As the major junior league in Russia, the MHL is filled with a lot of untapped potential. Every year, teams use late round picks as ‘shots in the dark’ and hope to land a gem from the Russian pipeline. Today, we’ll be looking at four of those picks and how well they’re developing and what they need to do to succeed.
Arseni Gritsyuk, W – Omskie Yastreby / New Jersey Devils
As a player who I held with high regard before the 2019 Draft, Arseni Gritsyuk (#81) has not disappointed in the MHL this season. The most notable aspect of Gritsyuk’s game is his pure speed, and his ability to use it to help on both ends of the ice. Offensively, he’s a fantastic playmaker and it’s shown up on the scoresheet, as he currently has 32 assists. His raw production is looking to be something special, in general, since he is the ninth leading point-getter in the MHL. An unfortunate aspect is that Omsk are going all in this year, so Gritsyuk did not get many chances in the VHL, but there is still some big potential in this kid.
Starting off with his defense, Gritsyuk is an annoying player to play against. Where he lacks in physicality, he shines with a very active stick. When he’s on his game, he’s like a hound chasing around the puck, and he usually gets it with a stick lift or a poke check. When he doesn’t get it, however, he often gets caught behind the play. This happens a bit too often to just be thrown under the rug, but with more time in the higher Russian leagues, he should be able to iron out that kink. A positive to his defensive game is his ability to cut off zone entries for his opposition. In the clip above, after Vladimir Mashkov goes down, Gritsyuk moves across the blue line to block the Tolpar player from getting an easy break-in around the boards.
Moving on to his offense, Gritsyuk is a really fun player to watch. His clean skating and edgework allow him to move fluidly through the offensive zone and find space for himself. His reaction time and pure speed allows him to backcheck with the best of them, as well. In the clip, he uses a mix of short, quick strides and long, effective strides to catch up to the puck carrier and block off a passing lane. His passing is just too good for the level he plays at. He draws defensemen towards him, then finds the best passing option to move the puck forward. He mainly creates scoring chances by driving the puck in and then finding teammates in the slot, and with the firepower Omsk has, it often results in goals.
The Devils’ prospect isn’t just a great passer, though. Gritsyuk has a great shot, as well as a fantastic understanding of where to shoot the puck from. He often skates through the slot without taking a shot and then either finds a teammate or takes it back around himself to shoot from a better location. When he does shoot, he has a very accurate, powerful shot. He currently leads all drafted prospects in the MHL in goals with 26, and it’s no fluke. He works hard to get all of his chances on the net, and he knows how to finish them off.
The biggest takeaway from Gritsyuk’s game is that he is still pretty raw. There are issues in his game that will be more pronounced when he makes his way up to being a full time KHL player. He often takes himself out of the game with low effort plays, which in the MHL is not a huge deal, as long as he recovers, but when he starts playing tougher competition, he’ll need to fix that. There’s no flaws in his game that can’t be changed by sitting down and watching tape, as he’s a very smart and skilled player.
Maxim Denezhkin, C – Loko Yaroslavl / Edmonton Oilers
As the center of Loko Yaroslavl’s top line, Maxim Denezhkin (#24) has shown to be a fantastic player at the MHL level. He’s an incredibly hard-working player with a potentially huge upside if he can develop well in the KHL and VHL in the coming seasons. The 19-year-old could be described as a two-way dynamo, a classic playmaker, or even as far as a sniper with great hands, he can truly do it all.
First and foremost, a look into the rougher area of Denezhkin’s game is his size and strength. In this one clip alone against Kapitan, he gets shielded off the puck and is caught in a bad defensive position. His attempt to recover was a delayed hit, which also pushed his goalie out of the way of a potential shot on goal. Moments later, he is knocked off the puck on a play where a player of his caliber should be able to keep it. His physical play isn’t always an issue, though. He does have his moments where he overpowers players on the boards or holds them off while screening the goalie, but the issue is clearly there.
