Russians are being taken lower and lower in the draft since they peaked at seven first rounders in 2000. Have they fallen too far?
With the emergence of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), the NHL has backed off drafting Russian players with early round picks. The most obvious casualty of the KHL was Alexei Cherepanov, who fell to 17th overall in the 2007 draft. We'll never know if that fall was warranted due to Cherepanov's tragic death, however, the relative mediocrity of the 2007 first round makes me wonder if it wasn't an over-reaction.
Russians started their draft free-fall in 2002 after the NHL tired of busts like Stanislav Chistov, Alexander Svitov and Nikita Alexeev. In 1999, 2000 and 2001, there were five, seven and five Russians taken in the first round respectively. The NHL hasn't come close to that since, and the emergence of the KHL has pushed most Russians into the second round and beyond. The last few drafts have shown that perhaps the NHL might want to re-consider.
In 2007, Columbus picked up Maxim Mayorov in the fourth round (94th overall) and Phoenix grabbed Maxim Goncharov in the fifth round (123rd overall). Both of those picks have turned out to be grand larceny.
In 2008, Phoenix drafted Viktor Tikhovov with the 28th pick. Tikhonov, taken 25 picks after Kyle Turris but in a different draft, has almost the exact same production to this point and looks to be a bargain at 28th. Dmitri Kugryshev (58th overall) spurned a huge financial offer from the KHL to impress with Quebec of the QMJHL last season. Perhaps the big find of 2008 was Evgeny Grachev (75th overall), who also surprised many and crossed the pond to help lead Brampton to OHL prominence.
The most interesting pick might have come from Montreal as they drafted Maxim Trunev with the 138th pick. Trunev stayed in Russia but played well for Cherepovets Severstal. Montreal liked that pick so much they tried the same thing in 2009. It's hard to imagine, but Montreal drafted the first non-overage, Russian forward taken in 2009 with the 109th pick. They took hulking 6'3, 200-pound forward Alexander Avtsin.
Bob Gainey and Trevor Timmins (amateur scouting director) have an excellent draft record going back to 2004 and this isn't the first time they've drafted two Russian forwards with late picks in successive years. In 2004 they took Mikhail Grabovski with the 150th pick and in 2005 they took Sergei Kostitsyn with the 200th pick. The Detroit Red Wings know all about drafting Swedes, but the Montreal Canadiens know Russia. If you haven't already put Trunev on your radar then you should. Keep an eye on Avtsin too because it's not like Montreal hasn't done this already.