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THN.com Blog: Major junior ice time a big draw for Russian prospects

Dmitry Kulikov has a goal and seven points in 21 games with the Panthers this season. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Dmitry Kulikov has a goal and seven points in 21 games with the Panthers this season. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

I took in a Barrie Colts-Saginaw Spirit game on the weekend, partly because the two Ontario League teams are both having excellent seasons and partly because two dynamic Russians are helping them do so.

For the home-side Colts, the flashy import is Alexander Burmistrov, a draft-eligible center who will also be spotlighted on The Hot List Tuesday. Saginaw came to play with pivot Ivan Telegin, also up for NHL selection this summer. Both players logged considerable ice time in the game, with Burmistrov getting minutes on the penalty-kill and as the second-unit power play quarterback, while Telegin played on Saginaw’s top line and scored an amazing breakaway goal.

After the game, Burmistrov told me Nikita Filatov had a goal and three points in his first game back in Russia with Red Army and it got me thinking about the Russian school of thought on player development right now.

Check out the Kontinental League’s stat pages and you’ll find the top Russian prospects for this year’s NHL draft are all logging very little ice time, some as low as eight minutes per game. Vladimir Tarasenko, who plays for a sub-par Sibir team, averages just more than 12 minutes and he’s the team’s third-leading scorer with 14 points through 23 games. Is it any wonder why several high-caliber Russians have made their way over to North America to play major junior in recent years?

Burmistrov and Telegin are two players excelling in the OHL, as was Kirill Kabanov in the Quebec League with Moncton before he was sidelined by wrist surgery. Dmitri Kugryshev (Quebec) and Sergei Ostapchuk (Rouyn-Noranda, now back in the KHL) have also benefited from time in the ‘Q.’ Looking back to last season, Evgeny Grachev was a beast for the OHL’s Brampton Battalion, while the best example of cross-continental growth came from Florida Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, who went straight from the Drummondville Voltigeurs to the NHL after being drafted 14th overall this past summer.

Kulikov was given the opportunity to play major minutes with the Volts last year and get crucial power play time. Thanks in part to his contributions, Drummondville also went on an extended playoff run. The young blueliner ended up playing 76 games in all, on NHL-sized ice, tallying 82 points in the process.

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Contrast that with the line on Washington Capitals pick Dmitri Orlov, another solid Russian defenseman, who stayed home and plays for Metallurg Novokuznetsk. Last year, Orlov saw action in 16 KHL games and averaged less than seven minutes of ice time in the process. This year, Orlov has climbed to around 16 minutes per game, but Metallurg is also the worst team in the Eastern Conference.

I don’t fault Filatov for returning to Moscow after averaging just eight minutes of ice time with the Blue Jackets both this season and last, but I wonder how much more he would have gotten last year with Red Army.

There’s a definite pecking order in Russia and experience seems to be the only measure. Now that Filatov has played at a high level in North America and learned how to fight through checks in the American League, he’s obviously prepared to make a big splash in the KHL.

Not that anyone over here is looking for it, but maybe a little ‘thanks’ from Red Army is necessary.

Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Monday and Wednesday, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays. 

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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