SAN JOSE -- Artemi Kniazev would have been excited enough just to be selected by the San Jose Sharks in the second round of the 2019 NHL Draft. But the fact that he'll get to join his favorite player at training camp made it even better for the 18-year-old defenseman prospect.
When San Jose took Kniazev at No. 48 on June 22, the second day of the draft, that meant he'd have the opportunity to see Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson in person in September. Karlsson signed an eight-year contract five days earlier to remain with the Sharks.
"It will be pretty cool to meet him and go on the ice with him," Kniazev said at Sharks development camp last month. "I'm waiting for that."
There are no plans to rush his development after training camp. The native of Kazan, Russia, is expected to go back to Chicoutimi of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where he had 34 points (13 goals, 21 assists) in 55 games last season, his first in North America.
"We're excited for him to go back and have a big season with them," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said after San Jose signed Kniazev to an entry-level contract July 2. "Chicoutimi is a contender for the championship … and we expect Artemi to be a big part of the team's success."
If his showing during development camp is any indication, Kniazev could fulfill Wilson's expectations. He displayed offensive creativity and pushed the pace in scrimmages, showing why the Sharks felt he could have been drafted late in the first round (they did not have a first-round pick).
San Jose considered Kniazev one of the best skating defensemen in the draft; like Karlsson, he uses his edges well, something that makes the two-time Norris Trophy winner such a smooth skater. Kniazev convinced San Jose he has the speed to get back defensively after he has pinched.
"He's a modern-day puck-possession defenseman who likes to have the puck on his stick," said Doug Wilson Jr., San Jose's director of scouting. "If a guy like this hits, it's really hard to acquire them later in their careers. The only chance you have (of) getting these type of players is in the draft."
The Sharks believe Kniazev has the potential to be a difference maker. All 13 of his goals last season were scored after he skated into the slot. And despite his lack of size, Kniazev (5-foot-10, 182 pounds) impressed San Jose with his strength.
"We don't need tall defensemen, we need strong defensemen who are hard to knock off pucks," Wilson Jr. said. "He fits that."
But Kniazev, who already speaks English well, knows he has a long way to go.
"I have to do everything quicker," he said. "I have a lot of work to do. I always want to improve all parts of my game."
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