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Karnaukhov adapted well to North American game in rookie WHL season

by Andrew Schopp / Calgary Flames

This is probably the best organization in the CHL. It’s perfect. Everybody helped me.Pavel Karnaukhov

CALGARY, AB -- Pavel Karnaukhov’s first taste of the North American game was sweet.

In 69 regular season tilts as a WHL rookie with the Calgary Hitmen, the Minsk, Belarus product went from being a late Round 1 CHL Import Draft selection to one of the top 100 prospects entering the 2015 NHL Draft on June 26-27.

Scoring 20 goals and 22 assists during the 2014-2015 WHL campaign to mark his debut on Canadian soil, Karnaukhov secured the 118th slot of the NHL Central Scouting Service’s 2015 rankings of North American skaters, making being plucked in the upcoming draft a real possibility for the 6-foot-2, 200-pound centre.

“I played on a good team with good guys,” Karnaukhov said of becoming acclimatized to life across the Atlantic with the 2014-2015 Central Division Champion Hitmen. “This is probably the best organization in the CHL. It’s perfect. Everybody helped me.”

Before touching down in the WHL this season, Karnaukhov spent the 2013-2014 campaign in Russia’s junior ranks where he tallied 13 goals and 16 assists in 48 games with the MHL’s Krasnaya Armiya Moskva.

As the Hitmen made a run all the way to the WHL Eastern Conference Championship series against the Brandon Wheat Kings, Karnaukhov developed a niche as a solid two-way forward whose offensive prowess is punctuated by a gritty physical element to his game.

The 18-year-old became a force on the Hitmen power play unit, tallying 10 goals during the regular season to – along with Spokane Chiefs’ Kailer Yamamoto and Wheat Kings’ Nolan Patrick – lead all WHL rookies in extra-man markers.

In the playoffs, Karnaukhov tallied six goals and five assists in 13 games, including an outstanding three-point performance in Game 2 of the Hitmen Round 1 series against the Kootenay Ice, in which he scored twice on the power play to lead them to a 3-2 overtime triumph.

As the freshmen polished off the season as the Hitmen leader in power play goals, coach Mark French said that Karnaukhov’s effectiveness with the extra-man comes from his ability to get down and dirty in the high traffic areas of the ice.

“He’s got the willingness to go into that battle area,” French said. “He has enough skill that when he goes there, he can finish those chances. He’s a competitive guy who likes those areas and he doesn’t shy away from them and as a result he’s able to get those opportunities.”

Karnaukhov is one of six Hitmen who are in their first year of NHL Draft eligibility, joining forwards Layne Bensmiller, Terrell Draude and defenceman Loch Morrison.

Other eligible undrafted Hitmen include forwards Taylor Sanheim, Connor Rankin, Elliott Peterson, defencemen Colby Harmsworth and Michael Zipp, and goaltender Mack Shields.

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