Even with all eyes focused on the present amid another season where the Carolina Hurricanes have Stanley Cup aspirations, keeping an eye on the future is always vital. The sustained success of the organization is dependent on the development of the youngsters in the system, and that has been a major focus of the team — with a league-high 33 selections over the past 3 NHL drafts.
Since the appointment of Don Waddell to general manager, the team has showed a serious willingness to draft players based in Russia — which is something that a number of NHL teams actively avoid. Because of that, the Canes have managed to snag players much later than where they were predicted to be drafted by amateur scouts, and have built an impressive pool of youth over there.
Let’s take a look at these players in depth, and see how they’re developing.
Draft: 2022 — 2nd round (60th overall)
An offensively-gifted winger with decent size at 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, Trikozov (tree-koh-zoff) has a lot of qualities that can potentially translate into an NHL future. He has a very well rounded offensive game and his speed is a serious weapon. The kid can absolutely fly, and his acceleration is a standout. With the puck, he’s shifty and deceptive thanks to his ability to be able to make any pass. He also has a quick release and accurate shot. His hockey IQ is high, as he’s able to see what’s happening around him and react to it, making plays at high speed. Here’s an example of that:
Watching some Gleb Trikozov tape and having a blast.— Josh Tessler (@JoshTessler_) December 27, 2021
Gets boxed in, but manages to cut through an open lane. Then pivots around a fourth attacker and then completes a lateral feed underneath the attacker's stick to his forward approaching the blue line. #2022NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/Iuvc48TMGX
His overall game kind of reminds me of young Jonathan Drouin, a do-it-all offensive-type kid that can still compete physically. I think he’s got the skills to develop into a capable top-6 forward down the road, and should be a nice fit in Carolina’s up-tempo system. So far this season, he has 19 goals and 20 assists in 50 games, split between the VHL (pro) and MHL (junior) level.
Draft: 2022 — 3rd round (71st overall)
Alex Perevalov is a pretty interesting player. At age 18, he’s already become a KHL regular with Kunlun Red Star. Despite some struggles thus far, it’s a testament to his skill level that he’s stuck around in Russia’s highest league. He’s an extremely rapid and agile skater, and to me, his skating is his best weapon. He basically shoots himself out of a cannon andhis two-step acceleration is a thing of beauty:
Watching some film on Alexander Perevalov. This rush on the penalty kill is something special. His acceleration to top speed is the reason why he's able to gain separation so quickly. Once his puck skills can keep up with his feet, he'll be more consistent offensively. pic.twitter.com/8G5PLIDwdF— Canes Prospects (@CanesProspects) July 21, 2022
Based on what the scouts say, they rate his release and soft touch around the net. He scored 25 goals in 42 MHL games last season. He’s moved up to the KHL level on a full-time basis this season, but as to be expected for a player his age, he’s struggled to adapt. He’s an explosive offensive player that can finish, but it might take him some time to round out his overall game and get to a point where he can carve out a role in the NHL.
Draft: 2019 — 5th round (140th overall)
Slepets is a player that’s really frustrated me over the past few seasons. I’ve been waiting for him to take the next step in his development, and while his overall skillset dictates that he can, it just hasn’t happened yet. He has legitimate NHL wheels, has shown scoring touch at times and is a fiery competitor despite being listed at just 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds. A fantastic Would Juniors campaign for him in 2019 really made me take notice. Then, a couple of years ago when he was at Dinamo Riga of the KHL, he managed to establish himself as a leader on the team and looked like he was breaking out, but it fell off the rails for him throughout that season and he hasn’t been able to get back on track.
Kirill Slepets - the 20-year old Russian whom I wrote about in my prospects article released today - is now wearing an A as the assistant captain for Dinamo Riga of the KHL.— Alex Ohári ⚫️ (@FutureCanes) February 3, 2020
He stole the puck and scored this beauty a couple weeks ago: pic.twitter.com/Ia3Msf92m7
Unfortunately, I think time is starting to run out for him and it’s a real shame because he does have NHL speed and can look dynamic at times. On his day, he looks like he could get to the next level but sadly those days are just too far and in between for him, and as a whole his game is just too incomplete. At age 23 and still unable to carve out a full-time role in a top-flight league, I think the odds are against him just suddenly putting it all together. My optimism is hanging by a thread, but I just can’t bring myself to let go just yet.
Draft: 2021 — 7th round (209th overall)
It’s hard to consistently watch KHL games and get information on these types of guys, so I took the initiative and reached out to a diehard Cherepovets fan on Twitter to get a proper analysis of this kid. Here’s his assessment of Guslistov (paraphrased for clarity) — “He’s legit. The team views him as a top young forward, and his future is bright. He’s a smart player, and the coaching staff has a lot of trust in him.” I then asked him if he thinks Guslistov has an NHL future. He said “Oh, sure. It will be a sad day when we [Cherepovets] lose him.”
