FlamesNation Prospect Profile: #20 Rushan Rafikov

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Well, Citizens, we’re into August, which is a wonderful time to be alive as a human. But if you’re a hockey fan, every day is grueling fresh hell until AT LEAST mid-September, as those last wretched few days before training camp begins slowly wilt away, a fading memory aptly correspondent to a season that encourages fading memories.

As far as the blog game goes, it is THE PITS. Content is at a premium (you may have noticed all the pieces inviting you to re-live prior seasons in which your Calgary Flames toiled in over the past decade. Don’t worry, I didn’t read those either). But fear not, fellow work procrastinators, the mighty Flames Nation has you covered, as today we begin our fabled Top 20 Prospect Profile, where we go deep on the best young talent this organization has to offer.

Your boy Flooby is up first. I’ll be profiling young Rushan Rafikov in the number 20 spot. If there’s anything you’ve ever wanted to know about the Russian defender, well boy howdy, uh, you’re still going to have to wait, because the goods on Rafikov are so tightly under wrap that I felt like I was going back under the Iron Curtain to obtain it.

Stylin’ and Profilin’

Before we delve into our Rafikov sketch in any depth, perhaps it would be prudent to set the table for what to expect in this Prospect Series.

We’ll be profiling the Top 20 Flames prospects as ranked by all of us at Flames Nation (no easy task, as when we initially did individual rankings of our Top 20, we shared them amongst each other, and there was much, MUCH laughter. In the end we hid the results and we’re only revealing them within each piece of the series). We’re loosely defining a prospect as anyone within the organization who is eligible to win the Calder Trophy (ie. Sam Bennett, you’re in, Johnny Gaudreau, welcome to the NHL Player club)

Our overlord Thomas Drance is expecting us to include heavy analytical data and legitimate journalistic elements, and if you’re wondering a) if I hate this format, yes I do, and b) why they would let me contribute to this given the stated requirements, well, amigos, that much will become clear.

Because as much as I would love to sink my teeth into the meat of Rushan Rafiov’s statistical data, I would have very much preferred to have found it at all.

I hit up the typical reference sites first, and when trying to dig up any information on this past season, these are the sort of meager results I had to work with:

rafikov1

Nice.

No worries, surely EliteProspects will hook me up with the goods. They have player pages for 12 year old Venezuelan Minor League forwards (probably), surely they will give me up to date info on an NHL and KHL drafted defenseman.

rafikov2

Strike 2. Strike 3 was when Hockey Reference also fired blanks. But we’re getting closer. We do know that he was drafted by Yaroslavl of the KHL in 2012 and by the Flames in the 7th round in 2013, and SURELY these guys know what their own players were up to this past season:

rafikov3

And lastly, Rafikov is the one player on the KHL’s Lokomotiv page who does not have a clickable profile link.

Zoinks! If it weren’t for the fact that he’s been an almost prominent member of Russia’s World Juniors defense core, I’d have wondered if Rafikov had played at all this past season. I was getting flashback to the days where we wondered if Tim Harrison was in fact a real person.

In the end, Rushan is indeed a real person because he has a Twitter account and because after doing some digging, I learned that Rafikov played most of last season with HC Ryazan of the Supreme Hockey League, which is more or less the KHL’s developmental league. Rafikov netted himself 18 points in 35 regular games, as well as but 3 points in 5 games in the playoffs, because Ryazan is really not very good.

Maybe. I don’t know.

Unfortunately, as you may have guessed, we don’t have a lot of hard data to go on to predict Rafikov’s value. Given that there seems to be little info on him out there to begin with, coupled with the relatively unknown power of the Supreme League with which we would ideally like to draw comparisons and equivalencies, it’s difficult to objectively assess his chances at NHL success. 

When The Numbers Fail, We Turn To Words

Look, the eye test of journalists and long retired players from bygone eras are not my preferred method of analysis either, but when the data isn’t there, you have to put some faith in what people have seen. I guess.

And what’s encouraging is that, according to The Calgary Sun’s Wes Gilbertson, Craig Conroy, Tod Button (the good Button), and Igor Kravchuk all seem to think they may have something here:

As the Calgary Flames did their homework for the 2013 NHL Draft, director of amateur scouting Tod Button asked Craig Conroy to call up former teammate Igor Kravchuk — a veteran of 750 big-league contests and the head coach of Russia’s under-18 squad that spring — to ask about a handful of potential prospects.

