John Tavares to Voskresensk?

Canadian junior is hot commodity as KHL debuts with a draft

Scotiabank Place Kanata Ontario Canada

Will John Tavares join the Russians in the KHL or will he simply remain a name on the draft chart? Photo: Andre Ringuette IIHF/HHoF Images

On June 1, 2009, the Russian KHL will become the first European sports league to hold an NHL-like Entry Draft for prospects aged 17-21. Canada’s World U20 standout John Tavares is the top-ranked North American, while Swede Victor Hedman heads the European list. Khimik Voskresensk, the last place team in the KHL in 2008-09, has the first choice.

In an apparent move to perform hockey business in the same fashion as their role model NHL, the Kontinental Hockey League has decided also to emulate the NHL’s draft system.

This is the traditional way among all major North American sports leagues (hockey, basketball, football, baseball) of securing negotiation rights to young players, but it has never been tried in European sports. This, because European sports clubs usually have their own development programs and, therefore, don’t need to recruit players via a draft.

The KHL announcement comes with two significant pieces of information. First, by holding the draft on June 1, the KHL might be trying to beat the National Hockey League to the punch, as it were, because the NHL won’t hold its draft until June 26 (in Montreal).

Second, by declaring that 17-year-olds will be eligible, the KHL might also be trying to beat the NHL to the cream of the teenaged crop.

(Recall that in the early 1970s the NHL minimum age for drafting was 20, but the new rival league at that time – the WHA – drafted 18-year-olds, a decision which caused the NHL serious headaches. One 17-year old who the WHA signed was a prospect by the name of Wayne Gretzky. By 1980, the NHL had lowered the age to 18 in legal compliance and as part of the merger agreement with the WHA.)

Today, the KHL might be setting its eyes on the next Crosby, Ovechkin, or Tavares, hoping to lure the player to its league with a multi-million dollar contract offer which would be more attractive than the tiny living expense payment top juniors make in Canada’s junior leagues.

The KHL draft will see its 24 clubs go four rounds. The total number of players made available by KHL Centralnoye Skautskoye Byuro (Central Scouting Bureau) is 749 (but other players can also be picked).   

The players scouted by the KHL’s central bureau are listed in four categories: Russian skaters, Russian goaltenders, European players, and North American players.

The Russian lists of skaters and goaltenders do not contain the best domestic talent as the KHL clubs have the right to protect their most prominent youngsters. So the list of the available Russian draftees consists of players who are not considered as top-notch prospects by the clubs where they were schooled.

Click here for the list of Russian skaters.
Click here for the list of Russian goaltenders.

KHL teams that lose players in the draft will be financially compensated according to the round in which the player is drafted, starting with 50,000 USD for a first-rounder.

The top-ranked Russian junior available for the upcoming draft according to KHL’s CSB is the 20-year old defenseman Mikhail Pashnin from Mechel Chelyabinsk, a club that plays in the league below the KHL (Vysshaya Liga). Forward Artem Tomilin, 18, from Krylia Sovietov, Moscow is No. 2 on the list while defenseman Nikita Zaitsev, 18, (also from Krylia) is ranked third.

Pashnin played for Team Russia in the 2008 IIHF World U20 Championship in Ottawa, collecting two assists in seven games. Zaitsev had one goal and four assists for his country at the 2008 IIHF World U18 Championship in Fargo-Moorhead, USA.

Some observers to whom has spoken are wondering about the number of Russian players being selected by KHL clubs on June 1, considering the cost and the fact that the best talents are not available.

Click here for the list of protected players, by the KHL teams.

Curiously, the North American and European lists produced by the KHL have a remarkable similarity to those compiled by the NHL Central Scouting and their European affiliate.

Victor Hedman, the hulking 18-year old defenseman from MODO, is No. 1 among Euros, and he is followed by his countrymen Magnus Paajärvi-Svensson, 18, (forward, Timra) and Jacob Josefsson, 18 (centre, Djurgarden, Stockholm).

Click here for the list of European players.

None of the junior hockey experts were surprised to see London Knights/Team Canada star centre John Tavares top the North American list. Tavares is generally considered the favourite to be selected No. 1 overall by the New York Islanders when the first round of the NHL’s Entry Draft opens on June 26 at Montreal’s Bell Centre.

It would be rather exciting to see what would happen to Tavares’ NHL-draft status if the Mississauga, Ontario born phenom is drafted and signed by Khimik Voskresensk prior to the start of the Montreal proceedings.

American winger Jordan Schroeder (Univ. of Minnesota) is second-ranked by the KHL on the North American list, while the highly touted Matt Duchesne (centre, Brampton) is probably wondering why the Russian scouting bureau has him ranked only third among USA-players and Canadians.

Click here for the list of North American players.

Following Khimik Voskresensk, Vityaz Chekhov selects as second, followed by Belarusian Dynamo Minsk and Metallurg Novokuznetsk.

Göran Stubb, the Finnish IIHF Hall of Famer who has been in charge of the NHL’s European Scouting for over two decades, can’t see many juniors from outside Russia moving to the KHL in the coming season. He also said in an interview with The Hockey News that he tried to convince his Russian friends that the league doesn’t need a draft.

"NHL clubs don’t have their own junior system, they are not allowed to. But in Russia all KHL clubs already have their own junior programs," he said. "What’s the use of drafting players from each other? It doesn’t make any sense. Probably the only reason they want to have a draft is because the NHL has one."

Footnote: A draft within a sports league is considered as an internal procedure between the member clubs where they secure exclusive (within their league) negotiation rights to a number of players. This negotiation right only carries relevance if the player shows any intention to play in that league. For a club to successfully complete a drafting of a prospect, the club needs to sign the player to a contract.

By staff

KHL Notebook:
• KHL Vice President Vladimir Shalayev has told Sovietski Sport that the league gives five clubs until midnight Friday (May 29) to sort out their finances or face suspension from the KHL. Khimik Voskresensk, Vityaz Chekhov, HK MVD Balashikha, Metallurg Novokuznetsk and Sibir Novosibirsk are the teams facing financial difficulties and lagging behind with player salaries. According to Sovietski Sport, the clubs will have until mid-June to appeal any adverse decision. 




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