FlamesNation Player Evaluations: Riley Bruce, Rushan Rafikov

Ah, the late rounds of the draft. Where you don’t expect much but if you find something, hey, that’s always neat. At this point, though, you probably aren’t going to get much. 

In two of the past three seasons, the Flames have chosen some defencemen in the seventh round. We covered John Gilmour a bit already; now, let’s talk about behemoth Riley Bruce, and Russian Rushan Rafikov.

Season summary

Well, in his first year since being drafted, Bruce not only wore an alternate’s ‘A’, but also majorly upped his offence. One goal and 11 points through 52 games doesn’t sound impressive, not even for a defenceman – but that one goal was the first of his OHL career after three seasons, and prior to this year, he’d only ever put up seven assists total. So this was somewhat of an explosion for Bruce. His 50 shots on net weren’t bad, either.

He also added a goal in the playoffs as the Battalion made it to the second round – the second playoff goal of his career, and third point.

The important thing to remember regarding Bruce is he’s 6’6, 207 lbs., won’t turn 19 until July, and was a seventh round pick. Any hint of potential he shows is just gravy. 

Rafikov, meanwhile, spent the majority of his season in the KHL. He played 16 games for Yaroslavl Lokomotiv and another 17 with Vladivostok Admiral. He put up two assists with Vladivostok; that was pretty much it for his scoring on the year.

Impact on team

While Bruce had a good offensive year for Bruce, he was still sixth in scoring out of all North Bay Battalion defencemen – though just two points back of fourth place – and his 50 shots were seventh regarding the team’s defenders.

Still, he did play 52 games, which was the fourth most on the Battalion blueline – and being entrusted with a letter shows a clear sign of leadership. For as much as Bruce probably isn’t going to score, at least he’s a regular part of a team that put together a pretty decent season and won a playoff round.

With Rafikov, it’s important to note that while he was at the bottom of his teams regarding offence, he did only just turn 21 on May 15. He’s still a kid, only now he’s playing in a men’s league. Development takes time, and he still has the potential to get there.

It’s hard to truly judge him, though, as the only time we’ve really seen him was when he played in the World Juniors, helping the Russians to a silver medal in 2015 as he took on a top role in their defensive group.

What comes next?

These guys are longshots to make the NHL, so there’s no need to stress over them and their futures: any success is pure bonus.

Bruce will go back to the Battalion and, at 19, will be one of their older defencemen, and likely continued leader. Maybe he’ll up his scoring again, maybe he’ll fall back; either way, as long as puts in a solid season, he should be good. He could be a candidate to play an overage year in the OHL the year after, but that’s still a fair bit of time off.

Rafikov is another question all together. It’s good to see he spent most of his year in the KHL, even if he only got 33 games in. Probably the only thing to do at this point is watch from afar and hope he can take on a bigger role, but it’s not even clear at this point if he’ll ever be able to come to North America. 

Playing in the KHL may be better for him at this point in time than the AHL, anyway. If he one day comes over, he’s found money; if not, he was a seventh round pick, and it didn’t hurt to take a chance on him.

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  • KiLLKiND

    Hopefully wearing an A is indicative of how Bruce works while off the ice. I do think that some bigger players do take longer to develop and at this point it’s looking like for a 7th he wasn’t a horrible pick. That being said, even defensive defensemen in the NHL put up points in the CHL.

    As for Rafikov, I think he shows more potential than Bruce, the main question is whether he will ever come across to North America. Which I am starting to doubt he will, he isn’t looking NHL bound and why would he give up playing in his home country in their highest league, for the AHL, or even ECHL?

  • beloch

    I’m a fan of picking shrimps in the later rounds because they’re often overlooked due to their size, while behemoths tend to be overlooked for reasons that are more valid. That being said, defenders are harder to get a solid read on at their first draft, so taking a hulking D in the late rounds isn’t the worst thing you can do.

    Rafikov is a kid I’d like to see come over and spend some time in the AHL. The KHL is a great league, but it might be better for his development to get more ice-time in a slightly easier league.

  • freethe flames

    Is this the end of this series on Flames prospects with little to no chance of making the team next year?

    Can we now have a series on players likely to be available at 35, 54, 56, and 66? This is the key part of the draft for this organization and instead of discussing guys who might drop lets talk about guys who are likely to be in these areas. If a higher ranked player drops you always take the BPA(unless there is a massive red flag that has been identified). What really matters is IDing the right guys with this bevy of picks. In the past our second round picks have not developed very quickly or have been completely traded away under the Sutter era.

    The Flames need to use these picks effectively or trade them away for need. Wishful thinking will not get it done. These 4 picks could go a long way into either filling the cupboards long term or helping the team now. I’m excited to see what gets done with them.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Rafikov is good, but doesn’t seem that interested in coming over.

    He isn’t exactly chomping at the bit. He says he didn’t even watch the draft, and didn’t know he was drafted until people were congratulating him the next day.

    Since then, he hasn’t made it over for any development camps or training camps as far as I recall.

    I think the kid may actually have NHL talent, but I think it’s pretty clear we’re the side-show for him.