Editor’s note: Today in Canes Country’s top 25 under 25 series, we look at one of Carolina’s top prospects between the pipes.
Predicting the future goaltending success of 17 to 19-year-olds is a dangerous game. It’s why it’s so rare that goaltenders are selected in the first round of the NHL Draft each year, and why it’s such a bonus when you hit on a homegrown talent in net. Arguably hockey’s most important position is also the hardest to project long-term.
Given the inherent risk in drafting goaltenders, a popular place to see the position start to come off the board is the beginning to middle of the second round. Teams regularly trade for second rounders, and as an easily stockpiled asset, it’s less painful to stomach the risk that comes with the global positional development. This is exactly the scenario that led the Hurricanes to select Pyotr Kotchetkov early in the second round of the 2019 NHL Draft, with a pick received from Buffalo in the Jeff Skinner trade.
Kotchetkov is further along on his development timeline than most of his peers drafted in 2019 because he was selected as an overager following his terrific showing at the World Juniors in Vancouver that January. He wasn’t highly scouted prior to the 2019 season due to the obscurity that exists in some corners of the Russian hockey landscape, but his top goaltender performance in a bronze medal-winning tournament cemented his draft status as one of the top players at his position and a viable NHL prospect.
Opportunity is something that has been lacking for Kotchetkov since hearing his name called on draft night. As a 20-year-old goaltender, the chance that the young Russian was going to get meaningful opportunities in the net for SKA St Petersburg, one of the KHL’s deepest organizations, was slim. Although he played well when called upon, Kotchetkov was moved from SKA to Vityaz Podolsk seemingly for more time in net.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t helped. Since the tradehe has been stuck behind behind 10-year veteran Ilya Yezhov with Podolsk in a league where coaches tend to lean on veterans over young players. Yezhov is 33, so Kotchetkov’s time will come, but he has had to drop down to the VHL (Russian AHL) level this season to get a couple more games. After playing 18 games across three divisions a year ago, Kotchekov has played just six games between the KHL and VHL so far this year.
There is still plenty of reason to be excited about the thought of Kotchekov in a Hurricanes uniform down the road, and there is still some value in the unknown (good and bad), especially when discussing rankings of prospects. He is still the athletic, toolsy netminder that took the international stage by storm just two seasons ago, and who the Hurricanes organization was happy to scoop up 36th overall in 2019.
Surely, Carolina would love to see their potential future starter have a more concrete path to playing time, and they may have to get him on North American soil to guarantee it. More developmental opportunity is necessary if he is to make an impact down the road, but those opportunities should come over the next couple of seasons.