Once steering clear of Russians, two-way centreman Ilya Nikolayevwas the second in the wave of Russian players selected over the past three NHL Drafts. The 6’0″, 192-pound left-hand shot has been touted for playing a well rounded, 200 foot brand of hockey.
He is FlamesNation’s 13th-ranked prospect of 2020.
How did we get here
The product of Yaroslavl has played most of his hockey close to home. He suited up for Lokomotiv in both the U16 and U17 Russian leagues. His 17-year-old season was filled with a ton of hockey as he saw ice in the MHL, the NMHL, and represented Russia internationally.
In his draft year, he collected 25 points in 41 games in the top Russian junior league and had strong showings at the international level, playing with the likes of Vasily Podkolzin serving as a playmaker. Nikolayev amassed 22 points in total games with Russia’s U18 clubs.
The Flames snagged him in round three last year. He began the 2020-21 campaign with Loko Yaroslavl before turning pro with Buran in the VHL (Russia’s second-highest league).
Here's my favourite Ilya Nikolaev (Calgary Flames) play from the season. He slips through traffic, attacks the slot, and then works and give-and-go for the finish. His skating needs work, but no doubt he's got a fascinating package of hands, vision, and shooting. pic.twitter.com/qHJejJ35tF
— Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown) June 22, 2019
Stats, numbers, and everything therein
There certainly wasn’t anything spectacular about Nikolayev’s offensive production in his D-0 and D+1 years in the MHL. At 17 he ranked 21st in scoring among all U18 skaters. Last season he ranked 44th in scoring amongst U19 skaters.
The high-end offensive production hasn’t been there for Nikolayev but his game is geared more towards defending. At the junior level, Loko utilized and relied on him at 5v5 and for killing penalties. That factors into his lower point totals.
However, his even strength and primary production in the MHL are notable and encouraging. 16 of his 17 tallies last year were at even strength and 42 of his 57 total points over the last two seasons in junior were of the primary and even strength variety.
|LEAGUE||SEASON||GP||EV Goals||Total Goals||EV Primary Points||Total Points|
Nikolayev got off to a nice start this year with Loko putting up 13 points in 12 games earning a pro league spot with Buran in the VHL. He took few games to get acclimated but has lit the lamp four times over the last six games.
— Dylan Griffing (@Dylan_Griffing) September 10, 2020
With Buran, he’s seeing plenty of ice and getting powerplay time. He’s making it count with three of his four goals coming on the man advantage.
— Dylan Griffing (@Dylan_Griffing) November 8, 2020
— Dylan Griffing (@Dylan_Griffing) November 10, 2020
Those in the know
Dylan Griffing, a European scout for Dobber Prospects, (and a must-follow on Twitter for Russian league news and analysis) characterized Nikolayev’s game:
Bottom-six, two-way center who typically also acts as the main playmaker for his unit. He’s often put alongside younger players (Yeremei Shumilin, Alexander Perevalov, etc.) to bring added experience to the line. He’s also a strong penalty killer for Loko.
As for his overall performance, Griffing emphasized the need for Nikolayev to find a way to be consistently impactful and make better choices in the offensive zone:
He needs to become more consistent. He struggles to go on multi-game streaks of playing well and finds himself disappearing in games. His decision making in the offensive zone is also a major area of weakness, as well as one of the biggest factors of his lack of consistency. He fails to make the right plays, which, as a playmaker, leads to intercepted passes and unforced errors. He could also work on his shot, as it isn’t very dangerous due to the lack of power behind it.
On the horizon
Nikolayev’s deal with Lokomotiv will expire at the conclusion of 2021. Most likely we will see him in North America in some capacity following this season.
He’s a tougher prospect to get a handle on. He is esteemed for his defensive game and playmaking but struggled to make significant strides last season. There are still parts of his game that need work, however, his strong start with Loko leading to a VHL call up is a great sign. He’s proven to be an impactful two-way skater 5v5, has been relied upon to kill penalties, and is showing some offensive improvement with his power-play tallies this year. He’ll need to find consistency in all situations and further develop his defensive game and playmaking abilities at the pro level. Hopefully, the now 19-year-old can keep the ball rolling with Buran and turn his strong start into a strong season.
It will also be interesting to see if he sees any consideration for the Russian WJC team in 2021. He had some solid showings in international competition. It seems unlikely at this point, but perhaps he gets a shot.
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) June 22, 2019
FlamesNation Top 20 Prospects 2020
|The no-votes||Missed the cut|
|#20: Tyler Parsons||#19: Alexander Yelesin|
|#18: Ryan Francis||#17: Martin Pospisil|
|#16: Luke Philp||#15: Eetu Tuulola|
|#14: Johannes Kinnvall|