Is The KHL Wrong For Rushan Rafikov?

One of the most interesting prospects in the Calgary Flames system, to me, is Rushan Rafikov. He was originally drafted by the organization in the seventh (and final) round of the 2013 NHL Draft. Since being selected in that draft, he’s only come over to North America a couple of times for tournaments and is the only prospect in the organization yet to attend any kind of Flames camp.

He has instead been developed in the Russian system, most recently signing a two-year contract with the other team that drafted him, the KHL’s Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.. I’m not sure that was a great decision on his part.

So, Rushan Rafikov was a pretty good Russian junior player. He was drafted – which is relatively rare for Russians nowadays given the unclear nature of the NHL/Russia transfers – and represented his country at several U18 and U20 events. Among his peer age group, he’s one of the better Russian defenders, and has worn a letter at several international events – including last winter’s World Junior tournament.

In his Draft-Plus-One season (2013-14), he stayed with Loko Yaroslav, his junior team, and put up good numbers for the MHL. In his Draft-Plus-Two season (2014-15), it was determined that he was too good for the MHL but not yet good enough for the KHL – plus he was just 19 years old – so he was loaned to HK Ryazan in the VHL, the secondary Russian pro league. (Basically the Russian AHL.) Again, he put up good numbers, albeit in a league with questionable talent levels.

So this season, he finally cracked the line-up of the KHL team.

And he’s barely played.

So here’s the deal; KHL teams typically dress seven or eight defenders per game, and right now Lokomotiv is carrying 10 and rotating guys in and out of the line-up.

Here’s the Lokomotiv blueline group right now.

Player Age GP
Vladislav Gavrikov 19 12
Rushan Rafikov 20 7
Pavel Koledov 20 20
Ilya Lyubushkin 21 22
Kirill Maslov 21 4
Mikhail Grigoryev 24 11
Mikhail Pashnin 26 18
Patrik Hersley 29 22
Staffan Kronwall 32 22
Ilya Gorokhov 38 21

When Rafikov has dressed, he’s only really played for five or six minutes per game.

If the issue is age, I’m not sure what’s happening because both Gavrikov (who’s younger) and Koledov (who’s the same age) have played more than Rafikov. If the issue is that he’s an NHL pick, then that’s kind of dumb, because Rafikov is a KHL prospect too and it’s in their best interests to develop him into a good player.

If it’s an injury, we haven’t heard anything about it, because it’s Russia.

(Aside: Ask Book of Loob how it was writing a Rafikov prospect bio when the player’s barely set foot in North America.)

Signing in Russia might have been a calculated gamble for Rafikov. He’d get to stay home and develop, and it’s not like the Flames had much prospect depth at his position. Oh wait, you mean they spent the summer amassing a bunch of depth at defense? (See: Kenney Morrison, Jakub Nakladal, Oliver Kylington and Rasmus Andersson) Whoops.

Rafikov is a young player on a good KHL team. He’s going to be part of a pretty good playoff run, most likely, but he’ll probably barely play (if the first 22 games of the season are any indication). If he wants to develop some notoriety and make some money in Russia, he probably bet on the right horse. But if he wants to develop as a rounded player and maybe make the jump to the NHL, he’s making it tougher on himself.

By the time Rafikov’s KHL deal is up, he’ll be 22 and it’ll be 2017. The prospects that Rafikov will need to fight in Calgary for spots? They’ll have spent time on North American ice, in Flames camps, and otherwise developing and progressing, and becoming familiar with Flames coaches, management and their expectations for young players.

And Rafikov? Well, let’s hope that his KHL team lets him play eventually. Because at this rate, I strongly doubt he becomes a Flame, or even a North American prospect of note. He’s “just” a seventh rounder, but given the success the Flames have had deep in drafts recently, it seems like a waste to let a talent like Rafikov wither on the vine.

  • RedMan

    It doesn’t really matter what we think of this kid anymore. He is now simply an asset that we can peddle to someone else, maybe.

    The Flames went out and got Morrison and Nakladal at the end of last season or during the offseason and they may make the team some day.

    They then went and acquired Dougie, and drafted Phat Ras and Kyllington, all of whom are either playing or project really well.

    The team has previously drafted Hickey, Culkin and Kulak and one of those guys is currently playing for the Flames and he was probably not the guy any of us would have picked as the first to “make it” (and maybe he still hasn’t).

    Rafikov, whatever his skills or developmental issues or non-issues is so far down the depth chart it’s more likely we’ll see guys not even mentioned above, like Sieloff and Kanzig in Flames silks first.

    Don’t fall in love with the asset. See if Detroit or some other team with an in into Russia wants him.