The New Guys: The Top 7 at the 2015 KHL Draft
Sunday was Draft Day in the KHL, and the league’s clubs assembled to run their eyes over the up-and-coming youngsters from around the country and the hockey world. The KHL draft is always a fascinating spectacle — unlike its NHL equivalent, its strategy involves not just finding the best available player, but finding the best player who is likely to play in the KHL rather than head overseas in search of big money (or, as we shall see, finding the best player whom it may be possible to lure back from North America). Read on, and we’ll take a look at the top seven picks in the 2015 KHL draft: who they are, what they have accomplished, and where they might be in 2015-16.
A quick note before we begin: eligible for the 2015 Draft were (a) Russian players born in 1998 and with their rights not already secured by a KHL team, and (b) players between 17 and 23 years old, from any place, whose rights did not belong to a KHL, VHL, or MHL team. Without further ado, then:
1. HK Sochi draft D Artyom Maltsev from SKA-Serebryanye Lvy St. Petersburg (MHL-A). Seventeen-year-old Maltsev (no relation that I can see to the famous Soviet player Alexander Maltsev) comes to Sochi from the SKA organization, and looks like a medium-sized d-man with a bit of offensive pop. While his MHL debut this past season was unremarkable (18 games, no points, on a weak team), he did score 7-19-26 in 24 games in the St. Petersburg Open Championship for kids born in ’98. The 2015-16 season should bring him some more MHL experience, although where he will play is a bit of a question — HK Sochi do not yet have their own junior team.
2. Metallurg Novokuznetsk draft F Igor Kabanov from Krylya Sovetov Moscow (Moscow youth league). Kabanov has yet to make his first appearance in Russia’s top junior league, but that should not be far away, as he has torn up the Moscow competitions for his age group. In the capital’s Youth League for boys born 1996-98, he posted 90 points (38 g, 52 a) in 2014-15, and that in only 36 games! In the Moscow Open Championship, he went 18-27-45 in 29 matches. Already 6’4″ and 180 lbs., having just turned 17, he is obviously physically ready as well as talented enough for the MHL, and we may well see him in that league in the coming season.
3. Slovan Bratislava draft F Jakub Lacka from Ruzinov 99 Bratislava (Slovak U18 League). The first non-Russian picked in the draft is another high-scoring forward, with an eye-popping line of 38 gp, 34-43-77 this past season on Slovakia’s U18 circuit (he added another 23 points in 13 playoff games). This production earned Lacka a berth on the Slovak team at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Ontario. He will not turn 17 until November, and still has some growing to do (5’8″, 155 lbs.), but has clearly earned a shot at the next level of hockey. Of course, what becomes of Lacka in 2015-16 and beyond will depend to a certain extent on whether Slovan can maintain their KHL membership. That seems unlikely at the moment, so we will have to wait and see what happens, but this is a kid who bears some watching.
4. Lokomotiv Yaroslavl draft F Dominik Simon from HC Škoda Plzeň (Czech Extraliga). Lokomotiv used the entire 2015 Draft to look beyond the borders of Russia, and their first pick was a 20-year-old who already has a couple of full seasons in the top Czech professional league. Simon scored 18-12-30 in 52 games for Plzeň this past season, and also made the Czech national team for the IIHF World Championship in Prague and Ostrava, putting up six points in ten games at that tournament. At 5’11” and 176 lbs., he is on the small side, but not so much as to cause too many worries. Simon is under contract with Plzeň through 2016-17, but if he can pried loose from that, there is no reason why he cannot jump straight into Lokomotiv’s KHL lineup.
5. Lada Tolyatti draft D Timofei Filippov from Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk Hockey School (Ural-Western Siberia youth league). Filippov is a bit of an unknown compared to some of the other high draft picks — there was no Elite Prospects card for him when Lada made their pick on Sunday, although one has since appeared. Via r-hockey, however, we get a picture of a medium-large defensive defenseman without a lot to say about the scoring. He is another one who has yet to see his 17th birthday (it will come around in September), and Lada may judge him not yet ready for anything more than a cameo appearance in the MHL next season.
6. Severstal Cherepovets draft F Igor Geraskin from Atlanty Mytishchi (MHL). Geraskin, a 16-year-old small forward (5’5″, 155 lbs.), took his first steps in the MHL this year with Atlanty, scoring 2-4-6 in 37 games. Those numbers will not fire the imagination, but in 2012-13 he put up 40 goals and 55 assists in only 33 games in the Moscow Open Champions for boys born in ’98 (for some reason he not play much at all in 2013-14). Geraskin also has a bit of international experience, with Russia’s U17 team this past year. For 2015-16, look for increased ice time, and better scoring numbers, for a skilled youngster still adjusting to the MHL.
7. Lokomotiv Yaroslav draft G Petr Mrázek from the Detroit Red Wings (NHL). The second pick of the draft for Lokomotiv, and once again they went with a Czech over-ager, this one already making a name for himself in North America. The 23-year-old Mrázek has split the last couple of seasons between the Red Wings and their AHL team in Grand Rapids, but he was Detroit’s starter in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, where he posted a respectable .925 save percentage (his sv% was .918 over 29 NHL regular season games this year, and that’s ok too). Lokomotiv will be hoping that they can lure Mrázek away if he loses the starting job in Detroit at some point. It is a longshot bet, to be sure, but not a terrible one — goalie development is notoriously unpredictable, and the Yaroslavl team can offer an immediate position as the go-to man in net. Mrázek is under contract with the Wings for next season, so nothing is likely to happen until next summer. In the meantime, Lokomotiv at least hold a tradeable asset in the form of Mrázek’s KHL rights.
In all, 133 players were chosen at the 2015 KHL draft, breaking down by nationality as follows: Russia 83, Sweden 16, Finland 13, Czech Republic 7, Slovakia 5, Canada 3, Kazakhstan 2, Latvia 2, U.S.A. 2. The vast majority of them have birth certificates reading “1998,” and in those cases we are likely several seasons away from seeing them in full-time KHL action. However, there are definitely some interesting names to follow going forward, particularly towards the top of the draft order!
Full results of the Draft can be read here. I have left it in Russian, since Google Translate tends to have trouble with names. If you have any questions about the draft, please do leave them in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer them!