The regular season is over in Russia, and now it’s time for the KHL and VHL playoffs, Meanwhile, the MHL is still determining its final teams to enter their postseason with a series of play-in games.
With that competitive shift, there will be lots of player movement within systems. Teams like Kapitan Stupino and MHK Spartak have already added quality players from their parent clubs, like Matvei Michkov, Fyodor Svechkov, and Nikita Chibrikov.
It will be an interesting postseason with a ton of talent split across the three leagues, and here are some players to keep an eye on as we get underway.
Matvei Michkov, RW, HK Sochi (2023 NHL Draft)
Michkov has had one of the most bizarre seasons ever for a legitimate top prospect. His VHL production was standout, with 14 points in 12 games on a weak SKA-Neva team that desperately needed the help. However, there were many questions raised in his play in the Russian second-tier league: Is he physical enough to withstand stronger opponents? Will his production continue if he’s no longer allowed to fly the zone? Is his decision-making a real issue?
In 27 games with the KHL’s HK Sochi, those questions were all seemingly answered. Michkov’s play has been awesome. Even with the lack of quality around him and his lack of experience, it only took him a couple of games to fit right into the new system at Sochi. The biggest difference between Sochi and SKA-Neva is that we finally get to see Michkov play structured hockey. Instead of being free to sit at the offensive blue line waiting for a spring pass, he’s making plays on the backcheck, getting involved on breakouts, and his offensive game looks to be at a much higher level than the VHL games suggested.
Ending the KHL season with a five-point game against Kunlun and now tearing it up with Kapitan in the MHL play-ins is a pretty sweet cherry on top, as well.
Dmitri Simashev, D, Loko Yaroslavl (2023 NHL Draft)
Dmitri Simashev has quickly become a fan favourite within the ranks of the Elite Prospects scouting team, and his end-of-season stint with Lokomotiv in the KHL has only added to our fondness for his game.
He made just three appearances as Yaroslavl called up a handful of MHL players to play in more-or-less meaningless games against Sochi and Khabarovsk, as well as one game against Dynamo Moskva. In those games, the flashes of skating ability were simply amazing. Simashev is likely the best skating defender in this class, especially given his larger frame. The blue line manipulation looks awesome and not too dissimilar from some of the special things we’ve seen out of Alexander Nikishin this season.
Looking past that spell in the KHL, Simashev’s production in the MHL has taken off since his incredibly slow start. He finished the year with 12 points in 33 games between Loko and Loko-76 which isn’t too enticing on paper but considering he only had one point in his first 15 games, it could be much worse.
Dmitri Vlasenko, RW, Omskie Yastreby (2023 NHL Draft)
The Omsk system has been loaded with fun and talented players both in this draft cycle and last year’s, with players such as Gleb Trikozov, Mikhail Gulyayev, and Timur Mukhanov leading the charge. One player who has been quietly making a name for himself with Yastreby is Dmitri Vlasenko.
There are clear limitations in his game including being just 5-foot-9 that keep him from pushing into that ‘Stock Rising’ tier, but Vlasenko looks the part of a late-round pick that a team takes and leaves overseas for multiple years to see what happens. The skill this player exudes is stellar, some of the best hands out of this crop of Russians. He plays at a high pace and puts in a solid effort all over the ice, making him a great fit for this system. The flashes of playmaking look really solid to work off of, as well.
He’ll have to overcome a lot before he’s ready to make the switch, but there are some real similarities in his game to Alexander Pashin‘s, who has already moved over to the Chicago Wolves in the AHL.
Dmitri Buchelnikov, LW, SKA-Neva St. Petersburg (Detroit Red Wings)
Outside of Michkov, nobody stood out more on SKA-Neva this season than Dmitri Buchelnikov. Drafted as a re-entry, he hadn’t played a single game outside of the MHL prior to the start of this season, and he got off to a red-hot start in the VHL.
In his first 18 games, he racked up 20 points, a solid total for the small winger, but on December 13, Michkov played his final game with the team and the spark at SKA-Neva went away. In Buchelnikov’s last 23 games, he managed just 10 points, with six of those contests taking place in the playoffs, where he tallied just two points.
This step back in production was inevitable. There’s a lot of work to be done with Buchelnikov as a project. Working on rounding out his game to play a more professional style rather than relying on his tools to outpace or out-skill his opponents, the hockey sense will have to improve for Buchelnikov to become a legitimate prospect moving forward.
Artyom Duda, D, Krasnaya Armiya Moskva (Arizona Coyotes)
One of the more perplexing selections in the 2022 NHL Draft, Artyom Duda has failed to live up to the hype of being an early second-round pick.
Duda ended the regular season injured with no games played since an MHL appearance on December 14. Before that, he failed to show much progression from last year. On the defensive side of things, he is still a negative impact player, lacking gap control, composure, and timing. He added a touch more physical strength, but it’s not nearly enough to make an impact. With the puck, the flashes of intriguing activations remain, but it’s yet to be seen if that is going to be something that translates outside of the MHL.
His 14 games at the KHL level with CSKA lacked promise with Vladimir Grudinin still looking like the player deserving of the draft spot Duda took up. Like Buchelnikov, Duda was always going to be a project pick, but the risk/reward that Arizona decided to bet on could have certainly been used elsewhere.