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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A History of Russians

Coming over to North America from Russia today is very different than it was a long time ago. While the political climate isn't exactly the best, it is still fairly easy to travel from one country to another, and with the internet, long range connectivity is as easy as pie.

When players like Petr Svoboda; Vaclav Nedomansky; Peter, Anton, and Marian Stastny; and the Russian Five (Fedorov, Konstantinov, Kozlov, Fetisov and Larionov) defected, there was a real possibility that they wouldn't see their families again. And many of them didn't speak a lick of English.

With the interconnectivity of the internet and the rise of the global English language, it isn't as much of a risk as it once was.

But lets look at the more recent history of Russians taken high in the draft:

Its too early to really assess the 2023 draft so we will skip that one.

The first Russian draft pick in 2022 was Pavel Mintyukov, but he had already come over to the OHL. We already talked about Ivan Miroshnichenko and the Washington Capitals, so that is a big point against the Russian Factor. The other Russian first rounder, Danila Yurov recently signed a one year extension in the KHL, but in an interview for the Athletic, has mentioned he intends to come the NHL, but doesn't feel ready yet.

2021 wasn't a strong year for Russian prospects, and just Fyodor Svechkov was taken in the first round, but last year, after playing in the KHL, he has made the jump and played in the AHL.

Yaroslav Askarov
Nashville Predators v Washington Capitals / Scott Taetsch/GettyImages

The best goalie prospect in 2020 was Russian Yaroslav Askarov, who has since come over and made his NHL debut for the Predators. Rodion Amirov had been in North America with the Maple Leafs for a spring, before sadly passing away due to a brain tumor. Other first round picks Yegor Mukhamadullin and Yegor Chinakhov have also made the jump overseas.

In 2019, the Vancouver Canucks selected Vasili Podkolzin, and he came to the NHL after just one year.

Vitali Kravtsov was drafted 9th overall by the Rangers, but has since bounced back and forth from the NHL to the KHL, but this was mainly due to his inability to secure a roster spot. He did show a want and ability to come to North America.

And so on and so forth. The fact is that you have to look long and hard to find a high level prospect from Russia that hasn't made the jump over to the NHL. The one's that haven't come over wasn't for lack of trying, but just didn't seem to have what it takes to play in the NHL.

And outside of the top one or two prospects in a given year, most prospects aren't expected to make the jump to the NHL that year. So realistically, the extra year or two in Russia won't make much of a difference to NHL teams.

The Montreal Canadiens didn't draft Matvei Michkov last year due to the Russian Factor, and there is a good chance that Ivan Demidov will drop to the Canadiens again at 5th overall. Will Kent Hughes and the Canadiens miss out on another high level Russian prospect? Especially with the news that Michkov could be coming over sooner than expected, I think it would be a big mistake.