Montreal Canadiens, the Russian Factor and Ivan Demidov

There has been a lot of talk in the past couple of years of the Russian factor in high profile prospects. But is there a real threat in picking a Russian player high in the draft, or is there not as much going on as others think? And what the future looks like for prospects like Matvei Michkov or Ivan Demidov.
SKA Hockey Club player, Ivan Demidov (11) seen in action...
SKA Hockey Club player, Ivan Demidov (11) seen in action... / SOPA Images/GettyImages
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There is a consensus number one draft pick in the NHL draft this year, and his name is Macklin Celebrini, born in Vancouver, and playing in Boston. But after Celebrini, the waters get a little muddy, and one name that keeps popping up is Ivan Demidov.

There are many scouts, mainly independent scouts, that have the Russian born, St. Petersburg based Demidov as high as second. But even big names, like Sportsnet's Sam Cosentino and Jason Bukala have Demidov as the second best player.

"Demidov is an elite offensive talent. He started the season at the KHL level, but was sidelined with a knee injury in the fall and missed some time. Demidov has one more year left on his contract in Russia before he becomes eligible to come to North America. He’s a top line prospect who plays with pace and skill. His hockey sense is off the charts offensively, but he’s also the kind of player who extends plays along the boards and drives to the crease.

NHL Projection: Top Line Scoring Forward"

Jason Bukala

However, there is some dissention among the scouting ranks. Bob McKenzie has Demidov way down at 7th, behind forwards Cole Eiserman and Cayden Lindstrom. And Corey Pronman has him down to 8th behind Beckett Sennecke and Berkly Catton.

Does this kind of sound familiar?

Matvei Michkov
2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft - Round One / Jason Kempin/GettyImages

Last year, there was a clear number one pick, Canadian born Connor Beddard, but had no clear cut number 2, and there was a lot of talk about a very skilled, Russian born forward named Matvei Michkov.

Elite Prospects had Michkov ranked as their second best player, and similarily, many independent scouts also had Michkov that high. There were a lot of questions, and Michkov went much lower to the consensus, being taken by the Philadelphia Flyers at 7.

And the reason for that? The Russian Factor.

There used to be a lot of different big hockey leagues, and back in the 1970s, the NHL was threatened by the WHA, but today the closest competition that the NHL has is the Russian league, the KHL. And each league has carved out its own niche, and the direct competition is not very heated.

But a player can only play in one league at a time, and contracts are set in stone, and its not easy to dip out on them early. And with Russian players having been brought up in the Russian system, they frequently already have a contract, and that contract will go on even after they are drafted in the NHL.

In 2021, years before Michkov was drafted, he signed a 5-year deal with SKA St. Petersburg, a deal that would keep him in Russia until the end of the 2025-26 season. However, there are early reports that his contract is being terminated early, and he could come to Philadelphia as early as next year.

And there is presedence for it. The Washington Capital's prospect Ivan Miroshnichenko ended his contract one year early to make the jump. Right now, Demidov is signed with St. Petersburg until next season, and a scout at the New York Times believes that he doesn't want to stay in Russia and will come to North America very soon.