August 14 2014 11:39AM
When we go back and analyze previous NHL drafts, certain patterns and truisms emerge. For instance, the guys who become NHLers are the guys who score a lot of points, everyone is terrible at scouting goalies, guys who are in their draft+1 and draft+2 seasons don't have a lot of upside, defensive ability tends to be overvalued, and so on and so forth.
With this stuff in mind, there are three cardinal sins that a given NHL team should not do at the draft table:
- Don't draft a goalie in the first 3 rounds.
- Don't draft an over age player in the first 3 rounds.
- Don't draft a low-scoring defensive defenseman in the first 3 rounds.
A guy who fills just one of these criteria is a long shot to play in the league - CSS' top-3 rated goalies going into the draft have an ~80% bust rate between 2001 and 2010, and D drafted in rounds 1-3 that can't score at least 0.6 pts/GP at some point in their CHL careers miss the NHL nearly 90% of the time - so when a guy fulfills two of those criteria, you can, in most cases, just write that draft pick off as a wasted asset.
Fortunately for the Canucks, Nikita Tryamkin isn't your typical prospect.
Tryamkin stands a towering 6'7" and reportedly weighs almost 230 pounds, according to his EliteProspects bio. He's two years older than most guys drafted in 2014, and scored just 7 points last season. We've looked into this stuff in the past and found that CHL defensemen drafted between the 51st and 100th picks of the NHL draft who don't score at least 0.6 pts/GP in their draft years have made the NHL less than 4% of the time.
As I said earlier, you can normally write off guys with Tryamkin's kind of profile unless you have a reason to believe that the player is significantly different - a likely exception to the known rule. But if Tryamkin wasn't a likely exception, he wouldn't be on this list at all.
First and foremost, Tryamkin was drafted not out of the CHL or some Russian Junior league, but Avtomobilist Yekaterinberg of the KHL, where, according to Arctic Ice Hockey, he was 4th on his team in average time on ice at 16:30 per game. Seven KHL points at 19 means a hell of a lot more than seven amateur league points at 19, especially since the KHL is arguably as close to an NHL-level of competition as you can get in Europe.
Not only that, but Tryamkin was one of only 20 under-20 D to play a game in the KHL last season, and one of only 63 total players. Of that entire group of players, Tryamkin was 4th in games played, T-3rd in assists, and T-6th in total points. Among players who played 20 or more games, Tryamkin's 0.16 pts/GP ranked 10th among all skaters and 2nd among defensemen. To put this into perspective, Tryamkin was more prolific than Columbus Blue Jackets 1st round pick Marko Dano, a talented forward drafted out of HC Slovan Bratislava in 2013.
This is all wonderful news about Tryamkin and how he's performed relative to his peer group, but one season of small-sample data still doesn't tell us much. Seven points is enough that we can wonder about whether a player just caught a couple of bounces or if he really is one of Russia's top U20 offensive D. But, once again, Tryamkin's abilities seem to check out upon closer inspection. He was one of only two semi-regular D in the KHL in 2012-2013 too, and was 4th among defensemen in the MHL in pts/GP that season as well. Furthermore, Tryamkin received some powerplay time with the Russian U20 squad at these past World Juniors, which you can see here (he's the gigantic guy wearing #8):
I went to see Tryamkin in person at Canucks development camp last month, and watching him in-person largely corroborates with what the video shows. He’s a strong skater, and doesn’t just have good hands for his size, but seems to have good hands in relation to Vancouver’s other prospects. Tryamkin was certainly one of the smoothest puck handlers among defenders – Evan McEneny, who we profiled yesterday, was also impressive – and he appeared to compare nicely to guys like Brendan Gaunce too. When doing his pre-draft prospect write-ups, ESPN’s Corey Pronman had this to say about the towering Russian:
Tryamkin had a breakout season as a 19-year old, following a somewhat typical delayed development path. Tryamkin's size is his clear best asset - he's 6-7, 228 pounds, and skates and handles the puck well for a big man. Tryamkin doesn't have fantastic puck skills, but he did fine on Russia's second PP unit at the World Junior Championship, and has solid projection offensively.
Hockey's Future wrote this about Tryamkin last season as well:
A huge defender with a cannon of a shot, Tryamkin is an intriguing prospect who has been oddly overlooked during two NHL Drafts. His size and puck skills are certainly interesting even for North American teams, who may have gleaned some good indications on his game during the recent WJC, where he was an important player on the Russian blue line. Tryamkin should work on his skating and positional play, but has some good intangibles.
Tryamkin is already a top-4 defenseman in pro hockey at 19, and, being guardedly optimistic, getting a guy like that in round 3 may be a steal for the Canucks. However, the biggest risk for Vancouver may not be Tryamkin lacking hockey ability, but Tryamkin having enough talent that his KHL club ponies up for his services longer term. He still has two seasons left on his KHL deal, and says he aims to come and play in the NHL in 2016-2017, but as we know a lot can change over the course of that amount of time. If Tryamkin proves himself to be a $2.5-$4M/yr D in Russia during that time, will he really be content playing on an ELC? That's a question that only he and his agent would be able to answer.
Nikita Tryamkin is definitely one of the most intriguing prospects that Vancouver has in their system at the moment. He's followed an odd development path and seemingly come out of nowhere to become a legitimate NHL prospect. He possesses a great set of tools, with not only size and nastiness, but mobility and skill as well. He very likely isn't a future top pairing guy, and probably won't be a second-pair guy on a good team either, but he's already playing professional hockey in a really good league. That alone is a good reason to believe that Nikita Tryamkin has legitimate NHL upside.