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.
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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