In the Dubas era, and carrying into the Treliving era if his press conference was any indication, we always heard about emphasizing "the process". Do the right things as consistently as possible, and in the long run you'll be rewarded. This was mostly applied at the team level, but also applies on an individual player level. That's something that I think most of us agree is a good mindset to have, and is part of the reason why I like to look for prospects that, by the eye test (scouting reports) and analytics (tracking data), outperform their point production.
This is a more roundabout way of me once again saying I don't pay that much attention to points, especially when a young prospect is playing in a pro or semi-pro league. Being able to play against older and bigger players than junior aged peers is a good sign on its own, when we're talking about U18 guys. Any points they can get is just gravy. If they can have positive impacts on the ice for his team, the points will eventually come. They may just lack the age and development to capitalize on the chances they get.
Which brings me to Timur Mukhanov, a young Russian forward who played in 15 games in Russia's VHL league. It's not the KHL, but it's a step above the MHL junior league as well.
THE BASICS: STATS AND CONTEXT
- Position: Center/right-wing
- League(s): VHL (31 games) / MHL (15 games) / KHL (1 game)
- Height: 5'8"
- Weight: 170 lbs
- Birthdate: June 17th, 2005
Here are his draft rankings, as of writing this:
- Bob McKenzie: Unranked (outside top 80)
- Scott Wheeler: Unranked (outside top 100)
- Elite Prospects: 57th
- Dobber Prospects: 41st
- Smaht Scouting: 25th
- Future Considerations: 88th
Timur Mukhanov had a bit of a weird season. He's only a 5'8" forward, but he played most of his season in the VHL – which is no small feat for any U18 prospect. He had 4 goals and 4 assists in those 31 games, which was the second most for any U18 prospect in the league for the season. While in the VHL he played 15:39.
Those point totals seems a bit low given how many games he played, his ice time and his solid tracking data. But his VHL team, Omskie Krylia, was not exactly high offense. Their leading scorer had 31 points in 47 games. They only had two players with 20+ points on the whole roster, so he wasn't exactly playing with some good finishers. I've seen some scouts talk about how bad and dysfunctional the whole team played all season.
The rest of the season, Mukhanov played in 15 games in Russia's junior league, where he put up 17 points in 15 games. He averaged a similar amount of ice time while in junior: 15:47 of ice time. He did play in 9 playoff games for his MHL junior team, where he had only 1 point.
Mukhanov also got a brief stint where he was called up to the KHL team, but he only got into one game where he dressed, but didn't play a single shift. He has been used as a center at times through junior and a bit in the VHL. But given his size, I think it is very likely that he'll move to the wing full-time as he plays at higher levels.
The questions about Mukhanov's point production are legitimate, but missing part of the picture. Let's dive into the good and bad about him to cover why.
THE GOOD: SKATING & GENERATING CHANCES
Mukhanov is an excellent skater and plays with a relentless pace. He is aggressive on the forecheck, on the backcheck, and is constantly buzzing all over the ice. He isn't just a shifty small guy either, he has some legitimate speed to blow by a lot of defenders. His skating is arguably his best skill.
Timur Mukhanov (33) is one of the best defensive forwards in the #2023NHLDraft. His impressive speed and motor make up for his tiny frame, slipping into plays and sneaking out with possession. Getting to loose pucks/getting into battles quickly gain him a major advantage, as well pic.twitter.com/6dXUhQidyi— Dylan Griffing (@GriffingDylan) June 10, 2023
The other skill that Mukhanov has that you could say is his best would be his playmaking. He has a good pair of hands, excellent vision and can make some tough passes through narrow windows. Despite his size, he has thusfar been able to use a combination of his skating and hands to drive through or around checks even when the play is along the boards.
Mukhanov's combination of skating and playmaking makes his biggest offensive threat coming off the rush. He has a very strong transition game, carrying it and passing it through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone. It is usually where he has the most space around him to use his speed back up defenders or just blow right by them, and then use his vision and passing to set up his teammates for a dangerous scoring chance.
