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Intrigue surrounds top Russian prospects at Combine

by Mike G. Morreale

TORONTO -- Who will be the first Russian-born hockey player selected at the 2014 NHL Draft next month at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia?

There are three Russians at the NHL Scouting Combine this week, including forwards Ivan Barbashev and Vladimir Tkachev of the Moncton Wildcats in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and left wing Vladislav Kamenev of Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the Kontinental Hockey League.

All three are considered high-end prospects.

Barbashev is No. 18 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of the top North American skaters eligible for the 2014 draft. The 6-foot, 180-pound left-hand shot had 25 goals and 68 points in 48 games for Moncton this season.

Ivan Barbashev had 25 goals and 68 points in 48 games for Moncton this season. (Photo: Daniel St. Louis)

Tkachev (5-9, 141), No. 60 on Central Scouting's final list of North American skaters, had 10 goals and 30 points in 20 games. Taken No. 39 in the 2013 Canadian Hockey League import draft, Tkachev got a late start this season while he awaited his IIHF transfer and Canadian visa. Once that happened, Moncton coach Darren Rumble had him on a line with Barbashev and the two found immediate chemistry.

Rumble said Barbashev and Tkachev offer two different styles. Barbashev is more the North American-style player who enjoys contact in the corners and battles for pucks. The diminutive Tkachev, meanwhile, is a strong two-way player. Rumble felt they complemented each other well.

Barbashev led the team with 10 points (four goals, six assists) in six playoff games. Tkachev was first with seven goals (nine points) and a plus-6 rating.

Two other Russian-born players invited but unable to attend the NHL Combine were No. 15-ranked Nikita Scherback (28 goals, 78 points) of the Saskatoon Blades in the Western Hockey League and No. 24 Nikolay Goldobin (38 goals, 94 points) of the Sarnia Sting in the Ontario Hockey League.

Despite an earlier Combine invite, Scherback and Goldobin were unable to obtain the required Canadian visa in time for travel.

Of all the Russians eligible for the draft, Kamenev would seem to be the most curious. He plays overseas in the KHL and is under contract for two more seasons through 2015-16.

There's no doubt Kamenev (6-2, 203), No. 13 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of the top international skaters eligible for the 2014 draft, is a top-end talent. He's projected as a future first-line player with a good chance of playing in the NHL with further development.

Where that development takes place is the question.

"I want to come here next season and my agent is currently in talks with team management in Magnitogorsk and I hope they will let me come here," Kamenev told through interpreter Natalia Taran.

Rostyslav Saglo, who serves as Kamenev's agent in the KHL, confirmed for that conversations have been ongoing with Magnitogorsk with regard to his contract. He said a decision should be rendered within the week.

"We are working on the termination of his contract and Vlad does want to play in North America next year in order to get closer to his dream of playing in NHL," Saglo wrote in an email. "We believe that he'll get a better development and more ice time on your side of the ocean, which is crucial at his age."

NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb feels Kamenev is worth the risk on draft day.

Don't forget, 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. All Nichushkin did in his rookie season was score 14 goals and 34 points with a plus-20 rating in 79 regular-season games, and one goal and two points in six games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"Vlad is very skilled and seems to have the right attitude," Stubb said. "He is under [former NHL coach] Mike Keenan in Magnitogorsk."

Kamenev, who lists Evgeni Malkin and former NHL star Sergei Fedorov as his two favorite Russian players, had one goal in 16 games with Magnitogorsk in 2013-14.

"My most memorable moment of my hockey life so far was playing in my first game in the KHL, the top Russian league," he said. "I was so excited."

Perhaps a more memorable moment for those unfamiliar with Kamenev was his performance at the IIHF Under-18 World Junior Championship, when he served as Russian 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."


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