Although Denezhkin lacks in size and strength, he makes up for it with his quick and elusive skating. He has the ability to track the puck at all times, and uses that to be a threat in both zones. This is shown off perfectly in one shift here:
Maxim Beryozkin (2020) breaks the puck into the zone to start off the offensive play, and then Denezhkin goes to work. The edgework and passing displayed here are staples of his game, and he makes plays like this very often. An accurate pass to Beryozkin in the slot nearly leads to a goal, but he wasn’t quite ready for the pass. Then, Denezkhin really shows off his hunger for the puck and chases it down and eventually finishes off the shift with a beautiful goal.
It would be an understatement to just say that Denezhkin is a hard-worker. He will do whatever it takes to make sure that someone on his team has the puck. In this clip against Tayfun, he goes down and still manages to get the puck to Beryozkin. It doesn’t stop there, though. He gets up and moves down the ice with a head of steam, gets the return pass, and finishes off the move. Plays like this really blur the line between what his exact player type is. The 200-foot game is clearly all there, but his accurate passes that lead to high danger chances for Loko are also present every game.
One of Denezhkin’s underlying skills is his quick decisions. This really helps his game, especially as a smaller player, because it allows him to really move the puck around the ice and avoid being bumped. When he has the puck in the neutral zone, he always finds the right outlet to get the puck into the offensive zone, whether he takes it himself or makes a quick pass to his winger. His hockey IQ is great and he makes a lot of plays that really look like he’s on another level.
Alexander Daryin, W/C – Loko Yaroslavl / Arizona Coyotes
Sticking with Loko Yaroslavl, forward Alexander Daryin (#41) has been a force in the MHL over the past two seasons. The Coyotes’ draftee is a hard-working playmaker who has found a home in Loko’s top six. Unlike the other two prospects covered, Daryin’s size is not an issue in his game. In this clip from Yaroslavl’s 7-0 win over Krylya Sovetov, Daryin forechecks to poke away the puck from the Sovetov defender. He uses his speed and strength to keep the puck, and then tucks it home with a backhand shot. This type of play is common for the speedy winger and is one of the reasons that he’s been on a lot of watch lists.
Another aspect of his game that stands out is that he can play both center and wing. This is something that a lot of players in the MHL do often, but none are as proficient as Daryin. When he’s in a center role, it is clear that he takes his focus a lot more on being the first forward back when backchecking. Defensively, he’s always a presence for Loko. He uses his stick well to break up plays and isn’t afraid to get into the dirty areas of the ice to recover the puck. Offensively, his game stays the same, he draws defenders towards him and then finds passing lanes.
Daryin currently leads all drafted prospects in the MHL with 33 assists. His great vision combined with accurate passing allows him to be a danger-man at all times when he’s on the puck. In this shift against SKA-Varyagi, he creates two high danger chances using a mix of his passing and skating. He gets credited with an assist in this play, as Yegor Manin scored on his own rebound. Daryin is a very creative player who can make something out of anything, which is a skill that can take him far.
At the MHL level, it’s not always easy to see clear issues with a player, but it is especially hard to do that with Daryin. His upside is whatever he wants it to be, but as of now, it’s a matter of how he translates his game to the higher leagues. In his six games between the KHL and VHL this season, he looked impressive, so if he can keep up his pace, he looks like he’ll be a very good top-nine player in the NHL.
Vadim Zherenko, G – MHK Dynamo Moskva / St. Louis Blues
Taking a look at an under-the-radar prospect, Vadim Zherenko is having a very sneaky good season. He’s currently sitting at a 0.947 save percentage which is the second best in the league, and a 1.34 goals against average which leads the league. Zherenko is just an all-around solid goalie. He’s 6-foot-2 and very athletic, which is always a great combination for a young, upcoming goalie.
The Blues’ seventh round pick has great positioning, but loses track of the puck more often than he should. On the bright side, the St. Louis Blues did trade up to take him in the 2019 Draft because their Russian scout saw something special in him, so he is certainly someone to keep an eye on in the future.
Dylan Griffing (@Dylan_Griffing)
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