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Photo Credit: Ofsimnupi/Wikimedia Commons

FlamesNation prospect wrap-ups: KHL kids finish season

Welcome to our first prospect wrap-up post. These will all happen in time, as prospect regular seasons begin to end and it is time to look back on the year it was for (potential) future Flames.

Our first wrap up post will target those enigmatic Russians, as they finished the season first. Pavel Karnaukhov and Rushan Rafikov, two late round selections, have both been tabbed as up-and-comings for the Russian system.

Despite the distance, don’t write them off just yet. Being productive overseas does not necessarily mean you are exiled forever and won’t ever make the NHL. Just ask Mark Giordano (but don’t ask Andrei Taratukhin, whose rights still technically belong to the Flames despite being 35 and drafted under Craig Button).

Pavel Karnaukhov – C/LW, CSKA Moscow – KHL, Zvezda – VHL

Background

Karnaukhov was the Flames’ fifth round pick in the 2015 draft, 136th overall. The third ever player picked from the hometown Hitmen, joining the illustrious ranks of Brent Krahn and Wade Davis, Karnaukhov was selected for his burgeoning offensive skill and two-way play. Given that the Flames had plenty of other steals in that draft, it wasn’t too far off to think that Karnaukhov could be another one.

However, after an injury-plagued second year that saw little improvement, he went to the store to get a pack of cigarettes and never came back bolted back across the ocean to take an opportunity with the Red Army team that held his rights. He played a major role in Russia’s bronze win at the 2017 World Juniors and plied his trade through the three levels of the Russian hockey system.

2017-18 story

Karnaukhov was a lot like draft class peer Andrew Mangiapane, in that he appeared to be too good for the junior league but just couldn’t quite stick with the big club. He started off in the VHL, couldn’t stop scoring, but was recalled to the KHL and just dried up. Eventually, CSKA let him be in the VHL, but that was mostly due to his scoring dropping off a cliff. To close out the season, Karnaukhov only registered four points in his last 10 VHL games, a staggering decline from his 29 points in 30 games up to that point.

The numbers

GP G A P Primary Points 5v5 Points 5v5 Primary Points NHLe
KHL 11 0 2 2 2 1 1 11.03
VHL 40 14 19 33 27 21 17 25.71

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Karnaukhov looked great for the majority of the year, but he steadily declined until he was, more or less, at the same place he was last year. He’s a strong primary producer of offence, being the primary contributor on 22.08% of AS goals and 19.22% of 5v5 goals. However, he was also pretty reliant on the powerplay for points production, getting involved (primarily or secondarily) on only 23.75% of 5v5 goals. Last year, that number was 30.43% for Karnaukhov.

He was one of Zvezda’s main offensive contributors (and you feel without the constant back-and-forth between KHL and VHL, he could have time to settle down and get a rhythm going), but his decline in the latter half of the season is concerning. Here was a guy who was scoring lights out and all of a sudden just stopped, be it on the powerplay or at 5v5.

Perhaps that’s why CSKA did not want to keep him around despite some signs of life in the KHL. He’s still a guy who hasn’t perfected the game and is still a bit aways from being a full-blown pro.

The future

Karnaukhov is interesting, to say the least. He’s a guy who has shown an ability to get to the net and distribute the puck, but battles with inconsistency and streakiness (for better or worse), an issue that has dated back to his WHL days. If he can put it all together, he could be a legit pro player. Maybe he sticks around in the big league next year.

But not in North America, as Karnaukhov is unlikely to ever come back across the pond. His contract with CSKA lasts until the 2019-20 season, at which point he’ll no longer be Flames property. He was a no-show at dev camp last year, and will likely be again this year. He might be the Flames’ sixth or seventh best pro centre next year, or maybe their sixth best left winger, so there’s no real incentive to come over. I dunno, maybe he surprises us all. Unlikely to happen.

Rushan Rafikov – D, Yaroslav Lokomotiv – KHL

Background

The second last pick of the Jay Feaster era, Rafikov went 187th overall in the seventh round to the Flames. His Russian career was mostly standard fare: he bounced around between the VHL, MHL, and the KHL, played some stints of international hockey, won a WJC medal, and eventually made some appearances for the senior Russian team. His biggest leap came in 2016-17, when he finally was able to stick around in the KHL.

2017-18 story

Finally an established KHLer, Rafikov looked to improve off of a strong 2016-17 season, when he picked up 12 points in 57 games. He almost nearly did that this year, hitting 11 points in 36 games. Then he got injured in December and we never heard from him again. Shame.

The numbers

GP G A P Primary Points 5v5 Points 5v5 Primary Points NHLe
KHL 36 1 10 11 7 10 6 18.54

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Rafikov had a pretty strong week early in the year which more or less floated his numbers for the majority of his short season, but he was productive in small enough bursts to keep that number high-ish. Given that he was Lokomotiv’s sixth most played regular defenceman by average TOI, and also given that he received next to no powerplay time, his numbers look much better. If he could get healthy and an opportunity to display his skill, he could perhaps put up some mind blowing numbers.

The future

I think Rafikov is probably going to emerge as one of the better KHL defencemen. Even in a truncated season, he finished seventh among U24 KHL defencemen in scoring. He won one of the KHL’s “players of the week” awards earlier in the season, and at age 22, is coming along quite nicely.

He also is likely never coming over. Unless he develops into a can’t miss superstar, I can’t imagine the Flames (who do hold his rights forever, due to a lack of a transfer agreement between the KHL and NHL) show any interest in him given what’s kicking around in the prospect pool.

  • Stu Cazz

    Christian..you say he is probably going to emerge as one of the better KHL defensemen but on the other hand you say that you can’t imagine the Flames showing any interest…..wow! Is that how the Flames should run their development system? Your view on this has loserville written all over it. The Flames must continue to build assets that will give them more options and build from within to be successful especially this year as we are virtually absent at the draft table. Players like Rafikov become more valuable!

    • cjc

      Being one of the better KHL defensemen doesn’t mean very much. They won’t be able to convince Rafikov to come over with AHL time, and they have three defencemen who are younger and better. I mean, the Flames are interested, but if a deal doesn’t materialize then there isn’t much they can do about it. It would be the same deal with any other NHL team, except maybe for one with zero defensive prospects.

    • Derzie

      They are wasted picks. No point. They have a legit option to play high level hockey in their home country and are generally not playoff performers (with few exceptions). High risk. Interested to see how Tampa does in the playoffs as a modern case study. Again, there are exceptions that perform.

      • Frank the Nose 👃

        True .how many high level Russian players are there in Canadian teams currently I wonder? It seems like Flames don’t have a good history with players born in Russia.