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Photo Credit: Ofsimnupi/Wikimedia Commons

FlamesNation Prospect Wrap-ups: KHL kids (and a bonus)

With prospect regular seasons ending, it’s time to take stock of what the Flames’ future holds

Today, we review the seasons of those enigmatic prospects playing in the next best thing to the NHL. Technically prospects forever (hello to reserve list hanger-ons Victor Bobrov, Yegor Shastin, Yuri Trubachev, and Rusian Zainullin), the KHLers finished their season first, and will appropriately be the first to get picked apart. There’s a minute chance they ever come over, but they’re (somewhat) intriguing to look at, just in case they do decide to fly halfway across the world.

Also a bonus prospect!

Pavel Karnaukhov – LW/C, CSKA Moscow, KHL

When we last checked in

Karnauhkov began his 2017-18 with a bang, establishing himself as one of the best players in the VHL, Russia’s equivalent of the AHL. He was firing on all cylinders, providing Zvezda with all the offence the team needed. Eventually, he earned a serious look at the KHL level, playing 11 games for CSKA.

Then things kind of came crashing down, ending a promising beginning with a splat. His KHL call-ups were mostly press box duty and limited minutes. It took a serious toll on his VHL performances, which regressed heavily to the point where his numbers were very similar to his rookie season.

2018-19 story

Karnaukhov began his year in the same place as he did the year before: bouncing between VHL and KHL due to a lack of a defined role in the KHL. Eventually, he stuck with CSKA, playing in just over half of all possible games for the big club. As a fourth line centre, he didn’t make much noise, but was generally good enough to stick around in the rotation on a nightly basis. He saw a few minutes of powerplay and penalty kill time, too.

Numbers & Growth

League GP G A P 5v5 points Primary points 5v5 P1 NHLe TOI/g
2018-19 KHL 33 3 6 9 8 8 7 17.98 12:23
2017-18 KHL 11 0 2 2 1 2 1 11.03 8:39
2017-18 VHL 40 14 19 33 21 27 17 25.71 19:04

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We’re mostly focusing on Karnaukhov’s KHL period, as it’s where he spent the majority of his year. Again, it wasn’t anything spectacular, but he was a helping hand more often than a burden on his team.

Relative to the rest of the KHL youngsters, Karnaukhov fares pretty well. Among the 72 U22 KHLers who played more than 20 games (about a third of the KHL season), he ranks 11th in points per game. That’s certainly in the upper-tier of young KHLers, but doesn’t point to much of an NHL future.

If you consider two of the most hyped KHL youngsters, 19-year-old Kristian Vesalainen (0.55 ppg) and 21-year-old Kirill Kaprizov (0.89 ppg), Karnaukhov (0.27 ppg) isn’t even in the same category as them. He’s good in the KHL, but projecting him in the NHL is much less promising.

What next?

He’s certainly one of Russia’s up-and-coming youngsters, but given the Flames’ prospect depth, there’s really no space for him in the NHL. Karnaukhov is still under contract until 2019-20, so he can’t come over until next year anyway, so the question is moot. He should probably have another year of steady growth, but nothing spectacular.

Rushan Rafikov – LHD, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, KHL

When we last checked in

After finishing his first full year in the KHL, Rafikov looked to build upon a steady rookie season and hit bigger highs in his second KHL year. He wasn’t spectacular, but he did make some major improvements, solidifying himself on Lokomotiv’s second pairing. He was named the KHL’s defenceman of the week once, and he nearly bested his rookie points total – falling short by one point – but also had 21 fewer games to work with due to an injury that ended his season prematurely.

2018-19 story

Mostly the same as 2017-18. Rafikov spent the entire year as a second/third pairing option, but saw increased time and production on special teams. His PP and SH contributions were some of his best work, contributing three goals on the man advantage and adding another two shorthanded.

Numbers & Growth

League GP G A P 5v5 points Primary Points 5v5 P1 NHLe TOI/g
2018-19 KHL 48 5 9 14 8 10 6 19.23 16:55
2017-18 KHL 36 1 10 11 10 7 6 18.54 16:29

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Again, just about the same as last year. His numbers aren’t really that exciting, and they are actually a bit disappointing given that he played 33% more games. Rafikov clearly did make an improvement on special teams, but his 5v5 numbers stayed in neutral, which is never good. Rafikov has never been known as a scorer, but he’s also not trusted with heavy minutes for Lokomotiv, so it’s hard to argue that his defensive upside is really worth chasing after.

