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Karnaukhov impressing in first go-round with Flames

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

CALGARY, AB -- Pavel Karnaukhov is far from a front-runner to represent the Calgary Flames this season.

But that isn’t stopping the 18-year-old from leaving a lasting impression.

As one of 31 currently auditioning in Flames rookie camp, Karnaukhov earned high praise for his performance at the Young Stars Classic in Penticton.

Very high praise.

“I like Karnaukhov a lot,” said Flames assistant general manager Craig Conroy as the Young Stars came to a close Monday. “I mean, in the first game I thought he played well, but in the second game I was like, 'Woah.' With his draws, on the first goal he was so strong on his stick, he finishes his checks, he comes back, he puts himself in good position for outlet passes from the defence.”

In-house scoring at the South Okanagan Events Centre suggests Karnaukhov left the Young Stars with two assists, a minus-1 rating, and three shots in three games.

But the statistics didn’t come close to painting the picture on Calgary’s fifth round pick (No. 136) in the 2015 NHL Draft.

It couldn’t suggest the intrigue that surrounds Karnaukhov, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound natural centre, either.

“He’s interesting because he’s that big centreman,” said Stockton Heat coach Ryan Huska, who put Calgary’s rookies through the paces at the tournament. “He’s got the size, he skates well, and he’s got offensive ability. It’ll be interesting to see how he progresses and develops along the way. Everyone wants to be bigger down the middle of the ice and he’s got that. It’s another guy whose got an opportunity in front of him and it’s up to him what he does with it.”

The native of Minsk, Belarus is an interesting study.

Last spring, Karnaukhov was selected 56th overall by the Hitmen in the CHL Import Draft, and recorded 20 goals and 42 points in 69 games in his rookie season in the Western Hockey League. It followed up a 2013-14 season that saw Karnaukhov play 48 games with Krasnaya Armiya Moskva in Russia’s junior league, netting 13 goals and 29 points.

Conveniently, he found himself drafted by the Flames.

Now, he’s finding himself on the verge of earning an invite to Calgary’s main camp.

And Karnaukhov understands what’s on the line.

“It’s not development camp. It’s a competition camp,” he said. “I played my game and for me, this camp … everyone wants to make the team … so it’s a big competition.”

One, at least for now, Karnaukhov has been able to both take advantage of, and stay ahead in.

Impressing in, too.

“Everything he does, you just see a pro-style player there,” Conroy said. “He’s been well coached, and that’s a credit to the Hitmen. I like him. With his size and skating, he’s the whole package. He’s got some things to work on. He’s just a raw guy, but it’s all there. If we can keep improving and if he works hard, he’s going to be a guy in a few years that we’ll say, ‘What a great draft pick.’”

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