Recently I had a chance to talk to Russian hockey expert Alessandro Seren Rosso, regarding the Russian imports coming to the Ontario Hockey League this season.
Seren Rosso is definitely an expert when it comes to Russian hockey prospects. He writes for the long running Russian Prospects, as well as for HockeysFuture and Mckeen's. He now also runs his own blog covering Russian Junior hockey, which can be found here.
Seren Rosso helped to shed a little light on what to expect from our new Russian players this season. We also chatted about the Import concept and his general philosophy about talent development.
OP - Alessandro, how do you feel about this year’s crop of Russian players, in comparison to last years (Loktionov, Grachev, Korostin, Molotilov)? Is it better, worse, on par?
ASR - I think that last year the OHL was lucky enough to get two big stars in Loktionov and Grachev, while the likes of Korostin and Molotilov are more good players than stars. Though this year the history might repeat itself thanks to Alexander Burmistrov and Stefan Stepanov. Even though they are younger than Loktionov and Grachev were. This year it looks like there are more players, but we’ll see if they will repeat Loktionov’s and Grachev’s success. The most promising guys are still young and have to face a lot of pressure, even if Stepanov already played in North America last year.
OP - Last year, the Import draft gave us two legitimate OHL stars (Loktionov, Grachev). Who do you feel has the potential (of this year’s group), to mimic that success and become impact OHL players and why?
ASR - As I said earlier, Stepanov and Burmistrov are the best players of the crop. Alexander Burmistrov, whom I will soon have a translated interview on my blog, is a playmaking center with a very good shot. If people think about Loktionov as a little Larionov, than Burmistrov is a bit more similar to Malkin, but without Evgeni’s size and dominant play. Unfortunately his size won’t help him in North America, but he has the technique and the skill level to make it through. I like him a lot, he is great with his passes and he can put it in the back of the net as well. I’m sure that he can have a big year in Barrie, even though he has to grow up physically and has to be consistent throughout the whole season. It will be hard for a player who played less games, with less pressure. Regarding Stepanov, well, who doesn’t need an offensive defenseman with size and vision? Add to that his excellent skating and you’ll be convinced that he can become not an OHL impact player, but an NHL impact player. We’re talking about a 1992-born player who played first pairing hockey with 1990-borns.
OP - Conversely, every year, import players come in with a lot of hype, but ultimately fail to achieve success, such as Edgar Rybakov did last year in Erie. Why do you think that is? Why do some players have such trouble in the OHL, and more generally, the CHL?
ASR - To be completely honest I don’t know who considered Rybakov a player with a lot of hype. Yeah, he scored some goals in the Russian juniors, but I don’t think it was realistic expecting big things from him. Players have trouble in the CHL for many reasons. And every player is different. But usually it’s because of two things: their level of play isn’t good or they don't adapt enough and aren’t ready to move overseas so young. Regarding the first thing, let’s remember that Russian hockey is a lot less physical, you have to be quick, yes, but there aren’t too many hits and such play. In the CHL you’re going to face a lot of hard, and let’s admit, sometimes dirty play, and some players aren’t physically prepared for that. That being said, I still prefer junior players to be trained with technique just as usual in the Russian school. Names like Ovechkin, Malkin, and Datsyuk never played in the CHL. I’m not saying that the CHL isn’t a good group of leagues, they are the best of course, but they are a lot different, and if a player might be a star in Russia, he might fail in North America. And well, there are a lot of examples on the other way around. Regarding the second point, often these players are too young to leave home, family, friends and even school to go to a whole different world. North America is a lot different and not all the Russians like it there too much. And even if you like it, it’s hard to learn a new language, to adapt to a new life, to live in a different environment and in the meantime be a hockey star at 17 or 18. Not all of them can take that.
OP - Perhaps it’s a difficult question, but if you could guess as to which players could have trouble with the adjustment to the OHL (from this group), who would they be and why?
ASR - As I said, it’s a personal thing. I can’t know who will have personal adjustment troubles, but I expect the best players out of this crop not to fail. I’m sure that Burmistrov and Stepanov will do very well, while I’m not sure about Guskov and Kniazev, who weren’t stars at home (Kniazev played in Czech Republic though) and I don’t think they are going to be that in North America. I also expect Sadikov to have a bit of a hard time. Not because I don’t have confidence in him, he’s a good goalie, but if Janus won’t return back from another year it will be very hard to take the starting goalie duties straight up. He’ll have a lot of pressure. But if he’ll be the backup then he has a good chance to develop not at too high speed, especially if he can be tutored by an excellent junior goalie like Janus. Goalies need more time.
OP - A few players have yet to report, Berdnikov, Klementyev, and Perezhogin. Can you give us an update on these guys and whether they might be coming any time soon?
ASR - About Berdnikov, all I know is that he was reporting. He was injured this summer and didn’t skate in the Ivan Hlinka memorial tournament and I don’t think that his home club, Jagr’s Avangard Omsk, is waiting for him and he didn’t start the season in Omsk’s MHL team (junior team). About Anton Klementyev, I think that his reporting has been a rumor in North America. I haven't heard anything about him in Russia. He skated with Lokomotiv’s MHL team this summer and thus I don’t think he’ll report. I doubt Perezhogin will report also, simply because Erie has already two imports, Janus and Sadikov, but I know that the coach in Erie (Robbie Ftorek) is waiting for him and he is in talks with the FHR (Russian hockey federation) to release him as he has no contract. So after all he might be there for the end of the preseason.
