Russia was the first to see their regular season games start, as of September 1st. At this point I’ve been able to see at least three games for each of the four main prospects in Russia: Dmitri Ovchinnikov, Nikita Grebyonkin, Artur Akhtyamov and Vyacheslav Peksa. Rodion Amirov is still going through his treatments and recover.
After watching the pre-season I was pretty darn excited about Grebyonkin. He had been given a fair amount of playing time, and was darn effective with his combination of size and skill.
Things continued to look good, as Grebyonkin played 8:50 in his first game, a game his team lost big. But I thought he had a good game, showing the same strengths he teased in the pre-season. He was strong on the puck, effective on the cycle, and able to use his height/length and skating to create a couple of chances in his limited time.
Since then, and the usual frustrations for Russian prospects trying to get regular playing time in the KHL have emerged for him. Grebyonkin has played a total of 5:09 across the next six games — three of which he didn’t get a single shift. I’m hoping he can get a shot to play some more, and more regularly, going forward to see if his pre-season was a mirage.
I’ll be honest, Ovchinnikov’s start to the season has been a real mixed bag. The good news is that he’s been getting regular playing time on the fourth line, as opposed to the 13th forward that he was mostly used in the last two seasons. He’s played above seven minutes in every game so far, including a couple playing more than 10 minutes. So far he has one assist and six shots on net, and hasn’t been on the ice for a goal against.
And that’s all good, because I think he clearly needs more time to make some adjustments because his first few games were rough. I’m hoping it was a matter of being rusty, since he didn’t join his team for the full pre-season. But he was overskating pucks, losing pretty much every puck battle, having them just through his feet or stick like he was a ghost.
He’s had better games since then — somewhat. He’s been able to pull off some effective skill plays on the offensive side, including a gorgeous tip pass in the neutral zone to create a breakaway. It’s how he got his assist.
#Leafs prospect update:— Kyle Cushman (@Kyle_Cush) September 11, 2022
• Dmitry Ovchinnikov picked up his first point of the season, a nice one touch feed to Taylor Beck for the primary assist. 9:25 TOI for Ovchinnikov in this one pic.twitter.com/PFpgQQygwl
But I just watched his last game from Sunday morning, and it was back to the same problems as the first few games. Sloppy and ineffective. He is a good skater and very quick, and he is at least using that more to pursue pucks and try to create offense when he can get the puck. But he is still losing a lot of one on one puck battles. His stick is the one being lifted, he’s the one turning the puck over on a lot of his passes, and he is very easily pushed around and physically neutralized. Between those moments there’s still some coasting and standing in areas without really influencing play in a positive way.
It’s been a frustrating start to watch, because when he was given a chance at times last season I thought he looked better than now. But now is when he’s actually, finally getting regular playing time. Go figure. I’m hoping he’ll continue to work out the kinks and tighten up his play, because honestly after watching him I’m not sure I’d be playing him if I were his KHL coach.
The good thing I’ll say is that it seems like he’s mostly trying the right things. Trying to fight for a puck, being in the right place, trying to make the right play. It’s the execution that’s very inconsistent so far.
Artur Akhtyamov & Vyacheslav Peksa
I’ll group these two together, because despite watching some of their games I’m not at all a goalie scout. I can’t really say if their mechanics look good and they’re doing the right things, and showing improvement in their game. I can pretty much just scout them by their stats. That said, I will share some basic observations and you can take them for what they’re worth.
Good news! Their stats so far look pretty darn great as they started their seasons in the VHL, Russia’s version of the AHL.
Peksa has played in four games so far, and has a stellar .959 sv%. He looks generally calm and has good rebound control, though he can look a bit chaotic in the crease at times. Here’s a quick package of highlights from his latest game.
Akhtyamov hasn’t been far behind. He’s gotten into three games and has a .941 sv%, though one of the games was in relief of the starting goalie that got pulled. I would definitely describe him as the more active and chaotic between him and Peksa. He plays a high stakes gambling game. On the two goals he let in, during his most recent start, one was on a 2 on 1 and the other on a penalty kill following a flurry of passes. On the one hand, it’s hard to fault him for either.
On the other hand, on both goals he basically completely sold out on an initial pass, gambling that the first pass would lead to a shot. In both cases, the first pass led to a second pass, and Akthyamov was way out of position leaving an empty net and all his momentum preventing him from recovering. I can see that working out for him sometimes, but it also seems like a potential flaw teams can exploit. Once you get him moving, you can get him to overcommit. On the PK goal he overcommitted to a pass down by the goal line, maybe thinking he would try and chip or sneak it through him. But he left his goal wide open when it was passed into the slot.
That said, he can be very in control at times, with good positioning so he is ready to react and make more difficult saves. Here are a couple of highlights from his most recent game.
No idea what any of that will mean, but it seems better than if they started the season letting in several goals each game!
For the next prospect report, I’ll be looking at the rest of the European prospects in Finland and Sweden.