Many of us Canadiens and Bulldogs fans are wondering why Alex Avtsin has only played in one AHL game, that being a pre season game, since the 2011-2012 season. A player that when drafted back in 2009 in the 4th round (109th overall), was sought to be the steal of the draft or the blue chip prospect to watch out for. In his draft year Alex put up an astonishing 56 goals, 54 assists for a total of 110 points in 76 games, but then again he was playing in a 3rd tier Russian league. This league is referred to as the junior league to the main KHL clubs, in other words it would be the equivalent to the ECHL in North America. After getting drafted Avtsin played part of the 2009-2010 campaign between the MHL known as the Minor Hockey League to the Kontinental Hockey League known as the KHL. Avtsin put up 9 points in 12 games with the MHL’s Dynamo Moscow before being called up to the big club of the KHL, equivalent to being called up from the AHL to the NHL. Avtsin played a rather limited role ice-time wise and sustained a mid-season wrist injury and was only able to record 9 points in 30 games during his stint in the KHL.
At 19 years old Avtsin decided to cut ties with the Dynamo Moscow and pursue his dream of playing in the NHL. Avtsin agreed to a 3 year entry-level contract with the Montreal Canadiens on June 15th, 2010 and joined both the Habs development and training camps. Avtsin then spent the 2010-2011 season with the Bulldogs scoring 20 points in 58 games and unfortunately aggravated his wrist which led to him missing a good chunk of the season. Last year a whole bunch of us Hab fans were shocked when Avtsin did not participate in any pre season games with the Habs and thought maybe he will get a shot during the season. Clearly Avtsin did not play up to any expectations and was a healthy scratch numerous times while posting only 14 points in 63 games. So what happened to him? Did he just not have the confidence and motivation anymore?
For a player with such great natural talent and skill, like the many other Russians we’ve witnessed before, we just can’t wrap our heads around why a lot of these skilled players just fall off the charts. I still believe Avtsin isn’t totally lost and could be given another opportunity to show himself but he is definitely skating on thin ice. With this current AHL season started and already 11 games in we have yet to see an appearance from Avtsin, there has been no injury or attitude problems reported thus far. The Bulldogs have been struggling as of late for offense having only scored 2 times in the past 3 games and were already missing Louis Leblanc after the 3rd game of the year and have just recently lost their top point producer Blake Geoffrion to a traumatic injury. So with two top goal scorers out of the line-up you would think putting a offensive player should help their goal scoring woes but you thought wrong. Instead Lefebvre has decided to play veterans like Stortini and Hagel, which is not bad considering they are a very young team, but at one point you gotta think Avtsin is going to be given the opportunity if this continues.
Now here is a little breakdown on what kind of style Alexander Avtsin plays, A great skater with a big stride that possesses excellent puck handling abilities and a fairly powerful and accurate wrist shot.
Avtsin has some downfalls as well, Seems to get lost and out of position when away from the puck. Needs to fill out and learn to use his 6’3″ frame to his advantage, also needs confidence and motivation.
A close comparable to Alex Avtsin that I see would be Benoit Pouliot. Ironically both players have amazing talent and skill but really haven’t translated that well or at least to their expectations professionally, but both dominated their junior years respectively. Here is a little clip of Pouliot in stick handling, skating and shooting: Video Sample
So we come to think that Avtsin is still a “project”, he still needs to be worked with and needs to improve a whole lot when he is away from the puck in order to get ice-time with the Dogs this year and the future. Let’s be honest though, the only way a player can improve is if he plays and gets experience.