Egor Afanasyev of Muskegon in the United States Hockey League still remembers the first time he saw Ilya Kovalchuk during an all-star event for fans in his hometown of Tver, Russia.
Afanasyev was 3 years old at the time but the session left a lasting impression.
"I started playing hockey because of [Kovalchuk]," Afanasyev said. "He's from Tver like me and I just remember the hockey stick he was holding and wanted that stick. It was during the 2003-04 season."
[RELATED: Full 2019 NHL Draft coverage]
Kovalchuk, who at the time was playing for the Atlanta Thrashers, was selected No. 1 in the 2001 NHL Draft. He's currently playing for the Los Angeles Kings.
"He was just showing us skills and I was there with my dad and I asked my dad to buy me a stick like Kovy's," he said. "I didn't know anything about sticks at that age, but I just wanted a stick since I saw Kovy had one. I was hooked on hockey from that day."
He might not use the same stick, but Afanasyev certainly has the look of a young Kovalchuk at times.
"He has that body (6-foot-3, 204 pounds) and core that would make you think he's just a power forward, but he has that small player skill too," David Gregory of NHL Central Scouting said. "He can go over you, dangle you and make you look silly and has really good hockey sense."
The left wing is No. 16 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters; he moved up three spots from the midterm ranking in January.
"He's a shooter and shows good speed off the wing," Greg Rajanen of Central Scouting said. "He can beat you off the rush and he'll also beat you by driving hard to the net and is never shy about shooting the puck. With his size he can also protect the puck."
Afanasyev began climbing the development ladder in Russia, but because he always was one of the biggest players in his age group, decided to begin learning the game in North America. He moved with his mother to Farmington Hills, Michigan, in 2016 and played for the Little Caesars Under-16 team where he was coached by one of the most prolific shooters in NHL history, Brian Rolston, in 2016-17.
"Rolston definitely was big on the release of your shot and getting it off quickly," Afanasyev said. "He was on the ice with us a lot and sometimes he even played scrimmages with us. I always tried take something from him. He's a legend for me.
"Right now I'd say my shot, my release and the way I can see the ice are by best assets."
Afanasyev was selected in the 10th round (No. 156) of the 2017 USHL draft by Muskegon, where he has developed his game the past two seasons. This season he was 10th in the league with 62 points (27 goals, 35 assists) in 58 games, a big jump from the 14 points he had last season.
"For me it was all about hard work in the summer and for 2 1/2 months I was grinding with really no days off," Afanasyev said. "I was working out five days per week, skating with a skills coach, and going as hard as I could to make sure I had a good season. I'm happy the way things turned out."
Afanasyev de-committed to Michigan State University two months ago and remains undecided on where he'll play next season. Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League owns his Canadian Hockey League rights after acquiring them in a trade with Ottawa on Dec. 4, 2018.
"Whichever (NHL) team drafts me will steer me in the right direction," he said. Afanasyev had 27 interviews with NHL clubs at the NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo last month.
Said Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting: "Everything about Egor says NHL. His size, speed, smarts and the way he competes, battles and produces."
Listen: New episode of NHL Draft Class presented by adidas