet draft Yakupov and since your two LW are now Yakupov and Hall. I like Paajarvi and I think he will become a 2nd line LW or a very good 3rd line LW but he still has value so trade him and someone for Subban or OEL.

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#32 RyanCoke
March 26 2012, 01:19PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I completely agree that the KHL is a valid threat, and if you draft a guy you need to be sure he's fixated on an NHL career. Reverse the situation (if the best league in the world was in Russia and the KHL was in North America) and the same concerns would be justified about a Canadian player. That's absolutely something teams need to establish before drafting a guy.

I usually call bs on the Russian factor but then I look at it as if I were a Canadian player playing in Russia, if Russia were the best league in the world, would I play there as the number one draft pick or would I play closer to home for more money. It would be a tough call, I personally would probably play closer to home. The Russian factor is real. If the khl did not exist then it would be a different story.

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#33 Greg Marthinsen
March 26 2012, 01:30PM
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Russians get this label because generally speaking it is always their high profile players that are involved in these situations. Its happens less with North American players because there are many more North American hockey players in the league and they play a variety of roles. We tend to only draft the elite of the Europeans and when they dont pan out its big news, or when they sign a huge contract, or when they get bought out...etc...

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#34 French Toast Mafia
March 26 2012, 01:35PM
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If the oil are outside the top 2 picks then I think it's a no brainer to take Murray. He will step in and play next year regardless of what team drafts him, the guy is an absolute stud and miles ahead of Dumba IMO.. If they have one of the two top picks I'm not as sure because I haven't seen mikhail G play very much. This weekend both of the fellas on the pipeline show said that they would take Murray ahead of the two Russians regardless of where the Oilers were picking... Should be a good few months leading up to the draft

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#35 bazmagoo
March 26 2012, 01:49PM
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Bob Cob wrote:

The Oilers won't finish out of the lottery, don't kid yourself. If they are lucky enough to draft with the top pick they have to keep it, if not it's my opinion they should try to trade the pick in a package for a proven top pairing defenceman because as we all know defenceman are harder to develop. This is the summer that will make or break Tambellini's time as GM.

Couldn't agree more, we should be on to the next stage of the rebuild in 2012/13 imo. But I don't necessarily agree that the top d prospect in the draft won't be part of that. Tambo has some big decisions to make this summer.

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#36 bazmagoo
March 26 2012, 01:55PM
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@French Toast Mafia

Agreed

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#37 slopitch
March 26 2012, 02:09PM
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Great article Jonathan.

If the Oilers have access to another Malkin or Datsyuk (potentially) then I cant see why wait 4 years for Murray (or whomever) to develop when your drafting for need. They could also develop to be a Barker or JBo who I admit aren't comparable players just that you'd take the Russian 10 out of 10 times.

I really think the Russian card is overplayed. Malkin has Crosby for a role model and Datsyuk has Lidstrom. Kovalchuk didnt have anyone and he was critiqued. Now he looks great. I think the Russian with Hall, RNH and Eberle would be fine.

If they win out the string and end up 4th or 5th and take a D so be it. They are building for next year. However, those superstar Russians are a fine alternative.

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#39 Dog Train
March 26 2012, 02:15PM
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I agree that the stigma attached to Russians can be a bit tiring. It probably doesn't help that arguably the most influential member of the Canadia hockey media, Don Cherry, conveys such a strong anti-Russian (or anti-European for the most part) sentiment.

I would not be afraid of taking Yakupov. He has been in the CHL for a few years now and could probably play in the NHL next season. That said, even if we finish in the lottery, we will not likely have the first overall pick and Columbus would be stupid not take to Yakupov.

I have more concerns about Grigorenko. This is only his first year in North America and I have read scouting reports that range from "big, first line centre with excellent hands and vision" to "I wouldn't draft this guy anymore, he scares the hell out of me". I was paraphrasing but when you read reports like that it makes you at least question the risk. I also recall hearing something about him maybe having to go back to his junior team in Russia to play out the last year of his contract or something. He seems like too much of a risk to me.

The problem with drafting Russians, especially ones still playing in Russia, is that they often want to be guaranteed a spot in the NHL. Sometimes the adjustment is too difficult and they would benefit from some time in the AHL but they would rather make big money living at home then ride the bus through foreign cities for a lot less.

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#40 bah
March 26 2012, 02:54PM
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The only issue people should have with drafting Russian players is a higher likelihood of them returning to Russia and playing in the KHL.

Frankly, I find it asinine when people talk about Russian players having a subpar work ethic or commitment to winning. Thats an assessment that should be made on an individual basis, not blanketed over an entire country.

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#41 nathan
March 26 2012, 03:05PM
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For Russian Players. More than one CHL year is a plus. Low risk of needing AHL time is hug. With the KHL as an option an entry level two way contract better pay almost the same in the AHL or you're helping out the KHL.

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#42 French Toast Mafia
March 26 2012, 03:08PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Dumba's almost a full year younger and is a comparable player now; he's be my pick of the two, IMO.

