Today, we’re going to double down, crack some enigmas, and take a look at the seasons of Pavel Karnaukhov and Rushan Rafikov and what the future could hold for them.
A quick history
With their fifth round pick in the 2015 draft, the Flames picked their first prospect from their own backyard by selecting Karnaukhov. An import from Belarus, it was believed that the two-way centre flew under the radar while adjusting to the North American game. He suffered from streaky play, but when he was on, he was on. He had high potential, and with a fifth round pick, why not? He struggled in his second year, often times injured, still streaky, and unable to break into the top six.
Primed for a second chance at becoming the Hitmen’s guy, he left for home, having received a good offer from the powerhouse Red Army. Karnaukhov bounced around the various rungs of the organization, too good for the MHL (Russia’s ECHL, kind of), a little bit too good for the VHL (Russia’s AHL), but not good enough for the KHL. He represented Russia twice this season, heading to Canada for the CHL Series and then heading back a month later to win WJC bronze.
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It’s kind of hard to get a grip on Karnaukhov’s performance because he bounced around a lot. He only played 36 professional games this year, nowhere close to the average workload (KHL has 60 games, VHL 50). He came to Canada for two short international stints one month apart, so he played very minimal hockey from November to mid-January-ish.
As a result, this chart is kind of useless. There is one main takeaway though: Pavel Karnaukhov is sort of the Garnet Hathaway of CSKA Moscow.
Karnaukhov’s mostly a fourth liner for the big team, and a first liner for the junior team. He’s on that cusp between the two where you’d figure he’d be a really effective player in one league, but is not even close to the same level. They even have the same weird winning thing, with CSKA going 13-1 in games Karnaukhov plays in.
All in all, he’s just a guy. He’s a year and a half away from being something at the KHL level, so even more if he should ever make the NHL level.
And that’s kind of the main problem.
Karnaukhov crossing the pond kills the meaningful link between him and the Flames. Even though they own his rights for two more years, why would he come back to be an AHLer, even if the pay was better? He’s got life set: he’s a highly touted prospect on the perennially great and historic CSKA Red Army team. There’s no real reason to leave that unless the offer is too good to turn down. From the way he’s trending, there’s no way anyone makes him that offer.
He’s going to have a career in Russia; godspeed to him.
A quick history
Rafikov has the odd distinction of being the second European and second last player drafted by Jay Feaster. Taken in the seventh round of the 2013 draft, he was kind of a promising guy that had performed well at the Ivan Hlinka tournament and had not-bad stats in Russia’s MHL.
He spent his draft +1 year in the same league, doubling his points output. Rafikov then got bumped up to VHL, where he took another leap forward, scoring at just about a 0.5 PPG pace (and adding a WJC silver medal). His draft +3 year saw him get his first taste of the KHL, though he struggled heavily. He moved up and down between all three leagues, registering a career low three points in 40 games across all competitions.
This year, Rafikov hunkered down and secured a spot on Lokomotiv’s congested blueline, playing a steady, safe game on the second and third pairings with occasional PP and PK time.
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Relative to his team, Rafikov was pretty good. He was third on Lokomotiv for defensive scoring (though he would probably be fourth if Forever a Flame Jakub Nakladal played a full season) and 13th in total scoring.
Here’s why Rafikov’s name is popping up again in conversation: he had a big season in the next best thing to the NHL.
Rafikov was steady throughout most of the season, and probably better than what his final NHLe says about him. The big takeaway is that he jumped far, far away from how he was performing in 2015-16. There are also no major red flags like high shooting percentage or powerplay time that should scare you away. Rafikov had a good season, plain and simple.
The Flames only hold the rights to Rafikov until June 1, and then he’s fair game.
Unlike Karnaukhov, there’s still a chance the Flames nab him. But like Karnaukhov, there’s a lot of reasons holding him back.
Rafikov has never attended a dev camp (not for lack of trying: had visa issues two years in a row) and, until now, hasn’t really been a prospect worth signing. The Flames now have a ton of spots open after this season, presuming (hoping) they don’t sign Michael Stone, Dennis Wideman, or Deryk Engelland again. One of those will likely be filled by Kulak, leaving two up for grabs. That’s an enticing offer for Rafikov to come over.
But why would the team do it? He’s going to have to adjust to North America, and throwing him into the NHL to do so isn’t optimal or recommended. Remember that he only just became a regular KHLer. He would have to start in the AHL, which deters him from coming over. The team would also probably like if their younger defenders got playing time ahead of Rafikov, so there’s no real reason they would badly want to bring him over. If he doesn’t work out, he’s clogging up the system.
I can definitely see the Flames making a play for Rafikov, but it’s still unlikely. The team already has a healthy amount of young defensive depth, and he can certainly add to that, but there’s still some major risk involved that I think the team would prefer avoiding.