During the summer, Guslistov signed a two-year extension with Cherepovets, and I think it’s likely that he’ll be ready to make the jump to North America after that contract expires — if he chooses to do so. He has skill and he works hard, and seems to be a potential all-situations player. I think he could become a reliable option down the road, which is good news considering he’s basically the last remnants of Justin Faulk trade.
First shift, first goal. Nikita Guslistov is all business. pic.twitter.com/sc4VHdwVy9— KHL (@khl_eng) September 2, 2022
Draft: 2020 — 3rd round (69th overall)
A kid who’s pretty much emerged as the top prospect in the team’s system, Nikishin has just about every quality you look for in an NHL defender. He’s very large (6-3, 216 pounds) and plays even bigger than that — which has earned him the nickname “Boom” thanks to his ability to deliver massive hits. As a defender, he has it all. High-end gap control, positional awareness, physicality and the ability to win control of the puck.
However, the biggest development in Nikishin’s progression has been the offensive side of his game. After being traded to powerhouse SKA St. Petersburg over the summer, he posted 55 points in 65 games during the season — which doubled his previous 3-year scoring total and ranked 1st amongst all defenders in the KHL. He’s very smart, and picks the right opportunities to jump into the action:
OVERTIME WINNER— Hockey News Hub (@HockeyNewsHub) December 1, 2022
Alexander Nikishin OT 2nd of the game #LetsGoCanes
4-3 SKA #KHL pic.twitter.com/a7QJBYo9cf
Obviously, this guy already has the total package and, at age 21, he only stands to get better. Unfortunately, Canes fans are forced to wait longer than they would like for his arrival to Raleigh, as his KHL contract runs through the 2024-25 season. However, at that point, he’ll be 24 years old and more than ready to step into the NHL in a top-four role. With his style of play and the hype continuing to build around him, there’s no doubt in my mind he’ll be an instant fan favorite when he arrives.
Draft: 2022 — 5th round (156th overall)
An undersized defenseman who the Hurricanes managed to draft a lot later than most analysts expected, Grudinin is a player that might divide scouts. While he’s an excellent skater and has good two-way ability, he primarily excels on the defensive side of the puck and that might raise eyebrows considering he’s listed at 5-foot-10 and 159 pounds. He’s positionally very good and he excels in the technical areas such as gap control, separating attackers from the puck and having an active stick. This season, though, his offensive game has started to improve. He moves the puck well and can be dynamic with his 10-2 skating and edgework.
The one area he struggles in at times is decision making, but as a young defender who’s already playing in the KHL, it’s easy to write it off as growing pains and he still has plenty of time to learn and adjust. And while he’ll need to get stronger and bulk up before coming to North America, I’m not as overly worried about how small he is as I would have been 5 years ago. With the NHL transitioning to more of a speed and skill based game, Grudinin has a lot of the tools you’d look for in a player to have success, and while he’s far from a finished product he has all the time in the world to continue his development.
Draft: 2022 — 7th round (209th overall)
A true “stay-at-home” defender, Pelevin is a guy that made a ton of sense to take a flier on so late in the draft. He’s a rugged defender that lacks offensive ability and puck skills, but makes up for it with lock-down defending and penalty-kill ability. He’s a pretty low event player, but has a snarl to his game and isn’t afraid to battle anyone in a 1-on-1 situation.
A long-term project, there’s some good intangibles to work with here. His skating is good, and he’s a defensive stalwart. With some focus and development into the offensive side of the game for him, he could emerge as a hidden gem considering how late he was drafted.
Draft: 2021 — 7th Round (200th Overall)
Whether this guy actually exists or not is up to the reader. It’s been nearly 500 days since the Canes drafted this kid, and he hasn’t played a single minute of hockey in that timeframe. Even in his draft year, he played just 9 games of Russian junior hockey and had an .888 save percentage. I’m sure that the Canes’ Russian scout, Oleg Smirnov, has his reasons for this pick, as maybe he saw something in Naumov that stood out to him and convinced the team to take a 7th round flier on him. I don’t know.
Anyways, stumped on what to say here, I asked former Canes Country writer Matthew Somma (@CanesProspects) for a one-word summary of Naumov. His answer: “exists”. Honestly, I’m not even totally sure about that. I was doing a bit on Twitter throughout last season, a project I called “Searching for Yegor Naumov” and honestly, with absolutely zero information or resolution over a year later — I’m starting to worry about the kid. If he does actually exist, then where the hell is he?
Overall, I think the Hurricanes have lots of reasons to be optimistic about their prospects overseas. They’ve made it a theme to draft maligned players (whether it be due to size, or “the Russian factor” and in turn have built a solid foundation of prospects with high upside that can become potential draft steals down the road. It’ll be interesting to follow how they continue to develop.