I really don't think they are that close. Dumba got axed from the world junior squad, a team that I thought Murray was the best all around player on at 18 (even though he had a tough night against the Russians). I've watched dumba live 4 times this year and he just seems like a guy whos game has way too much risk in it. He also pushes guys around in the W, something he won't do in the show. I understand why people like him, it's because he is flashy, has moves, and rushes the puck a lot and therefore people notice. Murray lets the puck do the work and has all the same skills as Dumba just a higher hockey IQ. Lidstrom, pronger, and a recently retired #27 are probably the top 3 defensemen to play in the last 20 years and Murray has the same qualities they do. Dumba does not.

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#43 Team Hall
March 26 2012, 04:02PM
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I've got one thing to say to this article: Igor Ulanov. Block a shot with his teeth, get up, and do it again.

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#44 Smokey
March 26 2012, 04:08PM
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@South of Cowtown

Sarich was challenged by Peckham. Guy said he did not want to take Pecks off the ice in post game interview.

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#45 Spaceman Spiff
March 26 2012, 04:21PM
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Jonathan... I count myself in the group that believes the Oilers should steer of any Russian in the first round, but not quite for the reasons that you're asserting.

It's not that I want the Oilers to draft a Canadian because I think Russians are lazy or spoiled or incapable of killing penalties (Datsyuk and Fedorov excepted) or any of the other stereotypes you note above.

The problem with the Russian kids is they have another attractive option - an option that, quite frankly, most of the other nationalities don't have.

If you draft a Canadian or American kid, he doesn't have a World Hockey Association to go to. He's not going to bolt for the American Hockey League. He doesn't have another equivalent professional option.

Russian players do. And, lately, some of them have been opting for it. It's prudent - not racist - to be cautious and, yes, to profile some players.

It's the same thing with Swiss players. I've read that because there is an attractive professional league in Switzerland, there are teams that are steering clear. Or, at the very least, they're doing their homework on them so they don't end up with Michel Riesen - a guy with first-round talent who wasn't willing to work hard enough in the AHL and instead went home to earn $500G, tax-free.

I don't think there's anything wrong with being cautious on players because of their nationalities if their nationalities have certain professional options that come with them.

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#46 Alan Hull
March 26 2012, 04:21PM
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Oilcan wrote:

Why trade Yakupov and Klefbom for Subban? Or even for Ekman-Larson, yes they are both good and we have some solid kids but Yakupov is great and Klefbom could be too. I would strive for much more if we were picking Yakupov. Better yet draft Yakupov and since your two LW are now Yakupov and Hall. I like Paajarvi and I think he will become a 2nd line LW or a very good 3rd line LW but he still has value so trade him and someone for Subban or OEL.

First, I'm just working off of someone else's hypothetical. The deal was never Klefbom plus the number 1 overall. It was the #4 overall and Klefbom to get #1, then #1 for Subban or OEL. If the team decides they would rather have Yakupov then some of their current assets, then that is fine with me, but the point is you need to move some of the young offense for a young stud blueliner.

The Oilers need to deal from strength and get an immediate impact player on the blueline. The easiest way is to deal the pick. If you would rather keep Yakupov and consider trading high on a guy like Eberle...that would work too, but good luck with the PR on that choice.

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#47 Bleak Winter
March 26 2012, 04:25PM
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JW, You are bang on when you say it could be because you only ever see the one type of Russian player - offensive threat with elite puck-handling skills. Most Russian players, even D-men, never make it out of Russia without possessing this type of game.

I think that's probably the one style of play that translates the least to North America. We have no shortage of our own junior stars who can't put up the numbers in the NHL, but when a Russian is drafted strictly for scoring and can't score, it seems like much more of a spectacular failure. There's only a few new Russians drafted each year, and people who follow the league notice these failures more acutely. You combine that with language and culture differences, and it's no surprise they seem like a bunch of temperamental racehorses.

My opinion is that there's really nothing more wrong with them than any other kid, but there's also usually nothing so special about them to justify the extra trouble (be it real or perceived). Unless you feel without a doubt a Russian is a lock as best player available, you just don't risk it. Keep in mind the people doing the drafting have jobs that depend on successful results, they don't want extra risk.

Most of the names you mention JW are elite generational talent drafted over the course of 20+ years. But in the last 10 draft years, and with the benefit of hindsight, I can only think of Malkin who I'd use a first round pick on (and that includes Ovechkin, you can keep him).

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#50 Bleak Winter
March 26 2012, 06:25PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Do you mean a first overall pick? Because even scoring just 30+ goals, Ovechkin was a first-round talent in every draft in history.

No, I meant in general a first round pick. Ovechkin would ordinarily be included on that list as the "only two Russians" I'd pick in the first round, except I admit I personally flat out wouldn't have picked him. It's been a while, but I seem to remember his "rock-star" status was pretty strong even pre-draft, and I never bought in to it and wouldn't have wanted it on my team as a GM. If I had first overall that year it would have been Malkin, if I had just about any other pick I'd have gotten someone else (and a couple of years later looked pretty stupid, sure).

Those two aside, I'm failing to think of any Russian in the last 10 years I would have used a first round pick on when other options were available. The rewards rarely seem to justify the risk.

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