The lack of an existing International Hockey Federation transfer agreement in Russia coupled with the lure of the financially lucrative and regionally convenient Kontinental Hockey League has swayed most general managers in the NHL from selecting players in this part of the world in recent years.
One of the exceptions to this trend has been the Detroit Red Wings, whose success with developing late round Russian draftees is well documented.
When Steve Yzerman was hired by the Tampa Bay Lightning last year many speculated as to how much Detroit GM's Jimmy Devellano and Ken Holland may have rubbed off on him. The influence seemed abundantly clear this past weekend.
Will these players make up what could later be known as the Russian Three or will these picks be filed among the many in Lightning draft history that wind up on the Big Red Scrap Heap?
Only time will tell, but Yzerman seemed quite confident in his scouting department's evaluations, stating in interviews that a focus on players from this region was part of the organizational strategy. Without further ado a brief rundown and grading of the Bolts 2011 draft:
1st Round (27th) - C Vladislav Namestnikov
Namestnikov is the nephew of former NHL-er Slava Kozlov, a one-time teammate of Yzerman. Having spent a great deal of his childhood in Michigan, Namestnikov is not your prototypical Russian prospect. The young center posted solid numbers with the perennial hockey factory known as the Hunter family-led London Knights proving his capability to play the North American version of the game at a high level.
2nd Round (58th) - W Nikita Kucherov
Rated as the 17th overall European Skater by NHL Central Scouting it would appear that the Bolts stole Kucherov with the 58th selection in the draft, but the young winger failed to make an impact with scouts until his dominating performance in the 2011 Under-18 World Championships where he posted 21 points in only 7 games. Expect him to continue to play in Russia for a couple years to develop more.
3rd Round - Traded to the St. Louis Blues this season as part of the trade for D Eric Brewer
Considering the Bolts just signed Brewer to a four year contract this was a draft pick well spent.
4th Round - Traded to the Philadelphia Flyers during the last offseason for W Simon Gagne
5th Round (148th) - D Nikita Nesterov
The Bolts need depth at Defence and must have been attracted to the heavy shot and excellent skating of Nesterov. Rated as the 32nd overall European Skater by NHL Central Scouting it would appear the Bolts stole yet another one here. The knock on Nesterov is his play away from the puck and his need to put on more size. Expect to see the young defenseman remain in Russian for awhile to mature.
6th Round (178th) - G Adam Wilcox
The need for organizational depth at goaltending was addressed with the selection of Wilcox from the USHL Green Bay Gamblers. Wilcox posted solid numbers while splitting time between the pipes with Ryan Mckay. Adam has committed to play at the University of Minnesota.
7th Round (201st) - C Matthew Peca
The Bolts traded forward Marc-Antoine Pouliot to Phoenix in order to select the 5' 9" 165-pound center from the Central Hockey League Pembroke Lumber Kings. The 18-year old turned heads in tournament play this season and posted 72 points in 50 games.
7th Round (208th) - LW Ondrej Palat
The 5' 11" 160-pound Czech-born forward posted a staggering 96 points in 61 games for the QMJHL Drummondville Voltigeurs in 2011 finishing fourth in league scoring. The 20-year-old is known for his creativity with the puck but has been passed over in the draft for the last two years over concerns of his size.
Draft Grade - B
The Bolts were unable to draft an immediate contributor due to the recent success of the team that resulted in a late round draft position. Has Yzerman drafted the next Pavel Datsyuk or the next Alexander Svitov? Only time will tell, but it's clear Stevie Y is willing to take risks few teams have the stomach for in drafting Russian prospects. Sound familiar Wings fans?
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