The first round of the 2021 NHL Draft will take place on July 23. Following the results of the draft lottery, the Flames hold the 12th overall selection and will have a chance to add a high-end prospect to their organization.
The Flames haven’t picked a Russian in the first round since they took Oleg Saprykin with the 11th selection of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft. Nikita Chibrikov is a standout winger from Moscow who could break that trend.
Chibrikov is a 5’10”, 172-pound winger who shoots left but — like many Russian forwards — plays primarily on his off-wing, lining up most often on the right side. He’s a hard-working player with quick hands and good top-end speed.
Future Considerations’ draft guide (order it here) describes Chibrikov as a “fantastic skater […] with lightning acceleration and soft hands” who “has fearlessness in his game.”
Give [Chibrikov] too much time and space in open ice and the opposition will have a huge problem on their hands. He has the wheels to beat opponents wide and gain that allimportant separation. He’s also quite an elusive player, able to slow the pace down, shift his weight seamlessly from side-to-side, and deceive defenders with his hands, feet or head movement. He shows poise with the puck on his stick and calmness under pressure. He finds his teammates with passes in motion and can edgework the puck into better shooting lanes. He does a good job of spotting opportunities on offense, finding teammates with crisp cross-ice passes while skating on the perimeter in the offensive zone. He also shows a willingness to go to the front of the net to make himself available for deflections and attempt to screen the opposing goaltender. At both ends of the ice, Chibrikov’s compete level is impressive for the most part, keeping his legs churning and playing aggressively on the forecheck in order to make life difficult on opposing defenders on the breakout.
Writing for The Athletic (paywall), Corey Pronman expressed more reserved sentiments about Chibrikov’s skating ability but nevertheless projected the Russian right-winger as “a top-six forward who will be on an NHL power play.”
Chibrikov impressed early at the junior level this season, earning a quick promotion to playing versus men where he held his own at the VHL and KHL levels and making an appearance with Russia’s senior team. He was also a top scorer at the U18 worlds with 13 points in seven games. He’s undersized and not an amazing skater for his size, but he’s done well versus pros because of his tremendous playmaking ability and his ability to win battles despite his size. He can make slick one-on-one plays, creative plays under pressure and find seams consistently. He’s physical and responsible defensively.
Fellow Athletic contributor Scott Wheeler (paywall) echoed Pronman’s sentiments about Chibrikov’s tenacity while mentioning how he routinely plays up — or down — to the compete level of the opposition.
Where many gifted young prospects play loose, flowing games that rely on hanging onto the puck and often playing away from pressure until the right play opens up, Chibrikov plays a direct, more intentional game. Against his peers, that game allows him to attack at and through pressure, create his own chances, and drive play to the inside when he has the puck. When there isn’t the same space to attack into or the same openings in coverage against men, his game can really quiet. When he’s engaged in the fight and keeping his feet moving, there’s a lot to like about his ability to impact a shift (both by ramping up the pace with his skating or slowing the game down to play a little more calculating) in a variety of ways.
McKeen’s Magazine made note of Chibrikov’s experience in the two major Russian professional leagues in 2020–21, which dwarfed that of the majority of his fellow first-year draft-eligible prospects:
One of only two U18 players to receive extensive playing time in the KHL this year, Chibrikov’s 16 games for [famed] SKA St. Petersburg [trailed] only Russian WJC-18 teammate Danila Yurov, not draft eligible himself until 2022, who played in 21 games for Metallurg Magnitogorsk. When not playing in the top Russian league, a league many say is second only to the NHL, Chibrikov spent much of the remainder of his season in Russia’s second men’s league, the VHL. Even there, only five U18 skaters appeared in more than his 20 games.
Chibrikov played at least 10 games in three different Russian leagues last season. He started the year in the MHL, Russia’s junior league, playing 11 games for St. Petersburg and tallying nine points (three goals, six assists).
From there, he moved up to the country’s second-tier pro level, the VHL, and scored eight points (three goals, five assists) in 20 contests with the league’s St. Petersburg team. He also spent 16 games in the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg, scoring two points (one goal, one assist).
Chibrikov shined with Team Russia at the 2021 IIHF U-18 World Championship, serving as team captain and finishing fourth in tournament scoring with 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in seven games. Only Matvei Michkov, Connor Bedard, and Shane Wright outscored him at the tournament; all three of those players will be surefire top-three selections in their respective draft years.
In Chibrikov’s 11 MHL games last season, he fired 31 shots and averaged an estimated 13:55 per game (according to Pick224). Among MHL players in their draft years, Chibrikov’s 2.35 primary points-per-60 ranked ninth; however, Chibrikov’s early graduation to the KHL helped him stand out above other first-year draft-eligible Russian prospects on most rankings.
Availability and fit
Can you name the last right-winger Calgary selected in the first round of an NHL Entry Draft? Probably not, since the Flames haven’t taken one that high since they picked Kris Chucko at the 24th spot in 2004.
Chibrikov shoots left but is a natural ailier droit who offers many qualities the Flames likely covet. He’s a good skater with a big motor and plenty of experience playing against men in a top-tier professional league.
Here’s a look at where some of the major draft evaluators rank Chibrikov within the 2021 class:
McKeen’s Hockey — 26th
Future Considerations — 21st
The Athletic (Corey Pronman) — 14th
The Athletic (Scott Wheeler) — 28th
Dobber Prospects — 17th
TSN (Bob McKenzie) — 22nd
TSN (Craig Button) — 23rd
Sportsnet (Sam Cosentino) — 21st
Neutral Zone — 16th
Draft Prospects Hockey — 23rd
NHL Central Scouting (European Skaters) — 4th
Recruit Scouting — 13th
EliteProspects.com — 39th
Smaht Scouting — 26th
Depending on who you ask, Chibrikov could be a viable target for the Flames to consider at 12. He might also be an appealing option if the Flames make a deal to pick up another first-round selection.
2021 First Round Targets
Matthew Coronato | Aatu Räty | Mason McTavish | Kent Johnson | Chaz Lucius | Dylan Guenther | Jesper Wallstedt | Corson Ceulemans | Fabian Lysell | Fyodor Svechkov | Oskar Olausson | Logan Stankoven | Simon Robertsson | Cole Sillinger | Simon Edvinsson | William Eklund