Ivan Chekhovich was joking not joking.
After Wednesday’s prospect scrimmage, the 2017 seventh-round pick quipped, “I have never seen so many Russian guys on the same team in the US.”
There are nine Russian-born skaters at San Jose Sharks development camp — six San Jose assets (Chekhovich, Artemi Kniazev, Ivan Kosorenkov, Vladislav Kotkov, Yegor Spiridonov, Danil Yurtaykin) and three try-outs (Yaroslav Alexeyev, Artem Ivanyuzhenkov, Nikolai Knyzhov). Just for comparison, Vegas has one and Los Angeles has zero Russians in their camps.
The Sharks also spent three of their five 2019 draft picks on Russian-born prospects.
This might be surprising because the signability of Russians and getting them to North America is still considered a potential obstacle by some NHL organizations. In addition, San Jose itself hasn’t iced a Russian skater since Nikolay Goldobin in 2016-17.
So is this gathering of Russians at this year’s development camp a coincidence? Or is it by design?
It’s hard to say either way, but drafting Russians is a reasonable market inefficiency for San Jose to target.
If other organizations are being cautious about drafting Russians, that means more-talented players are falling to later in the draft. Later in the draft is where the Sharks have lurked for most of the last 15 years — it makes sense to aim for a higher ceiling, if more unstable floor, later.
A later draft pick is also not expected to crack the NHL immediately, so a year or two or more in the KHL doesn’t necessarily make a difference to the parent club. The deeper in the draft you get, the more you can afford projects.
“A lot of those guys, probably, with no contracts, might go earlier,” Assistant General Manager Tim Burke acknowledged at the draft.
Sometimes, you’re also able to identify which Russians are more likely to come to North America than others. It’s important to not paint all Russians with the same brush.
Director of Scouting Doug Wilson Jr. said of Spiridonov’s signability, after his contract with Metallurg Magnitogorsk expires in 2021: “He’s all good. He has the same agent as a couple of our players.”
Wilson Jr. added, “We did our homework on them. Our Russian scout Nikolai Ladygin Jr. did a phenomenal job for us this year. We trust him.”
Finally, there’s the possibility that KHL teams, because of the weakening ruble, won’t spend as aggressively on talent as they have in the past. This might make North America more attractive and further mitigate concerns about signability in the future.
So let’s summarize.
These are four reasons why targeting Russians in the draft is a sensible market inefficiency to exploit:
- Potential for premium talent at a non-premium draft position
- No immediate need for these prospects to play in North America
- Other teams may be painting most, if not all Russians with the same brush — signability is a case-by-case issue
- KHL may not spend as aggressively on players in the coming years
Is this what the Sharks are doing?
For a perennially-competitive team that doesn’t often have easy access to premium draft talent, you have to find talent where you can.
Fans will get a chance to watch some of these prospects at a scrimmage tonight at SAP Center. This is the main event of the four-day development camp.
Can’t make it to San Jose? No worries, the scrimmage will be streamed online.
If you missed it, here’s the development camp roster:
Sharks development camp roster announced: All 2019 draft picks except for Ibragimov will be there. Merkley, Blichfeld, Chmelevski, Ferraro, among top prospects who will appear. It'll also be our first look at recent signings Bergmann, Yurtaykin, Kellman & Shortridge pic.twitter.com/txpaxpcooF— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) June 24, 2019
Don’t recognize most of the names?
Never fear, I reached out to experts to give more insight on top prospects like Ryan Merkley, Sasha Chmelevski and Joachim Blichfeld. They also offered tidbits on the recently-signed Danil Yurtaykin, Joel Kellman and Lean Bergmann, and try-outs like Mitchell Brewer and Nikolai Knyzhov.
Brock Otten of OHL Prospects shed light on OHL players like Merkley, Chmelevski, Brewer, Zach Gallant and Hudson Wilson.
Justin Froese of Future Considerations expanded on Western prospects like Blichfeld, Dillon Hamaliuk, Noah Gregor, Jake McGrew, Jake Gricius, Jake Lee and Zachary Sawchenko.
Uffe Bodin of Hockeysverige.se spoke on Kellman.
Additional sources dished on Yurtaykin, Knyzhov and Bergmann.
He’s a quick skater who uses his speed to his advantage coming down the wing and he’s got the skill to beat defenders one-on-one. His shot is decent and he knows where to be around the net and how to get into scoring positions.
