ST. PAUL – Once upon a time in the NHL, the Russian Revolution was all the rage.
This was especially true in the ’90s. You had the Fab Five – Sergei Fedorov, Igor Larionov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Slava Kozlov and Slava Fetisov – who turned the Detroit Red Wings into a dynasty, playing an exciting style of hockey. that we had never seen in these regions. And who can forget former Jets 1.0 general manager Mike Smith diving head first into foreign waters to bring Alexei Zhamnov, Evgeny Davydov, Igor Ulanov and Sergei Bautin to town.
The former Soviet Union was quickly emerging as an international superpower, destined to take control of good old North American hockey and make it their own. In 1990, 12 Russian players appeared in NHL games. By 1995 there were 56. By 2000 that number had exploded to 72. However, as history now shows, that flow of talent has turned into a trickle over the years. The birth of the KHL in 2008, a 23-team loop with considerable financial resources in Russia, Belarus, China, Finland, Latvia and Kazakhstan, certainly helped stop the flow, with more and more players choosing to say ” Nyet “and to stay closer to the house.
Only 36 Russian-born players have skated in an NHL game this year. I got my first close look at one of the newest, and certainly the most talented, Tuesday night at the Xcel Energy Center. Kirill Kaprizov was selected in the fifth round, 135th overall in 2015, by the Minnesota Wild. This place had nothing to do with his considerable talent, and everything to do with the ability to bring him to the state of hockey. For five years, it looked like the Wild had simply squandered a lottery ticket on Kaprizov, who stayed home playing in the KHL.
But patience certainly paid off when they convinced him to come last winter and he quickly took the league by storm at the age of 24. Kaprizov has scored 27 times and added 24 assists in 55 games, running away with the Calder Trophy as a rookie. -the year and give the Wild a new franchise face to build around. They also rewarded him with a five-year, $ 45 million contract extension a few weeks ago, at a delicate time when Kaprizov’s agent threatened to return him to Russia if the Wild did not open his door. wallet.
There is no doubt that Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has been following all of this very closely, and not just because Kaprizov appears to be a thorn in the side of his club for years to come as the rival of the central division. No, Cheveldayoff recently decided to go fishing the Russian talent pool, hoping he might just land the next big thing.
In last summer’s draft, Cheveldayoff strayed from his typical scenario and used two of his four picks on Russian prospects. Nikita Chibrikov, who plays for St. Petersburg in the KHL, was selected in the second round (50th overall). And Dmitri Rashevsky, who plays for Moscow from the KHL, was caught in the fifth round (146th overall). To put this in perspective, Cheveldayoff had selected 67 players in the previous 10 draft. Only two of them were Russian.
Chibrikov and Rashevsky are intriguing players. Chibrikov is much rawer, at just 18, but a first-round potential that has fallen due to injury and the usual worries about his availability. Rashevsky, at 21, is a much more polished product, and he’s lighting up his league right now with 13 goals and six assists in 19 games, which puts him among the leaders. His highlights have been all over social media, and it’s clear that there is huge offensive talent there.
The burning question, as always, is whether we’ll ever see one of them here?
Winnipeg already has two other Russian players in the fold of goaltender Mikhail Berdin, the 23-year-old Manitoba Moose starting goalie who was drafted in the sixth round in 2016. Unlike Chibrikov and Rashevsky, however, he was already playing in North America. . junior hockey. The same goes with Evgeny Svechnikov, who was drafted in the first round by Detroit and then signed by the Jets as a free agent this summer when the Red Wings let him go.
Beyond that, the history of Jets 2.0 with Russian players is rather eventful. They inherited a pair in 2011 from the Atlanta Thrashers in Alexander Burmistrov and Ivan Telegin. Burmistrov ultimately played 224 games in four years with Winnipeg, then made brief stints in Vancouver and Arizona before returning to the KHL. Telegin never played a game with the Jets, rushing for the KHL after a season with the Winnipeg Farm team in St. John’s at the time.
Other than Berdin, Chibrikov and Rashevsky, the only other time Cheveldayoff picked a Russian player was in 2014, when they picked Pavel Kraskovsky in the sixth round. He has never signed with the Jets and is currently in his ninth season in the KHL. In other words, a lost choice.
Other than Berdin, Chibrikov and Rashevsky, the only other time Cheveldayoff picked a Russian player was in 2014.
If not directly in the NHL, many Russian players don’t want to spend time in the AHL learning the North American game, especially when their minor league salaries are typically 90% lower. They can earn a lot more money from them. The latest example is forward Vitali Kravtsov, the ninth overall pick of 2018, who arrived in the Big Apple last year after two seasons in the KHL, collected four points in 20 games and was demoted from the training camp this fall to get more seasoning. His reaction was to take his puck and come home rather than show up to AHL Hartford.
Still, you get the feeling that Kaprizov’s rise to power may well usher in a new era for NHL executives who decide the potential reward is worth the risk. This appears to be the case with Cheveldayoff and company, given their recent moves. Svechnikov is on the active roster, Berdin has written about him as the future NHL goalie and the sky seems to be the limit with Chibrikov and Rashevsky.
Mike Smith may be long gone. But if Cheveldayoff’s bet pays off, maybe a Russian revolution is about to make a comeback in River City.
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