“Out of the blue, (Kravchuk) said ‘Hey, it’s going to be a little while, but this Rafikov guy … ‘ He gave me a couple of other names, but it’s funny how he just brought Rafikov’s name up,” Conroy recalled. “Igor said, ‘I wouldn’t bet against this guy. This guy is going to find his way to the NHL.’ That was the conversation, and I called Tod right after.”

As it turns out, Button had been keeping tabs on Rushan Rafikov, and the Flames’ scouting report on the Russian blueliner — an aggressive, physical sort who needed to improve his skating technique — was in synch with what Kravchuk was saying.

“I’d spoken to Igor a little bit, but Craig being a teammate, I thought he could maybe get a little more information,” Button said. “I asked Craig just to call on (Valeri) Nichushkin. I didn’t even want him to say anything about Rafikov. I wanted to see if he brought him up at all. So Craig called about Nichushkin and Igor told him at the end of the conversation, ‘Hey, there’s a guy you’re missing.’ He mentioned Rafikov to Craig without even asking about him.”

Tod Button has a decent reputation for nosing out talent, and despite my earlier snark it’s a positive sign if some former pros who are still involved in the game are saying the things you’d want them to say about a player. More from Gilbertson:

“He’s an aggressive kid and he wants to make a difference and he wants to make an impact, and if you are that type of player and you get caught out of position and you are not a good skater, then it’s harder for you to recover,” Button said. “For sure, in the last two years, his feet are waaaaaay better. They’re underneath him a lot more. He doesn’t get caught out of position being aggressive as much because he has the ability to recover.

“His puck play is good. His mentality is good. His brain is good. I would say it’s just the physical part of skating and getting stronger and getting his feet underneath him a little bit more.”

Nice to know this team is not in the process of developing a junior Ladislav Smid.

The good people over at Hockey’s Future have similar takes on the blueliner:

Rafikov is a talented Russian defender with an edge to his game who possesses an offensive upside and can generate scoring opportunities from the blue line. He continues to develop his overall game and is working to gain more consistency in his positional play. Rafikov has good puck moving skills and can carry the puck into the offensive zone to set up plays. He has the ideal frame to be an NHL defender but as with many young players will need to add bulk and strength to compete at higher levels.

Sportsnet’s Gare Joyce, however, when evaluating draft picks for Canadian teams during last year’s World Juniors, was a bit more skeptical:

With Sam Bennett injured, the Flames WJC was basically hard-rock Russian defenceman Rushan Rafikov, who look like he has fifth- or sixth-D upside.

So is he a Flame?

Generally speaking, you don’t build up 7th round picks to be everyday contributors in the NHL, and it certainly doesn’t appear at this early glance that Rafikov is going to be any different. In fact, it’s entirely possible he never makes it out to North America at all. Remember, he’s also been drafted into the KHL with Yaroslavl, and by the looks of things, he’s signed on to play there this upcoming season. Both Gilbertson’s piece and the Hockey’s Future blurb indicate he intends to come over to make a go of it with the Flames soon, but he also had the desire to play in the KHL for a while, and he didn’t attend summer camp with the rest of the Flames prospects due to visa issues “and other things” (oooh, lurid!)

It’s definitely not a bad thing for him to try and figure out his game in Russia, as there’s a higher level of competition for him there than there is in the AHL. Much like Auston Matthews taking his talents to Switzerland instead of the OHL, tougher competiton for the 20 year old defenseman might indeed elevate his chances of becoming an NHLer someday, and seeing as the Flames are willing to be patient with Rafikov while he develops, there’s really zero downside to him being over there. Normally I’d have to caution that because of this we should temper our expectations, but I suspect the ones we currently have for him are probably relatively low to begin with. So do what you want, I’m not your dad.

Of course, the elephant in the room here is that if the book on Rafikov is so thin to the point where you wonder if he’s even a real person, isn’t it bad, like really, really bad that he’s still placing among the Top 20 prospects on your beloved Calgary Flames?

Frankly, yes. And in the past, we’d all have a beef, but this year is different, as there is a lot of high end talent up at the top of this list for you as a fan to start salivating over, and those profiles will be coming to you in the coming days. In the meantime, here are some YouTube clips of Rushan Rafikov doing things.