But his stats are no coincidence — he’s a pure scorer who doesn’t seem to have much awareness for where his teammates are. No playmaking upside whatsoever in my eyes. Not sure about his NHL upside but he’s still young and has lots of time to improve. No Kahun, but talented nonetheless. (European source)
Portland received a gift when San Jose sent Blichfeld back for another year of seasoning and he exploded while riding shotgun to the best pivot in the league in Cody Glass.
He’s a speedy offensive winger who gets his chances thanks to his craftiness and high skill level, which makes him a consistent with sustained pressure in the offensive zone and off the rush. Although not really a rough-and-tumble player, he is no saint and will show a little bit of sandpaper to his game, something that has grown since being in North America.
While having the highest counting stats and arguably the highest pure offensive upside among the Sharks’ Western prospects, the rest of his game will ultimately dictate whether he continues to stride forward in his development.
He will miss the luxury of time and space at the next level, and he must first gain the trust of his coaches with dedicated play away from the puck. He has the upside of a secondary scorer, but may also never play a NHL game. (Justin Froese)
Mitchell Brewer is someone that I felt should have been drafted.
Modern day stay-at-home defender. Good mobility in all directions. Excellent IQ in his own end. One of the OHL’s best shot blockers because of his fearlessness and reads. Puck skill is raw. Shows flashes of being a contributor, but struggled a bit in the second half of this OHL season with his decision-making with the puck in his own end. Almost like he was trying to do too much to try and impress scouts.
But he’s a really savvy invite selection. (Brock Otten)
Chmelevski didn’t have the greatest of starts to the year.
But he really picked it up in the second half and was one of the best players in this year’s playoffs, helping Ottawa reach the OHL finals. From a development point of view, I’m not sure Chmelevski is much different than he was last year, save for adding some strength and being more difficult to separate from the puck. He remains an intelligent and versatile player who can be utilized in any situation. His shot release is terrific and is definitely a major strength. He brings energy and a strong motor to the offensive end where he is always looking to push the pace and put pressure on defenders to make plays.
I think San Jose definitely has someone who can eventually contribute in a 2nd or 3rd line role in the future. (Brock Otten)
Zach Gallant was a high Red Wings pick that went unsigned. Has battled injuries in his OHL career that have really hampered his development.
He’s a teammate of Merkley’s in Peterborough. He’s also one of the best defensive forwards in the OHL, a top faceoff man and a very hard-nosed player. But his offensive game hasn’t necessarily developed as anticipated and his skating still needs to improve.
If he can just stay healthy and be a big part of that aforementioned Petes team next year, he could be a top candidate to earn a contract next off-season. (Brock Otten)
It was a well-calculated gamble by the PA Raiders to acquire Gregor last off-season without the confirmation that he was about to return for his 20-year-old season in the WHL. It paid off in spades as he performed as advertised and then some.
A strong value pick in 2016, Gregor has always been a producer at the major junior level but noticeably has added more layers to his game, becoming a more assertive, well-rounded force. At times he dominated, using his strong repertoire of tools and smarts to prey on opponents and become not only a strong playmaker but a leader and a clutch performer under pressure.
There’s still work to be done for him as the pro game will be a challenge and he isn’t a big fish in a small pond going forward, although he still seems to be trending in a positive direction in his development. With the unknowns surrounding the longevity of the core in San Jose, a strong performance may land him a cup of tea in the middle-six, but his work ethic will determine whether he stays and can carry over his offensive prowess. (Justin Froese)
Plucking another try-out player from the WHL’s US division, Gricius just completed his draft +1 season and showed signs of growth, turning himself into a top-six forward.
A large body presence, Gricius is a player who makes his presence known in the tough areas of the ice and has a quick set of hands and positional awareness to create scoring chances and turnovers.
Despite showing he is capable of bulging the twine, he doesn’t have a lot of dynamic or deceptive elements to his game. He works hard, has a feel on and around the puck, but I feel the counting totals won’t cross over. Not a bad guy to push a team’s prospects but is likely a depth option in minor pro. (Justin Froese)
While not exactly an A-list prospect, Hamaliuk put scouts on notice with a strong first half of the season prior to missing the last half of his draft season due to injury.
Hamaliuk is a big-bodied winger who may not excel at one individual skill but is solid across the board. He can drive play thanks to smart puck management and is well versed in the tough areas of the ice but isn’t an outside-the-box thinker nor a speedster.