Relative to U24 defenders, he is fifth in total points and tied for seventh in points per game, which is not nothing. He might be one of the better young defencemen in the KHL, but given his cohorts, it’s not likely that translates to any NHL success. KHL defenders who become serviceable NHL defenders are generally more successful at a younger age, or even just forego the KHL completely and are already proving themselves in various junior North American leagues.

What next?

Even if you consider Rafikov an intriguing figure, you also have to admit that he’s a redundant one, too. The Flames aren’t particularly short of young defencemen, as the entirety of their future blueline is younger than Rafikov and are almost certainly better right now. The only advantage Rafikov has over said future blueline is the number of high-level games played.

The most likely option is that he stays in Russia forever. The Flames’ big three prospect defencemen all have serious shots at making the club next season. With four other established vets (and Oscar Fantenberg, depending on what they do with him), where does the 23-year-old okay KHLer with no NHL experience fit in?

Mitchell Mattson – LW, Michigan State Spartans, NCAA (Big 10)

Although not playing in the KHL, I’m also including Mattson in this article for reasons that are going to be very clear soon.

When we last checked in

Mattson has always been a project player to the extreme. He was well regarded in US amateur scouting circles, having racked up points in Minnesota’s tough high school leagues and earning himself a commitment to the hockey factory of the University of North Dakota, but was headed to the USHL post-draft to work on completing his game. There was a lot of talk about his potential in his scouting reports, but just as much talk about his rawness and need to develop.

Things started going off the rails soon after. His first full year in the USHL was not as productive as one would hope, but it seemed that he would still head to UND and start his NCAA career in 2017-18.

That also didn’t happen. Mattson went back to the USHL for a second year and moved from UND to Michigan State. His 2017-18 season was less productive than his first year, a step backwards that could only signify his NHL career was circling the drain before he even left junior hockey.

2018-19 story

The story here is that there is no story: Mattson barely played.

There weren’t any injuries. There weren’t any NCAA holdups. He just wasn’t good enough to crack the lineup for 22 of 36 games. Michigan State isn’t a powerhouse school loaded with talent either; they went 12-19-5 this season. Time after time, his coaches didn’t think he could help MSU’s slim chances just a little bit.

Numbers & Growth

League GP G A P 5v5 points Primary points 5v5 p1 NHLe
2017-18 USHL 53 9 12 21 16 19 14 9.1
2018-19 NCAA 14 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Mattson’s USHL numbers were nothing outstanding, and his NCAA numbers less so. If you’re looking for any numbers, he had nine shots on goal and was a -8 in his 14 games.

What next?

Well, there’s nowhere to go but up, I guess. Mattson could finally put it all together and maybe do something but it’s very, very hard to be hopeful for a 20-year-old freshman who gets healthy scratched by one of the poorer NCAA teams. He’ll have more ice time with 2019’s big NCAA free agent Taro Hirose departing, but don’t expect anything big.

  • Beer League Coach

    Per Cap Friendly Bobrov, Shastin, Trubachev, and Zainullin are all 35 or older Russians and are on Flames reserve list indefinitely. Flames do not need extra room on their reserve list but how do we go about removing them from the list. Is it as simple as putting them on irrevocable waivers and cutting them loose? Just a little attention to detail to clean up the paper work for BT. Could also do the same for Linden Vey, Pavel Karnaukhov, and Rushan Rafikov since it is highly unlikely any of them will ever be on the Flames roster again.

  • Harley Hotchkiss’s Ghost

    “Minnesota’s tough high school leagues”

    Are you sure about that?!?!? Kids stay way too long in those leagues and it absolutely kills their development. They should be moving up to the USHL at 16-18 years old, but most of them even go back for a NHL Draft +1 season now at 18-19 years old.

    I used to go down to play Minnesota tournaments when I was in Atom, Peewee AAA and they would easily whip us. Then come 17 years old, all of those kids were no where to be found come the NHL Draft becuase they spent to long playing High School Hockey and all the Western Canada kids I played with all those years ago were getting drafted by NHL Teams. It’s so strange, they don’t want to be NHLers, they just want to win the state tournament. That’s all they care about.