Just kidding, those don’t exist either. Two months to training camp, friends.

  • JumpJet

    How long do the Flames have to sign Rafikov? I know the CHL and NCAA have deals in place that make players free agents after a given period, is it the same with Russian/European leagues?

  • SmellOfVictory

    I liked the piece, but just FYI your eliteprospects screenshot totally has all of Rafikov’s numbers from last season on it. Not sure if that’s a joke I just whooshed on, or what.

    • kind of a little bit. Not to say the past years’ data was inadmissible, it just seemed weird that it was so hard to find any numbers on him for his most recent season, considering he was developing something of a profile and wasn’t injured.

      • RealMcHockeyReturns

        He’s clearly a Cold War era Russian spy so stats are thus obviously not available and he will sneaily “defect” into the country during the WJC in Toronto and Montreal. Then hiding out at Jose Theodore’s place until he catches the almost-ironically-named-in-this-case VIA Train (or perhaps VISA train) to Calgary. To then stay with Miikka Kiprusoff, his supermodel wife and kids, and secretly-addictive “white sugar” that’s not just for the top of Rice Krispies.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    I’m super excited for this series!!

    My top 20

    1. Sam Bennett

    2. Emile Poirer

    3. Jon Gillies

    4. Bill Arnold

    5. Joni Ortio

    6. Tyler Wotherspoon

    7. Brandon Hickey

    8. Oliver Kylington

    9. Kenny Agostino

    10. Ryan Culkin

    11. Morgan Klimchuk

    12. Drew Shore

    13. Kenny Morrison

    14. Mark Jankowski

    15. Austin Carrol

    16. Brett Kulak

    17. Rasmus Anderson

    18. Garnet Hathaway

    19. Mason MacDonald

    20. Rushan Rafikov

    This assumes the graduation of Ferland and Granlund.

    Honorable mentions: Hunter Smith, Keegan Kanzig, Turner Elson, Mangiapane

  • clib542

    I once saw Rafikov play. I’m sure it was the same guy. It was a a Russia vs WHL game, so I’m sure he had to have some sort of visa back then. My only guess is the only visa issues he has now, is not wanting to get one.

    As a former 7th round pick, probably not worth getting too excited or down on, but the biggest thing I noticed was that Rafikov wasn’t that great at skating backwards, not that it is a requirement for defencemen or anything, but he would cheat back to his end to avoid skating backwards in the neutral zone. Not a bad idea to do this to make sure he was back in time, but the problem was, he did this all the time on the powerplay, while his team had possession.

    • I did crude calculations on this and I didn’t even add it to the article because I didn’t think there was any real science to it.

      There’s not much to go on, but I figured it could be argued that the VHL is Russia’s AHL. The AHL has an NHLE of .44 and the KHL has an NHLE of roughly 83. It’s not too much of a stretch to think the VHL has a KHL equivalency equal to the AHL-NHL one.

      So I did the math and it leaves Rafikov with an NHLE somewhere around 15. Which is not bad for someone in their 19 year old season, but it’s not great either.

      And then again, that’s just assuming that the dropoff from the KHL to the VHL is the same as the AHL from the NHL, which I’m not sure that it is.

  • JayCMcG

    Oh man, Kravchuk, that’s a name that takes me back…

    I definitely haven’t been getting my hopes up with this kid but it’s definitely interesting to me that Kravchuk would bring him up like that. That plus the fact he keeps showing up on Russia’s rosters for international tournaments intrigues me.

    The visa thing might just be the circumstances; it’s sometimes easier to get a visa if you have a “leaving the country” date in mind. If it was for the tourny there would’ve been a clear and definite date for him to be out of the country. Just my guess though.

    Either way, entertaining start and looking forward to seeing the rest of the list.

    • JayCMcG

      Or Visa issues could be code for the Russian Hockey Federation has arranged it so that he will not be allowed to leave Russia except under the direct supervision of the Russian Hockey Federation.

  • JayCMcG

    I missed you ol’Flooby.

    Last season was the most impressive by Rafikov by far. It blew the freaking doors off all his seasons in the junior league (MHL).

    That’s a good sign I guess, but the continuing visa issues are… odd.