As you could tell by the title of the article, this article is about Russian hockey players and what in the world is going on with them. Hockey is a business and for the apparent stereotype for Russians is to be number one. The question is whether or not these Russians are looking at that at this point in there careers. This article will look at four Russians in particular- Ilya Kovalchuk, Alex Radulov, Nail Yaukpov, and Nikita Zaitsev.
Let's start with the lone one in the NHL on this list. Nail Yaukpov, 22, was drafted first overall by the Edmonton Oilers, and has one year remaining on his contract at $2.5 million. The young Russian forward has 48 goals and 107 points in his career in 287 games. His best performances seem to occur when he has played alongside a skilled forward, mainly Connor McDavid (before he got injured).
According to a Russian newspaper, the young forward has requested a trade out of Edmonton. This seems to be a surprise to seek and to others, not so much. The Oilers have no idea how they have fallen into this mess, and their new solution under new management is to move out guys that have not worked out and have value. The case seems to be they are looking at number one overall picks. To many, Edmonton should not have drafted Yaukpov first overall, and should have drafted current Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Ryan Murray. There was even discussion of Columbus moving the second overall pick to the New York Islanders for all their draft picks in 2012.
There was discussion of Yaukpov being moved since last year as he did not become the player he was projected to be. The Russian has gone through four different coaches in four years in Edmonton, and has been on different lines with different players. Last year, I heard there were teams like Columbus and Pittsburgh that were interested in him. The past two seasons, I have heard Arizona, Nashville and New Jersey. This year, I have heard Anaheim, Montreal (to be with former teammate Alex Galchenyuk) and Tampa Bay (for Jonathan Drouin). The Fourth Period has Buffalo, Carolina, Winnipeg, Montreal, Nashville, and New Jersey as teams interested in him.
From a Columbus standpoint, this means a forward they were looking to acquire is at their grasp now. The two questions are the price and the fit in the lineup for Yaukpov. If Edmonton wants a young prospect, especially a defenseman, a trade should be avoided. If a couple veteran players could be moved, like a Fedor Tyutin or Scott Hartnell plus a draft pick, that may work as the Oilers need veterans to help out the youngsters like McDavid, Hall, and Drasatil. The fit in the lineup depends on two things- who is on the roster and who is making the jump. The Jackets are loaded with prospects in the wing, and adding Yaukpov would add an additional road block for the young guys to get into the NHL.
Next on the list of Russians is a former number one overall draft pick back in 2001. There is discussion of Ilya Kovalchuk heading back to the NHL, but there are other reports saying he is going to play for the KHL expansion team in China. Kovalchuk was drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers, and was traded to the New Jersey Devils. In 2013, he retired to play in the KHL and earn more money sooner than over a 17 year period. If he come backs to the NHL, it is unknown whether New Jersey has rights to him or he can sign anywhere he wants. If he can, he could collect more money from an NHL team rather than a budget team like the Devils.
From a Columbus standpoint, he would give the Jackets an elite scoring winger with experience. The question comes down to how much he wants because if he wants a boatload of money, like $5.5-6 million, some teams might not want to sign him.
Next is the only defenseman on this list. Nikita Zaitsev. Zaitsev is an undrafted defenseman that has intentions on signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs this summer. The 24 year old plays for CSKA Moscow of the KHL, and is battling Kovalchuk's former KHL team, SKA St. Petersburg in the playoffs. What this means for Columbus is a young talented defenseman is coming to play against them if he does sign with Toronto.
The final guy on the list is a teammate of Zaitsev and a former first round pick in 2004. Alex Radulov was drafted 12th overall by the Predators in '04, but has spent most of his career in the KHL to earn more money and have more ice time. Apparently, the Toronto Maple Leafs are pursuing the 29 year old winger as well. If Radulov chooses to come back to the NHL, he can sign wherever he wants as his entry level deal with Nashville expired and is a UFA after an off-ice incident during the playoffs in 2012. The Russian winger could change his mind on Toronto as they are a rebuilding team. If he signs with a team like Columbus, he would probably slide into a top nine role with ease, which could slow the development of Columbus' depth pool of young wingers in the farm system.
What are your thoughts on Russian players? The trade rumors? Check out my other Blue Jackets columns and comment below.
More to come…