NHL draft: Teams weigh risks in picking Russian prospects – Boston news, weather, sports

The war in Ukraine has created increased uncertainty for NHL teams interested in signing Russian-born talent amid questions about their availability for games in North America.

Although no team has openly stated that they would forego Russian selections altogether in the two-day draft in Montreal, which begins Thursday, there is a possibility that Russia could be knocked out in the first round for the first time since 2005.

“I don’t know if anyone has the answer,” said Seattle general manager Ron Francis, whose team currently has 12 picks in seven rounds, including No. 4 overall. “It’s certainly unknown at the moment, so I think it’s a bit more risky than it has been in years past.”

While there has always been a risk of Russian prospects choosing to stay home to gamble, concerns are now greater as wartime travel restrictions apply to anyone wishing to travel to or from Russia and Belarus. NHL leaders need to question whether a pick will actually be allowed.

It doesn’t help that the NHL and its Russia-based counterpart, the Kontinental Hockey League, don’t have a transfer deal. That prevents NHL teams from buying up KHL contracts, a constant hurdle for any GM hoping to raid the world’s second-best league.

Without disclosing the Canadians’ strategy, Montreal GM Kent Hughes said it is up to each team to weigh the risks of picking a Russian player.

“It’s easy to say that the war in Russia is creating some level of complexity or probably more uncertainty,” Hughes told The Associated Press. “With any team selection, the uncertainty must be balanced with the player’s potential.”

According to JP Barry, the player’s agent, prospective Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Ivan Fedotov was suddenly assigned to a remote military base in northern Russia last week. Fedotov was selected in the seventh round of the 2015 draft and signed with the Flyers in May after ending his contract with CSKA Moscow in the KHL.

“I think there’s probably been a little bit of concern over the past few years — is the guy just going to come over?” Francis said, before specifically referring to Fedotov. “That’s probably on a different scale.”

While the NHL hasn’t issued any directives regarding the drafting of Russian players, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the uncertainty could cause teams to become more hesitant.

“Would it surprise me if some slip into where they are projected due to the inability to access them? Potentially,” Daly said.

This year’s draft class features several Russian prospects with first-round potential under normal circumstances.

Defenseman Pavel Mintyukov is ranked sixth among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting for playing in the Ontario Hockey League last season. Wingers Danila Yurov and Ivan Miroshnichenko, who played in Russia, are among the top 10 European skaters.

Miroshnichenko’s situation is more complicated because he was unable to complete his season after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in March. He has since completed his treatments and plans to participate in the draft.

Detroit general manager Steve Yzerman said the Red Wings are evaluating top Russian candidates as usual.

“We prepare our lists or organize our lists the way we normally would,” Yzerman said. “Ultimately, we want to draft really good prospects and make sure they’re good kids.”

Central Scouting boss Dan Marr is confident Russian players will be picked but won’t guess how long they will have to wait.

“I don’t even want to try to guess what the NHL clubs are thinking,” Marr said. “If you’re sitting there and you have a solid view of the NHL, are you going to walk past him or do you want to step up and take him and cross your fingers and hope the world is a different place in a couple of years.”

Marr said he and his staff conducted a mock draft where the first Russian player was not selected until the second round.

Last year, 29 Russian players were called up – the most since 2003 – with Fedor Svechkov, picked 19th by Nashville, being the only one to go through to the first round.

A year after drafting four Russians, Buffalo Sabers GM Kevyn Adams doesn’t rule out picking more this year. When assembling the Sabers’ draft committee, Adams asked his staff to rank each player as usual before placing an asterisk next to Russian prospects to allow for further discussion.

“If we get to a point in the draft where we feel like there’s real value there, then we’ll talk about it,” Adams said, referring to the selection of a Russian player. “So we’re open to that.”

With three first-round selections and four in the top 41, Adams conceded that the Sabers have more draft capital than other teams to take a chance on a Russian player.

“I think it’s a unique place for us,” Adams said.

(Copyright (c) 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed, or redistributed.)

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https://whdh.com/sports/nhl-draft-teams-weigh-risks-of-selecting-russian-prospects/ NHL draft: Teams weigh risks in picking Russian prospects – Boston news, weather, sports

Nate Jones

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