PHILADELPHIA -- The "Russian factor" wasn't much of a distraction for a dozen teams this weekend at the 2014 NHL Draft at Wells Fargo Center.
It refers to the consideration made by teams, when drafting a player of Russian decent, of the risk associated with that player deciding to sign and play in the Kontinental Hockey League instead of North America. A team drafting a Russian player who then decides to stay in the KHL effectively has wasted a pick.
But 12 NHL teams drafted a total of 13 Russian-born players in 2014, the most in eight years. The Montreal Canadiens kicked off the Russian resurgence with the selection of right wing Nikita Scherbak of the Saskatoon Blades in the Western Hockey League at No. 26 on Friday.
The Moscow native was No. 15 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of the top North American skaters. He was named Saskatoon's most valuable player and rookie of the year after scoring 28 goals and finishing with 78 points in 65 games in his first season in North America.
When he was introduced to the Montreal media, Scherbak was taken by surprise.
"Oh my God, a lot of people," Scherbak said. "Oh my God."
But his opening comments got the ball rolling for what turned out to be an entertaining chat with the media. He was asked what he knew about the Canadiens.
"I know Montreal wins a lot of Stanley Cups," he said.
Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin acknowledged that he saw a player with a lot of personality and was excited to have the opportunity to draft him.
"He's got an appeal to him; he's got confidence," Bergevin said. "Montreal's a different market, and from what we've seen so far, we feel he could handle that."
Moscow native and right wing Nikolay Goldobin of the Sarnia Sting in the Ontario Hockey League was chosen by the San Jose Sharks at No. 27. Goldobin led the Sting and finished sixth in the OHL with 94 points in 67 games. He had 21 goals and 43 points during a 22-game point streak from Nov. 14, 2013, to Jan. 11, 2014.
"He's got great hockey sense; [he's] one of the smartest players in the draft," Sharks GM Doug Wilson told the San Jose Mercury News. "He's got a skill set that can be dynamic, but it's the way he sees the game, the way he thinks the game, is historically what allows players to go from that level and be able to play at the next level with really good players."
The Sharks targeted Goldobin and traded with the Chicago Blackhawks; in exchange for San Jose's No. 20 and No. 179 selections, the Sharks gained No. 27 and No. 62 from the Blackhawks.
Three more Russians were selected in the second round Saturday: forward Ivan Barbashev of the Moncton Wildcats in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League went to the St. Louis Blues at No. 33; Vladislav Kamenev of Magnitogorsk in Russia's junior league was taken by the Nashville Predators at No. 42; and Maxim Letunov of the Youngstown Phantoms in the United States Hockey League was taken by the Blues at No. 52.
"We knew there would be a little bit of the Russian factor, so there was a chance [we could get Barbashev]," Blues director of amateur scouting Bill Armstrong said. "Just based on his determination, effort and the type of player he is surprised us a bit that we were able to get him. We love him and are excited about getting him where we did."
Armstrong acknowledged that Letunov is a work in progress but said the Blues were glad he was available late in the second round.
"He's a big skinny kid (6-foot-2, 155 pounds) and still has a long way to go," Armstrong said. "He'll spend another year in USHL and then three years in college (at Boston University). He'll get his body in shape and get a lot of work in. He's an honest player and plays a two-way game. He has some upside as a second line center."
The "Russian factor" may have cost a few teams a true blue-chip talent at the 2013 draft when right wing Valeri Nichushkin fell to the Dallas Stars at No. 10. Nichushkin scored 14 goals and 34 points with a plus-20 rating in 79 regular-season games for Dallas. He had one goal and two points in six games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Of all the Russian players, Kamenev would seem to draw the most curiousity. He was the first Russian-born player drafted who was playing in Russia. But the Predators saw enough in him to take a chance in the second round.
"Vladislav is a good, big, powerful forward who has very good skills," Nashville pro scout Vaclav Nedomansky said. "He is very good in tight situations where he uses his body and his long reach to hold off opponents. He's got a very good set of skills to create scoring chances, a very good shot, and he's an offensive threat every time he's on the ice."
One of Kamenev's highlights was his performance at the IIHF Under-18 World Junior Championship, when he served as Russia's captain and scored two goals and seven points in five games.
"As a captain, I had a lot of responsibilities and I had to monitor all fields to support players and get them on ice and have talks with everyone at certain times," Kamenev said. "I like to lead by example more than talking though."
Other Russians selected during the weekend: 6-foot-7 defenseman Nikita Tryamkin (No. 66) of Yekaterinburg to the Vancouver Canucks; defenseman Rinat Valiev (No. 68) of the Kootenay Ice in the WHL to the Toronto Maple Leafs; goalie Ilya Sorokin (No. 78) of Novokuznetsk to the New York Islanders; goalie Igor Shesterkin (No. 118) of Spartak 2 to the New York Rangers; center Pavel Kraskovsky (No. 164) of Yaroslav 2 to the Winnipeg Jets; center Radel Fazleev (No. 168) of the Calgary Hitmen in the WHL to the Philadelphia Flyers; goalie Ivan Nalimov (No. 179) of SKA St. Petersburg 2 to the Chicago Blackhawks; center Alexander Kadeykin (No. 201) of Mytischi to the Detroit Red Wings.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL
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