The lack of views didn’t deter the Sharks from seeing the upside of the power winger as his combo of work ethic and intellect should allow him to be a bottom 6 winger if he brushes up the dynamic qualities of his game. He was recently dealt to Kelowna to join the Rockets for their Memorial Cup-hosting season and is expected to be a key cog for Adam Foote’s squad. (Justin Froese)
Kellman is a late-bloomer who has taken a bit of a longer road towards success. He’s a typically smart and dependable Swedish two-way center who reminds me of Pär Lindholm who signed with the Leafs last year. I don’t think he’ll be much of a scorer in the NHL. But he could be a third or fourth-line center if he takes his game to the next level. (Uffe Bodin)
Knyzhov is a big d-man, not a good skater but physically strong. Not particularly skilled in any aspect, was quiet this season in VHL. (KHL source)
Surprisingly undrafted, the Sharks grabbed Future Considerations’ lone undrafted top 100 skater. He’s also Dillon Hamaliuk’s teammate.
Built sturdy, Lee doesn’t play an overly-dynamic style but has flashes of offensive finesse and his skating, at the best of times, is solid for his build. He’s wary and effective in coverage defensively and capable of moving the puck up ice and managing the point, although he was tremendously underutilized on special teams prior to his trade to Kelowna.
I like the way he plays the game in all facets, but at the same time, wish we could see a bit more urgency out him as he has the potential to use his skating as an advantage. Can give you a polarizing performance on any given night. He has bottom-pairing upside, but needs to push himself past the disappointment of not hearing his name called. (Justin Froese)
The Sharks don’t seem afraid of taking gambles on players who miss significant development time and McGrew may prove to be worth their patience.
Although not a physical force on the ice, he is an energizing presence who competes hard in puck races, on the wall and can generate offensive chances. He’s a pretty straight-line player who doesn’t often jump off the page.
He understands where he can make an impact and caters to his strengths. He has grown into a reliable and coachable player but I feel that organizational depth or spotty checking line work is where he makes his presence felt in the San Jose organization. (Justin Froese)
Merkley, while the stat line is impressive, I don’t think really improved all that much.
After a tumultuous run with Guelph, including scratches for discipline issues, he was finally moved to Peterborough near the mid-point of the season. Upon arriving in Peterborough, the Petes, a top team in the OHL at the time of the trade, actually begun to struggle and dropped down in the standings by season’s end. He definitely did not have a positive impact on his team.
At his best, Merkley is an offensive juggernaut whose skating ability and skill level with the puck make him an incredible asset when it comes to the transition game and running the point of the power play. But his defensive game and body language/attitude on the ice remain big question marks.
He’s an ultra-competitive kid, but continues to need to find a way to channel that energy for good and not for bad on the ice. Next year will be a huge one for him in the OHL as Peterborough will be looking to challenge for an OHL championship next year and he will need to be at the top of his game. (Brock Otten)
One of those players who you couldn’t believe wasn’t drafted on his big day in 2016 has resurfaced as a pro prospect after a short career at the University of Alberta.
Sawchenko is a dynamic athlete who was exposed due to technical and angle play in juniors, but has since made numerous amendments to become a more consistent and sound presence in the net. He’s flashy, strong laterally with good focus but still lacks the desired size despite learning to cover the net in a more comprehensive manner.
I liked Sawchenko’s upside and applaud the underutilized recruitment method of plucking a player from Canadian university hockey. But unless the dominoes fall differently in San Jose, he’s pencilled in as organizational depth. (Justin Froese)
Hudson Wilson is an older version of Brewer.
Hard-nosed, physical, shut-down defender. Not a very creative offensive player and not someone with much offensive potential or puck skill. But he rarely loses a one-on-one battle in his own end and is terrific at using his length to keep forwards to the outside.
An underrated player in the OHL (and a teammate of Chmelevski), but I’m not sure he’s a pro prospect. (Brock Otten)
He is a high-skilled, explosive and fast winger with a good wristshot. Always looking to score.
The main weakness in his game -- his lack of strength, needs to gain some kilograms to be stronger in corners and in puck battles against bigger d-men.
My projection is he’s a top-six AHL guy next season for the Barracuda, and depending on development, maybe will play some games in NHL. He is not ready to be an NHL regular next season. (KHL source)
(Video courtesy Dva Experta)