OP - Do you feel that in general, coming over to play in the OHL is actually beneficial to these kids or is it a case by case basis, with it depending on the player coming over?
ASR - It’s a case-by-case thing. Frankly speaking, I’m not a fan of players going so young to North America, mainly because Russia (and Europe in general) is a better place for these players to develop. There is less pressure, more technical training, and so on. And if this way worked well for Ovechkin and Kovalchuk, then there must be a reason. But still going to North America might be a good option as the leagues are very good and more demanding. For the star players it’s probably better to go there as they will go to North America anyway so they might start adapting early. But as I said it’s a case-by-case thing. But nowadays the world is smaller and thus there are less problems.
OP - Do you feel that in the future, more or less Russian players will make the jump to the OHL, and CHL, and why?
ASR - This is a hard question. I expect the number of the Russian players jumping overseas to increase a little bit, for many reasons. The first reason is that the CHL is a short track for the NHL. The players still want to go there and they are convinced, or advised, that it will be great for them. It’s not always like that, but it still isn’t a wrong thought. The second reason is similar to the first. If they’ll go to America they will have easy times in getting allowed to leave for the NHL. Nowadays the KHL is trying hard to prevent this, not without rights, but still it’s not always good for the young players to be pressured like that. Saginaw’s Ivan Telegin had to buy out his contract to report. I’ve talked about the third reason in the last question. Today the world is smaller and it’s easier to adapt to different environments.
OP - Lastly, could you give us a quick scouting report on each of the Russian players to play in the OHL this year?
ASR - Of course. This is a crop of good players, even if historically the better Russians played instead in the QMJHL. But let’s see the players:
• Alexander Burmistrov – Barrie
As I said earlier, he’s a playmaking center with a good nose for the net. He’s not big, but is relatively strong for his weight and isn’t too hurt when the things get tough. He isn’t an exceptional skater and isn’t particularly quick, but he's not slow either and has good stability. I expect big things from him this season already.
• Roman Berdnikov – Owen Sound
Berdnikov is another kind of player. He’s more a scorer. He’s quick and makes things happen with the puck on the blade. He knows how to put the puck in the back of the net with his good shot or with his play without the puck. He’s not on the same level of Burmistrov, but he can get consistently on the score sheet.
• Ramis Sadikov – Erie
Talking about goalies is harder. Sadikov is a tall, big goalie who plays mainly a stand up style. I like how you called him earlier, a “behemoth” goalie. Well, he’s huge and can cover a big part of the net, not much is known about him as he played only junior Russian hockey not in the big teams, but with HK Rus, which is a small, but productive school in Moscow. Dmitri Kulikov, who has been just drafted by the Florida Panthers, played there.
• Stefan Stepanov – Sudbury
You already know that I like the guy. He’s an offensive defenseman with good size (but still can and has to bulk up a lot) who can skate effortlessly like a gazelle and who loves to join the rush. He isn’t an overly physical player, but he knows how to put himself back in the zone and thus isn’t a defensive liability. He also can make very accurate opening passes. Yes, you can say that the passing game is his best feature, with his skating, but he also knows how to carry the puck up. Sudbury fans are going to enjoy him a lot this winter and I envy them.
• Ivan Telegin – Saginaw
Ivan Telegin is an underrated player. He’s (was) the first line center of Team Russia 92, playing with Kuznetsov and Kabanov (currently the top 2 rated 1992 Russians by most scouting agencies). This says anything to you? He is mainly a set up player with very good skating, but he has good size and can defend too as he is often played in the PK units with Russia. I expect him to be the season’s surprise.
• Valeri Kniazev – Brampton
Unfortunately I don’t know much about him, he played in Czech Republic and I had no chance to see him.
• Anton Klementyev – London
If he’ll report, he can be a force for a good team like London. Klementyev is a positional, defensive defenseman who plays with an edge and cares mainly about defense. Though he has to work a bit on his skating and speed. He has a good conditioning, but he needs to become more consistent and the OHL might help him on that.
• Vadim Guskov – Guelph
Guskov is a player who came out almost of nowhere, which Larionov described as a “diamond in the rough”. I guess you’ve got to trust Igor Larionov more than me. He’s a right winger who shoots left with okay size, we’ll see this year what he can do. For Guelph it was kind of the same last year with Molotilov, and it paid off.
• Victor Perezhogin – Erie
Perezhogin is a versatile player who can play both at wing and center and who has an interesting size and lots of room in front of him to develop. He’s still young and his potential is still unclear. We’ll see what he can do if he reports.
OP - Thanks a lot for this Alessandro, it was quite informative. I'll be sure to update you on their progress this season!
Again, I want to thank Alessandro for chatting with us about our Russian Imports. He knows his stuff. I also invite you to check out his blog, which can be found here.