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Russians Could Be Key For Adams Accelerating Buffalo Rebuild

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov is a prime example of what drafting elite Russian talent can do for a franchise. The Sabres have the chance to find their Kucherov at the draft tonight. AP photo

MONTREAL — For hockey nerds like myself, today is the best day of the year.

The NHL Draft is when all of the prospects you have been watching for years finally get their named called and their professional careers begin in North America. What makes it even sweeter is that the Buffalo Sabres have three first round picks in what is a much stronger draft than last year.

So far under General Manager Kevyn Adams, the Buffalo Sabres have drafted quite well, especially in the first two rounds where you should find the best parts of your future lineup.

In 2020, Buffalo appears to have struck gold with first rounder Jack Quinn — despite the outcry from many hoping for Marco Rossi or Cole Perfetti. Then in the second round, Buffalo had JJ Peterka fall right into its lap as he should have been a first round selection.

Then last year, Buffalo had the pick of the litter and went with top rated defenseman Owen Power at No. 1 overall. Power is a slam dunk, can’t miss sort of player and Buffalo will definitely be building around him and fellow first pick Rasmus Dahlin. Buffalo followed up Power with Isak Rosen, a Swedish winger who on his best day could be a Victor Olofsson replacement — however I think this was a horrible pick with great talent at goalie still available in Jesper Wallstedt and Sebastian Cossa.

What was most interesting from Adams occurred in the second round of last year’s draft and is very telling of how he will act this year. The Sabres selected Prokhor Poltapov and Alexander Kisakov in the second round and then later picked Stiven Sardariyan and Nikita Novikov, showing that Adams was not afraid to select from Russia.

With recent atrocities committed by the nation of Russia — the invasion of Ukraine — many teams have become soured by Russian prospects and the detainment of top goalie prospect Ivan Fedotov is an extreme example of what could happen to a prospect.

Due to that uncertainty, some teams have completely gone against the idea of drafting any Russian. Recent reports suggest that the Buffalo Sabres are not among those teams and I think this could be the key to winning the draft.

Buffalo currently owns pick nine, received pick 16 from Vegas in the Eichel trade and pick 28 from Florida for Sam Reinhart. The two Russians Buffalo and other teams looking to make a splash are Ivan Miroshnichenko and Danila Yurov. If Buffalo could come away from the draft with one of those guys at 16 or 28 they are getting a prospect with the value of a top 10 or top five selection.

Before the year began, Miroshnichenko was the player to rival Shane Wright for the first pick. He dominated the U-18 World Championships in 2021 with future top pick Matvei Michkov (2023) and Yurov, but he really came on the scene at the Youth Olympics where him and Michkov were anointed the next great Russian prospects since Ovechkin and Malkin.

Everything was roses for Miroschnichenko, until this year when the Russian phenom was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Since his slow start and diagnosis, Miroschnichenko has been cleared to resume all activities and is back on the road to being the elite prospect he has always been.

Unfortunately for him, the damage has already been done. His rank as a top five selection has completely plummeted and there have been rumors that he is not even worth a first round pick, but this is now the perfect opportunity for a team with multiple picks to take a swing.

Yurov’s story is a different one, but still quite complicating as a prospect that many might not know about. Unlike most prospects, Yurov spent most of the year playing against men — or at least he was supposed to. The Kontinental Hockey League team Yurov plays for does not have a minor league team, but only a junior team which he was too good to play for.

So instead of dominating his age group in the MHL, Yurov rode the pine with his KHL team where he sometimes played less than a minute a night. His lack of playing time did not give scouts much time to see his talent at the top level, however when he does play a top 10 talent is on full display.

What makes me believe that Adams will not be afraid to select any of the Russians is not the fact Buffalo selected four last year, but it’s because the owner of Yurov’s KHL team has stated the reason the Russian is in Montreal tonight for the draft is to be selected by the Sabres.

The kind of player Buffalo would get from Miroschnichenko is an elite scorer and Yurov would be more of an all-around two-way winger with elite puck skills like Miroschnichenko. The other two big named Russians playing in Russia are Gleb Trikozov and Vladimir Grudinin.

Trikozov and Grudinin are the two Russians that really came onto the scene this season and in any normal season would have been legit options for the first round, but especially with the invasion of Ukraine they both likely be available on day two of the draft. Grudinin in particular is worrisome because the club team he plays for is CSKA Moskva which is owned by a close friend of Vladimir Putin and is the team that represents the Russian army.

The reason one should be in the corner of Adams selecting Russians is because if you look at all the recent Stanley Cup champions, there is an elite Russian talent playing a big role. The Lightning boast three in Andrei Vasilevskiy, Nikita Kucherov and Mikhail Sergachev; Colorado’s Valeri Nichuskin played outstanding all season and capped it off with a cup; St. Louis was led by Vladimir Tarasenko; Washington had Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitri Orlov; and Pittsburgh has Evgeni Malkin.

Realistically, with the talent available in the draft, the time to take the Russians in Russia would start at pick 16. Yurov and Miroschnichenko would be a great target at 16 or at 28; Trikozov would be a steal in the mid to late second round and Grudinin — the riskiest of the quartet — would be a player to throw a dart at in the third round.

It’s not a guarantee any of these players will turn into superstars, but what has been seen is the need for the elite talent Russia has to offer. Morally it might seem wrong to want to associate with the Russians, but the actions of Putin should not represent a kid who just wants to play hockey.

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