Russian Players: Worth The Risk?


It is a belief that Russian players in the NHL are selfish and cocky. They want all the glory and none of the responsibility. There is also the KHL.

This year’s draft is front loaded with Russian talent. Names like Grigorenko, Galchenyuk, and Yakupov are slated to go in the top 5-10 picks.

The Buffalo Sabres have not selected a Russian player since 2005 and have not hit on a Russian player since the 1998 draft. The previous players whom could be considered successes are Dimitri Kalinin and Maxim Afinogenov. Aside from them the other Russian draft picks are:


1st Round – Artem Kruikov
5th Round – Denis Denisov
7th Round – Vasily Byzayev


6th Round – Maxim Schevjev 


4th Round – Denis Yezhov
6th Round – Pavel Voroshnin


6th Round – Vyacheslav Buraychikov

These seven players have combined for a total of Zero NHL games played.

The KHL is the biggest threat to the idea of drafting a Russian, players like Evgeni Nabokov, Alexander Radulov, and Jaromir Jagr all left to play for the big money of the KHL. The KHL has the resources to offer extremely lucrative contracts to NHL players. Nabokov signed a 4 year, $24 million dollar deal with the KHL in 2010. Radulov left the then struggling Predators for the money of the KHL, only to return when they became a winning team in the chase for the Stanley Cup.

While the KHL is a possible destination for many of these young players, who could make a lot of money early in their careers, that could be a different story this year. But are the Sabres willing to take a risk. There is a difference between Russian born and Russian born but Canadian/US raised.

Nail Yakupov was born in Nizhnekamsk, Russia, and played for his hometown team Reaktor Nizhnekamsk in Russia’s MHL. He was selected in the first round, 2nd overall in the 2010 CHL Import Draft and was drafted 19th overall in the 2010 KHL Draft. Nail chose to move to Canada and play for the Sarnia Sting, seeing it as the quickest path to his dream to play in the NHL. Yakupov has also stated that he wants to stay here and play here.

The other Russian born player, Mikhail Grigorenko was born in Khabarovsk, Russia. He played for the CSKA-Red Army Moscow in Russia’s Minor Hockey League (MHL). Grigorenko was chosen in the first round, 8th overall, of the 2011 KHL Draft by CSKA Moscow and was chosen in the first round, 2nd overall, of the 2011 CHL Import Draft by the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts. Grigorenko moved to Quebec City with his mother and older brother, Yuri.While he initially didn’t understand English, Grigorenko took classes five days a week with a Russian teacher and by the end of the season he was able to conduct interviews in English without the aid of a translator. In my mind, Grigorenko may be the highest risk Russian to draft this year, however, his abilities will not go unnoticed and he will not be overlooked.

Joining Yakupov in Sarnia, drafted #1 in the 2010 CHL Priority Selection Draft, was Alex Galchenyuk. Alex was born in Milwaukee Wisconsin. Galchenyuk actually considers himself an American and at the age of 15, when he was playing for a European team, chose to move back to the US with his family, moving to Chicago. Alex played for the Chicago Young Americans before being selected by Sarnia. Because he considers himself an American, and has played the North American game for most of his life, expect him to be low risk of defecting to the Kontinental Hockey League.

Ever since Kevin Devine took over as head of scouting for the Sabres, they have not taken a Russian player in the entry draft. Could we see this trend continue, or will it end with the selection of one of the highest rated forwards in this years draft? These players are projected to go top in the draft and their ability is impossible to ignoreThe top flight talent in this draft is so thin that the Russians are in this mix.  You have to consider the drop off after that top tier.  What will the Sabres do, should they trade up or one of these players drops to them at 12? What do you think they will do?