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Artur Akhtyamov, Vyacheslav Peksa and the progression of Russian goalies

They have great numbers in the VHL, but does that mean anything?

Russia v Czech Republic: Preliminary Round Group B - 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

To varying extents, Artur Akhtyamov and Vyacheslav Peksa have had two strong seasons in the past two years. Last year, Akhtyamov struggled relatively speaking in the VHL — Russia’s semi pro league. But he has been absolutely killing it in the VHL this year, leading the league so far with an absurd .949 sv% in 27 games.

Peksa killed it last year in the MHL, Russia’s top junior league, and is doing well in the VHL with a .920 sv%. If you only compare him to goalies with 20+ games, he’s tied for 7th. So while not as strong as Akhtyamov, he’s still putting up pretty solid numbers in a pro league.

And that all seems great, and you might be wondering what that means for their futures. Does this make them top goalie prospects?

In a word: no. Because if you compare them to any Russian goalie who has played in the NHL at all in the past few years, their progression hasn’t been keeping up. And that’s in spite of their great numbers where they’ve played.

HOW RUSSIAN GOALIES IN THE NHL HAVE PROGRESSED IN THE RECENT PAST

There are 10 Russian goalies who have played in the NHL that we can use as comparisons. They include:

  • Ilya Samsonov — 1st round pick
  • Pyotr Kochetkov — 2nd round pick as a double overager
  • Ilya Sorokin — 3rd round pick as an overager
  • Igor Shesterkin — 4th round pick
  • Andrei Vasilevskiy — 1st round pick
  • Alexandar Georgiev — Undrafted
  • Semyon Varlamov — 1st round pick
  • Sergei Bobrovsky — Undrafted
  • Anton Khudobin — 7th round pick
  • Daniil Tarasov — 4th round pick

We have a good mix of goalies who were taken all over the draft, from the first round to going completely undrafted. They’re also a good mix of size and styles. So whatever trends we can clean from them will be noteworthy.

There is one important thing to keep in mind when comparing their progression since being drafted to Toronto’s two Russian goalie prospects. Akhtyamov and Peksa both had the same original draft year, though Peksa went undrafted originally. So they are both in their third post-draft seasons having — so far — played entirely in the VHL.

And that’s the issue.

Of the 10 other Russian goalies, here’s where they primarily played in their D+3 seasons:

  • 5 of them played in the KHL, with an average save percentage of .927 between them: Samsonov, Kochetkov, Sorokin, Shesterkin and Bobrovsky. Some of them played some VHL games as well.
  • 2 of them played in the AHL, with .916 and .917 save percentage respectively. They also each had a taste of the NHL in that same season.
  • 2 of them played in the Finnish Liiga pro league, weirdly. But it’s another top men’s pro league instead of a second tier semi-pro league.
  • 1 of them played in the ECHL with a taste of the AHL.

So for the most part, Russian goalies in the NHL were excelling like Akhtyamov and Peksa but at much higher levels of difficulty. So it’s harder to be too excited about their performances this season, even if one of them leads the league and has looked exceptional. The fact of the matter is, their progression looks like it is behind that of other NHL goalies.

AK BARS’ DEPTH CHART

On the other hand, you can make an argument that what is really hurting those two right now is the team they are playing for has a not insignificant logjam in front of and around them. They both are part of the Ak Bars organization, who have two young-ish goalies in the KHL already: Timur Bilyalov (27) and Amir Miftakhov (22), who have a .916 and a .912 sv% respectively.

And they’ve both been very healthy. Peksa was called up to fill as an emergency backup for one game so far this year, but didn’t get any playing time. And the rest of their goalie depth chart became so jammed that they loaned Akhtyamov to a different VHL team just so both he and Peksa could get more playing time as top starters.

Akthyamov has at least had a taste of the KHL in the past two seasons. I’m not sure of the details of his loan, so I don’t know if he would be called up if Bilyalov or Miftakhov had a significant injury instead of Peksa.

So you could maybe say that they are a bit unlucky, and maybe one or both of them would have gotten more of a chance in the KHL by now if they were on different, separate teams. But until this season, Akhtyamov was clearly not ready for the KHL — he was just okay in the VHL, and struggled at times. Peksa never even played in the VHL until this season.

Both of them taking a step forward this year in the VHL is certainly good, but there’s still a ways to go. I don’t know the state of their contractual situation, but one or both of them may need to get picked up by another KHL team who needs goalie help in order to get a shot there. While they could come over to North America, I won’t bother talking much about that as a possibility — not knowing their contract situation. For all I know they could be under contract in Russia for another one or two years. So for now, I will assume they’ll be stuck waiting for the opportunity to get some KHL games this year and beyond.

Because the fact of the matter is, we’re going to want to see them in the KHL. Akhtyamov especially, since he is a bit older and has such outstanding stats in the VHL. In fact, we don’t just want to see them in the KHL, we’ll want to see them excel. That’s what any Russian goalie with realistic hopes of making the NHL one day should be doing in their D+3 equivalent seasons.

Until then, we can marvel at their stats and hope we see them get a bigger opportunity.