Prospect watch – Russia U20
With little KHL hockey played last week, the main event for scouts tracking the progress of Russian prospects took place in Hodonin, Czech Republic at a four-nation U20 international tournament. Russia took second place in the competition, losing out to the Finns, and there were notable contributions from two players selected in the first round of the 2018 NHL draft. Lokomotiv’s Grigory Denisenko, a Panthers prospect, picked up five points in Russia’s 6-5 win over the Czechs. He had a hat-trick and two assists thanks to a powerful wrist shot and tricky deke, while Yaroslavl team-mate Nikolai Kovalenko had four assists. Traktor’s Vitaly Kravtsov, chosen at #9 by the Rangers, also had five points in the tournament.
Star names and first 21st-century boy
There’s no shortage of top-class talent on display. SKA’s roster includes Triple Gold Club member Pavel Datsyuk, former #1 NHL draft pick Nail Yakupov and a scattering of 2018 Olympic Champions including Nikita Gusev under the guidance of Team Russia head coach Ilya Vorobyov. Swedish goalie Magnus Hellberg and defenseman Patrik Hersley provide an international flavor to the roster. Swiss fans will also have the chance to watch forward Vasily Podkolzin (guaranteed top 10 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft), the first player born in the 21st Century to play in a KHL game. He’s considered to be one of the top prospects for upcoming NHL Draft.
Debutant of the week – Andrei Kuzmenko (undrafted winger, 22)
There was plenty of competition for this title as Russia iced six new faces in its roster at the Karjala Cup in Helsinki. A seventh, goalie Konovalov, also got a first international call-up but did not see any action as Russia won the tournament. Kuzmenko, now at SKA St. Petersburg, certainly did: his double against Sweden set up the 4-1 victory that secured the title for Ilya Vorobyov’s team. The forward later said that playing in the KHL was good preparation for the step up to international hockey: “I didn’t see a fundamental difference between the KHL and the Euro Hockey Tour. Sure, the game is a bit faster here, but there wasn’t a big difference between this and our game against CSKA. The main thing was that I was playing for my country, not my club and that maybe made me a bit nervous.”
That Sweden game also brought a rare head-to-head showdown between two goalies from the same club. SKA’s Igor Shestyorkin took the win against his team-mate Magnus Hellberg; had the coaches chosen differently, we might have seen an all-CSKA goaltending duel between Ilya Sorokin and Lars Johansson.
Shestyorkin photo courtesy of photo.khl.ru