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Kolyachonok thriving on long road to 2019 NHL Draft

Move from Belarus to North America paying off for defenseman prospect

by Aaron Vickers / NHL.com Correspondent

Every Thursday, NHL.com will look ahead to the 2019 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.

Vladislav Kolyachonok is taking the long and winding road to the 2019 NHL Draft.

Few, literally and figuratively, will travel further to get there.

The native of Minsk, Belarus started his journey when he moved to North America in the summer with the hopes of getting closer to his NHL Draft day at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on June 21-22.

"It was one of the points why I moved," said the 6-foot-1, 184-pound defenseman for Flint of the Ontario Hockey League. "It was lots of opportunity and lots of ice time, lots of chances. There are scouts looking at this league because it's the best league, but I'm not really focused on that, on scouts or the draft."

Kolyachonok's first move, though, wasn't to Flint. He was selected by London in the second round (No. 102) of the Canadian Hockey League Import Draft last June. But the Knights already committed to 2019 draft eligible forward Matvey Guskov and defenseman Adam Boqvist, the No. 8 pick by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2018 NHL Draft, was assigned to London after participating in NHL training camp.

So Kolyachonok was waived and claimed by Flint on Oct. 2. The left-handed shot, who spent his early development in the Dynamo Minsk program in Belarus, has been a great fit for Flint and the Firebirds have been a great fit for him, too.

"I was ready with Boqvist coming back," said Kolyachonok, who has 26 points (four goals, 22 assists) in 47 games. "I didn't give up. I just worked extra. I wasn't really sad or anything like that. I just did everything I could. I worked hard, same as now.

"I love Flint. We're not doing real well right now. But our guys, everybody develops. Everybody grows every day. Everyone's working extra. It's a different world here than back home. I really like it. It's fun, seriously. It's different. Back home it's probably a little quieter."

His perseverance hasn't gone unnoticed on or off the ice.

"From Game One, Kolyachonok's transition to the smaller North America rinks and two-way style of play was seamless," said Karl Stewart of NHL Central Scouting. "Most European players go through an adjustment period but with his elite mobility, speed and a strong understanding of his position, it allowed him to step right in as if he were a seasoned veteran.

"His on-ice composure and off ice maturity beyond his years have no doubt helped with his North American transition, making him one of the best at his position in the 2019 NHL Draft class."

It's gone well, beyond what Flint general manager Barclay Branch could've expected.

"There's always going to be a transition for any player, let alone a player that's moving halfway across the world to play, but [Vladislav] just seems to be adapting really well," Branch said. "He's adapted to the game on the ice. He's adapted to the day-to-day plan overall with our team. He's adapted to that really well. He's adapted to the school part of things, the food, everything. There's a lot of things involved in just the transition for a guy like [Vladislav].

"He's handled it really well. Honestly, I'm surprised at how seamless the transition has been. It's a credit to [Vladislav] and how hard he's worked at it, too. It's been relatively, knock-on-wood, a seamless transition going from a little town in Belarus to playing in North America and the spotlight that comes with playing in the CHL."

The move, personally, has been rewarding for Kolyachonok, who is No. 22 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of North American skaters, but he won't declare his personal move a success. Flint is 12-45-5 and last in the Western Conference of the OHL.

"I don't care about rankings," he said. "I'm just minding my own business. I just work extra (hard). I care about team results, not about if I'm doing good. If the team is doing bad, it means I'm doing bad. I can't say I'm doing really well right now."

The approach and experience in Flint will benefit Kolyachonok in the long run.

"I've worked in the league for over 20 years and I've never come across a guy like him," Branch said.

"It's funny. You think being around that amount of time that you've pretty much experienced every type of person you can experience coming through in that stretch of time. [Vladislav] is so unique. I've never seen anything like it before. That's the thing. He's an extremely driven hockey player. He brings with that his attitude and his work habits."

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