June and July 2008 have been two busy months for Russian prospects. Many skated in North Americans development camps, some have changed teams, being or not at the centre of a controversial move, others are ďsimplyĒ training hard for the upcoming season.
Many players belong to the first group. As written earlier in our website, Dmitri Kosmachev (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Maxim Mayorov (Columbus Blue Jackets) skated with Columbus Blue Jackets, Maxim Goncharov (Phoenix Coyotes) and Viktor Tikhonov (Phoenix Coyotes) with the Phoenix Coyotes, Nikolai Lemtyugov (St. Louis Blues) with St. Louis, Igor Makarov (Chicago Blackhawks) with the Chicago Blackhawks, Ruslan Bashkirov (Ottawa Senators), Ilya Zubov (Ottawa Senators) and Alexander Nikulin (Ottawa Senators) with Ottawa, Evgeni Grachev (New York Rangers) and Artem Anisimov (New York Rangers) with the New York Rangers, Semen Varlamov (Washington Capitals) and Nikita Kashirsky Ė a Russian player who spent the last seasons playing USA College hockey - in Washington, with Kugryshev in the stands, Fedor Fedorov (New Jersey Devils) with the New Jersey Devils, Nikolai Kulemin (Toronto Maple Leafs) with Toronto, Anton Khudobin (Minnesota Wild) with the Minnesota Wild, Vyacheslav Voinov (Los Angeles Kings) and Andrei Loktionov (Los Angeles Kings) with Los Angeles. The list might even grow as Montreal Canadiens are yet to release their rosters.
Many of these players, as we will see, have already signed a contract for the upcoming NHL season, but there were some surprises. 2007 draftee by Phoenix Coyotes Maxim Goncharov (Phoenix Coyotes) was one of them. Acquired with the 123rd overall pick in last yearsí draft, Maxim is a stay-at-home defenseman with good mobility. He did well in the Coyotes camp, giving the staff a good impression with his strong, paced skating. His way to the NHL is still long, as his performances havenít convinced the CBJ staff to offer him a contract. Or maybe they were just discouraged by his contractual situation? Given the current NHL-KHL ties it might well be the case, but anyhow he has to build up a bit and polish his defensive play, still inexperienced. In the 2007/08 season Goncharov has been a regular for Bykovís CSKA, but this was practically the first season he played fully with the main team.
Differently to Goncharov, Kosmachev isnít a young kid searching for some experience in an overseas camp. Twenty-three years old, Dmitri Kosmachev (Columbus Blue Jackets) is a veteran of more than three hundred matches already, played with CSKA Moscow, Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod and Khimik Mytischi. A defensive defenseman, Kosmachev is known for his clean game, without unnecessary penalty minutes. He plays well with the puck and has a good vision of the ice, but still is keen to make some errors back in the zone. Surely this experience has helped him, but it seems that the way to NHL is a bit off. Itís hard nowadays to discriminate players by their contract status, thus making it harder to try guessing what NHL (and KHL) teams have in mind for players. His presence in the camp seems a sign of will to give him a chance, in a similar fashion they made last year with Plekhanov, but heís currently with his Russian team, Atlant (former Khimik) Mytischi.
For two players who remain, two who go. Goncharov and Kosmachevís team mates at the camp will play in America for the 08/09 season. First rounder Viktor Tikhonov (Phoenix Coyotes) has been signed to a contract on July 1st, a controversial move who has been investigated by IIHF because of the last contracts ďaffaireĒ, by his Phoenix Coyotes, while Maxim Mayorov (Columbus Blue Jackets)ís fate is still unclear. He performed well at the last camp, displaying good technique and wrist shot, and is rumoured to be free of duties towards his home club, Ak Bars Kazan, compiling a 30-day notice that would make him free by August 1st. If the rumours are true he might join the Jackets to play with their AHL affiliate or either go to CHL as he was just drafted by the Brandon Wheat Kings at the latest Import Draft. The Wheat Kings also have both the Import spots open.
As known, also Nikita Filatov (Columbus Blue Jackets) has been controversially signed by the Jackets, and this adds himself at the already signed player, who are Nikolay Lemtyogov, Ilya Zubov (Ottawa Senators), Alexander Nikulin (Ottawa Senators), Artem Anisimov (New York Rangers), Fedor Fedorov (New Jersey Devils) and Anton Khudobin (Minnesota Wild)
In the same boat as Mayorov appear to be Ruslan Bashkirov (Ottawa Senators), Evgeni Grachev (New York Rangers), Nikita Kashirsky, Dmitri Kugryshev, Vyacheslav Voinov (Los Angeles Kings) and Andrei Loktionov (Los Angeles Kings). Most of them are likely to play in America, itís only unsure at what level, being it pro or junior, but the fact that most of them are CHL draftees seems to mean that they are going to play in the major juniors.
Nikolai Kulemin and Semen Varlamov (Washington Capitals) are in a different situation as both players have been signed last season and got allowed to play a further year back home in Russia. They had a strong season and so they are looking sharp for their first year in North America. Their situation differs a bit. If Kulemin has almost secured himself a roster spot for the next season, Varlamov is at the center of a goalkeeping fight. Lost Kolzig, the Caps have signed free agent Jose Theodore as first goaltender, with Brent Johnson as backup. The AHL starter spot is open between Varlamov and Czech Neuvirth, both twenty years old. Neuvirth has the advantage of being already acquainted with North American style as he spent the last two seasons in the Ontario Hockey League, posting very good numbers. It will be interesting to see who will stand out as a better prospect, but for who writes Varlamov is the clear number one.
The last case is the Bodrovís one. The Lada player has left Togliatti this spring, heading to Jagrís Avangard Omsk, but when the Siberian club was starting its training camp he got an offer from Philadelphia Flyers and so he wonít play in Russia next season, but most likely will start with AHLís Philadelphia Phantoms.
Also in Russia a good number of prospects will be a new face in a new place.
Dangler Viktor Alexandrov (St. Louis Blues) has moved from Metallurg Novokuznetsk to Avangard Omsk after a very strong season that seen him posting an excellent total of forty-three points. To land in Omsk Viktor has rejected a good offer from Metallurg Magnitogorsk, a known team to American audience being it the former team of Evgeny Malkin. Avangard Omsk had a busy transfer campaign, luring to Siberia also Denis Ezhov (Buffalo Sabres) from Traktor Chelyabinsk, Anton Belov from CSKA Moscow, Stanislav Chistov (Boston Bruins) from Salavat Yulaev Ufa and many other players, unloading Denis Kazionov (Tampa Bay Lightning) to Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk. Another intriguing move has seen Ilya Kablukov (Vancouver Canucks) getting a loan deal from CSKA Moscow to Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, a team that assured also Artem Chubarov (Vancouver Canucks) and Alexander Kharitonov.
On a side note, Kazakhstanís top prospect Evgeny Rymarev has moved from Torpedo Ust-Kamenogorsk to KHL rookie team of Barys Astana.