Here is the second in my series of scouting reports on key draft-eligible players for 2010 who competed at the World Junior (Under-20) Championship in Saskatoon and Regina, Saskatchewan last week.
This one focuses on the trio of impressive Russian talents in Tarasenko, Burmistrov and Kuznetsov, who showed off their skill and ability on a team that vastly underachieved, getting bounced in the quarterfinals by a much hungrier Swiss squad. Also profiled is Slovak defender Martin Marincin, who definitely lived up to the uneven billing he's had this season. Some games, he was the big dog out there, others- the hydrant.
Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, 5-10, 172, Russia (13 Dec 1991)
The 18-year-old winger may not have a lot of size, but is a dynamic offensive presence who has all of the requisite hockey skills to be a player at the highest level. Outstanding skater who accelerates quickly and has excellent east-west agility. Explosive...can kick it into that extra separation gear when needed. Soft hands and a quick stick; high-end puckhandler who can dangle and has a superb shot and release. Carries the puck into traffic and very elusive in close. Sees the ice well and will take the puck to the net hard despite not being an ideal physical specimen. Lethal shooter below the circles and will not pass up the opportunity to get the puck on net when in prime scoring real estate. One crisp breakout pass from bringing the entire building out of its seats on every shift. Not very physical and was contained well by an aggressive and physical Swedish defense during the round robin. Like several of his Russian teammates, intensity and body language was lacking when things were not going well.
Overview: The WJC showcase left little doubt as to Tarasenko's NHL potential, but there are a world of doubts surrounding his status and signability going into the draft. Teams are showing themselves to be ever leery of the risks involved with drafting Russians, and the recent issues that have dogged high-profile youngsters like Alexander Radulov and Nikita Filatov have only increased reticence to roll the dice on them with high picks. Tarasenko's draft position will likely take a hit; he'll be selected, but lower than his skill and upside warrants. If you saw his second period goal against Benjamin Conz and the Swiss in the quarterfinal game, then you understand just how good a player Tarasenko is. But, any team picking inside the top-10 will be hard-pressed to gamble such a prime asset regardless of his ability.
Alex Burmistrov, C, 5-10, 172, Russia (21 Oct 1991)
Another small, but skilled Russian forward, Burmistrov is a known quantity in North America, having impressed immensely with the OHL's Barrie Colts over the campaign's first half. Didn't stand out as much on an offensively-stacked Russian squad at the WJC. Excellent skater with quick burst and the ability to carry the puck in and out of traffic at top speed. Has a nose for the net; not afraid to shoot and be involved in the offensive attack. Accurate shot that he gets off quickly. Distributes the puck well. Good compete level and plays with an edge that he likely learned in Barrie. Took some undisciplined penalties that hurt his team, but for the most part, played in control and looked the part of a first-round draft pick.
Overview: Like Tarasenko, uncertainty surrounding his long-term viability in the NHL will hurt him a bit at draft time, even though Burmistrov has stated on numerous occasions that his dream is to play in this league. He's been mum on an alleged deal that stipulates that he must return to his Ak Bars Kazan KHL team after his OHL season concludes. The lack of a transfer agreement and the difficulty teams have had with certain Russian players is going to weigh heavily on any team considering drafting Burmistrov, so he'll have to sell it at the NHL Draft Combine and in the final interviews conducted just prior to the event.
Evgeni Kuznetsov, LW, 5-11, 165, Russia (19 May 1992)
The youngest of the profiled trio of Russian forwards is an intriguing prospect who helped himself at the WJC. Another fine skater who is slick and fast, and who willingly goes into traffic. Good intensity and compete level; played with heart and never stopped skating even when well behind the Swedes. Plus-stickhandler with a bevvy of moves and the ability to elude would-be checkers. Another legitimate shooter with the instincts and desire to bury the puck whenever he's out there. Defensive zone awareness questionable. Slight build and lack of strength showed and got knocked around.
Overview: He's a little rough around the edges (overall game needs work as well as his physical maturation) and requires some developmental time, but I actually liked what I saw of Kuznetsov at times better than Tarasenko and certainly Filatov, who did not have a great tournament. I've heard that Kuznetsov wants to come over to North America next season and is inclined to work towards an NHL spot someday. You have to take these things with a grain of salt, and it will be up to Kuznetsov to sell himself to any prospective team. First-round talent, but the Russia factor could drop him into the second round.
One Russian at the WJC who is another draft eligible and playing for the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL is Ivan Telegin. He has tremendous skills and is a character guy/leader, according to Red Line Report chief scout Kyle Woodlief (see my November 7 interview with Woodlief for more). Woodlief also said that Telegin lacked the finishing capability when he saw him skating for Team Russia at last spring's Under-18s, but that the pivot has been a revelation in the OHL, scoring 18 goals and 31 points in his first 32 games.
I honestly didn't notice Telegin much, and in full disclosure- wasn't tracking that he was even on the team. Therefore- no scouting report. Boo! But, FWIW- Red Line has him 28th on their rankings for December, so that gives you a little bit of an idea of where he stands talent and potential-wise.
Martin Marincin, D, 6-4, 170, Slovakia (18 Feb 1992)
Size and skating ability is first-round material, and he showed it off at the WJC. However, as other scouts had intimated to me earlier this season, he also demonstrated his maddening inconsistency. Looked like a stud against Team USA in the tourney's first game, skating extremely well and moving the puck with authority while playing a solid positional game. Against Canada, he was ghastly, looking tentative, getting caught out of position and making numerous turnovers in the face of an aggressive forecheck. Tall, but slight- must add bulk to his frame. Exhibited good gap control and used his condor-like reach to keep opponents at bay and defend effectively against the rush.
Overview: Defines what scouts are talking about when they say, "Good upside, but..." Has a lot of kinks to work out in his game yet. Marincin is the kind of player who polarizes opinions on him because he tends to perform in extremes. His size and mobility are what every NHL team looks for, but he's not likely to be a player who puts up a lot of points at that level if he ever reaches it.
When on top of his game, he's involved, making the right decisions and getting the puck up the ice quickly. Given that he's playing against men in his native Slovakia (on HC Kosice), he'll get that chance to develop as a gangly teen. Don't know if he did enough to crack the top-30, but will have other opportunities to sell NHL clubs on his worth.