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Top Russian prospects prefer NHL to KHL

by Mike G. Morreale

Craig Button, current NHL broadcast analyst and former executive, was asked recently if the "Russian Factor" still plays a significant role at the NHL Draft.

"Only if you want to be blind, dumb and stupid," Button told "It would be one thing if you had this enormous talent pool (from Russia), but there's not an enormous talent pool."

Publicly, general managers and scouts are in agreement. Privately, ask any top player with Russian ties entering the 2012 draft and they'll admit there were a few questions regarding their preference of league (NHL or KHL) during the team interview sessions at the Scouting Combine.


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"All the teams asked me about this," expected first-round draftee Mikhail Grigorenko of the Quebec Remparts said. "I understand why they're concerned about this, but I told them I will not go there (to the KHL) for sure."

There are four players with Russian ties who might be selected in the opening round of the draft, to be held June 22 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh: forwards Grigorenko and Sarnia Sting teammates Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk, and goalie Andrei Vasilevski.

"I told [my parents] that since I was a little kid my dream was to play in the NHL and win a Stanley Cup," Galchenyuk said. "It's not to play in the KHL and Gagarin Cup. I think I want to be a great player in the NHL and play against the best players."

Galchenyuk's comments are precisely the reason Button feels the Russian Factor is no longer applicable.

"When the KHL came into play, they really wanted to get their players … Alexander Radulov went back, but he's one guy," Button said. "There have been so many great Russians who have come over and played in the NHL and so many more that want to come here and challenge themselves in the best league in the world.

"I admire the KHL and the Russians for saying, 'Hey, we have pride in our league,' but the best league is the NHL, and it's not even close."

Edmonton Oilers head amateur scout Stu MacGregor seems tired of answering questions regarding the preference of each Russian eligible for the draft.

"The Russian Factor is nothing," MacGregor told "If a player is a good player, he's a good player. Players are in the Czech league that remain in the Czech league, so you have to ask that question of anyone [in their draft year]. There are also times when players here in North American will wind up in the KHL. I think this whole Russian Factor is not a factor at all."

Button mentioned that Phoenix Coyotes forward Mikkel Boedker of Denmark, Colorado Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog of Sweden, and 2012 draft-eligible forward Radek Faksa of Czech Republic all played hockey for the Kitchener Rangers in the Ontario Hockey League before being drafted.

"There's three different players from three different countries," Button said. "If you have a good program and good coaching, players want to come because they know that they're getting the coaching to prepare them for the NHL. So, if you want to factor in the nationality or the passport, do it at your peril because there have been an overwhelming majority of players who have come to play in the NHL. There's also been great Russians in our League and there are more to come."

Galchenyuk, born in Milwaukee, Wis., had this assessment when asked one final time about the Russian Factor during the Combine:

"As a GM or scout, if you see the guy is a good player, then he should be drafted," he said. "Obviously there is a KHL factor to it, and some players may go to the KHL and teams are scared of that. That's what the NHL Combine is for … to make sure they have intentions to play in the NHL and not the KHL."

Yakupov said, "My way is to work hard and play hard and I don't think about money and don't think about (the) KHL because, for me, the NHL is first. I don't know why you guys talk about (a) Russian Factor."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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