In total, Mukhanov has one of the strongest scoring chance generation numbers in the past few years for prospects in the VHL. He is only behind Matvei Michkov, in fact, in terms of expected assists and expected goals. There are some question marks in this kind of data, but I can say it matches what I've seen when watching Mukhanov: he generates a lot of chances.
Mukhanov seems like all the stereotypes of the Toronto Maple Leafs manifested into one Russian kid. He's small, he's zippy, he's skilled, and he/his team can't finish on the chances he creates. It does seem a bit odd that his finishing was so poor in the VHL, because he actually showcases a good shot – both in terms of power and accuracy, and he also uses some manipulation with his release point at times.
So... let's talk about some reasons why he and his team may not be finishing as many of the chances as it seems they should.
THE FLAWS: SIZE & FINISHING
There's no getting around the facts that 1) Timur Mukhanov is 5'8", and 2) there were only 5 players in the entire NHL last year for 10 or more games and who were 5'8" or shorter. He's also 170 lbs, which is a good weight for a player that short. That also means there's not really much projection for him from a physical perspective. You can maybe hope he gets some Nylander-thighs and really bulk up his lower body to be harder to push around, but that will only take him so far.
But let's get back to the question I opened up with: how much can you trust the process for a player? Mukhanov being smaller (5'8"), young (June 2005 birthday), in the VHL where most U18 prospects don't play much beyond junior in their draft year, having a respectable point production and solid underlying numbers are all signs of a good process.
On the other hand, we're not interested in what Mukhanov can do right now in the VHL, we want to know what he can do in the future – potentially in the NHL. If you take his expected primary point rate from the chart above and apply it to his time in the VHL, you'd expect him to have around 14 primary points at 5v5, where he only had 8 points total at all situations. Some of that, I'm sure, is a bit of bad luck. Or since he's more of a playmaker than a goal scorer, bad finishers from his teammates that he feeds.
But as any Leafs fan will tell you, being told to trust the process when you keep seeing, time and again, a lack of finishing on the "expected" outcomes... well, that gets really tiresome after a while. At some point, you have to wonder if there is a problem inherent in the process that is leading to a below expected outcome. Mukhanov may just not have a high enough level of skill, size, or whatever other abilities or tools you can think of for his real production match his expected production. There are smarter people than me who could break that down, but it's a bit of a universal concern about him from scouts.
Mind you, that's all why Mukhanov seems more likely to be a later round pick – if he's picked at all. He has some elements of his game that seem interesting: his skating and playmaking and everything he is able to do on the ice with those two. But concerns about his size, and his lack of finishing potentially being because he's not quite skilled enough to capitalize on what he can create, are legitimate.
But his strengths are why I'd still be interested in taking a swing on Mukhanov in the later rounds. Because he has some skills at a high enough level already to be interesting, and you hope he has a late growth spurt, or that his under expected points come more from bad luck and low quality of linemates than because of his own flaws. And you hope that your development team can turn him into something real and interesting as a long term project of sorts.
Most scouting outlets have him ranked, but not that high. If I were to guess, I'd say he doesn't wind up on Bob McKenzie's final ranking. I think there's a good chance he doesn't get drafted at all, actually. But I can see one team trying to swing on him, and I'm here advocating for it.
Thanks for reading!
I put a lot of work into my prospect articles here, both for the draft and Toronto's prospects. I do it as a fun hobby for me, and I'd probably do it in some capacity even if PPP completely ceased to exist. But if you like reading my work, some support would go a long way! I pay for a few streaming services (CHL, some NCAA, some USHL, the occasional TSN options for international tournaments that are broadcast) to be able to reliably watch these prospects in good quality streams. I also pay for some prospect-specific resources, such as tracking data and scouting reports from outlets like Elite Prospects, Future Considerations, McKeen's Hockey, and The Athletic.
Being able to get paid for this helps me dedicate more time and resources to it, rather than to second/third jobs. And whatever money I make here, a lot of I reinvest back into my prospect work through in those streaming and scouting services. Like I said, I'd be doing whatever I can afford for this anyway, so any financial help I get through this is greatly appreciated!