The Washington Capitals have been arguably the most brave organization in terms of drafting Russian players. Scouts have traditionally referred to Russian players as "wild cards" because of their great potential upside as well as potential issues (such as discipline, KHL release agreements, etc.).
For every Alex Ovechkin that was drafted, there could be a Mikhail Yunkov, who was taken in the second round of the 2004 Draft and may not end up playing in North America at all. However, taking chances does pay off because you can have an advantage over other organizations that were not willing to take such a gamble. With that in mind, here are four Russian prospects that the Capitals have in their farm system.
Kuznetsov was excellent at this year's WJC with four goals and seven assists in seven games, which was sort of his coming-out party in terms of letting most North American fans know him. He was well known already in the KHL, where he was the youngest player ever selected for the All-Star Game.
Kuznetsov has drawn comparisons to the Russian greats such as Fedorov or Malkin, and he is a constant presence on most top prospect lists, clearly labeling him the No. 1 prospect in the Capitals system. Last year, he put up 17 goals and 15 assists in 44 games for Chelyabinsk of the KHL, and will probably play with them again as he is under a two-year contract that he signed in 2010. Kuznetsov could easily make the Capitals' roster anytime he wants to and would make an immediate impact.
The WJC was only a brief preview of the kind of puck control and skills that Kuznetsov possesses. He will be a highly skilled forward who can work with other dynamic Russians on the Capitals to create scoring opportunities with his excellent skating and puck-distributing skills. Kuznetsov does need to gain some weight (6-0, 175) before he is able to develop a physical, grinding style game, but he is pretty strong and has a very good work ethic, so that shouldn't be a problem.
Orlov was also an integral part of the WJC-winning Russian team that is poised to join the Capitals in the future. He had two goals and seven assists in 19 games (one assist in six playoff games) for the Hershey Bears last year after spending the first part of the year with Novokuznetsk of the KHL (two goals, 10 assists in 44 games).
Orlov is an offensive defenseman who attacks the net as frequently as he can get away with, therefore, the only flaw in his game would be that he could get caught out of position in transition. The 55th overall pick in the 2009 draft is an accurate shooter and an excellent passer who plays a high-skill finesse game, but manages to have good defensive awareness and positioning. Orlov has what it takes to be a top-pair defenseman in the NHL, and will hopefully be given significant powerplay time.
Galiev was selected with the 86th overall pick (3rd round) in the 2010 draft by the Capitals. He is a very good forward who has excellent vision and plays a physical game. Galiev has impressed the Caps' organization with stellar offensive numbers with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL.
Last season, he had 37 goals and 65 points, the prior season he had 15 goals and 45 assists. He was initially thought of as a more complimentary player, but he has worked on his hard, accurate shot to the point where he projects as a goal-scorer at the NHL level. Galiev has decent size at 6'2", 188 pounds and is very hard to outwork in the corner and along the boards, so he projects as a very savvy choice for the Capitals who may need a little help on defense.
Kugryshev has proven himself a scorer at every level of his game and is an excellent prospect, although he may need some seasoning in the AHL before he is called up (14 points in 64 games last season for Hershey). His quick release should help him to continue to score on his way to becoming a top-six forward in the NHL. He was the 58th overall pick in the 2008 draft for the Capitals. Kugryshev is good on both sides of the puck and is hard to outwork physically, he seems to really want to be able to win battles along the boards. He is deceptively quick on transition and can create instant offense often with his ability to dish out and receive passes.