Photo credit:Candice Ward/Calgary Wranglers
2023 FlamesNation prospect rankings: #8 Ilya Solovyov
By Ryan Pike5 months ago
When it comes to prospect drafting and development, a sign of success is seeing players that seemed like projects progress and improve. In the last round of the 2020 NHL Draft, the Calgary Flames selected Belarusian blueliner Ilya Solovyov at 205th overall – 12th from last.
But Solovyov has quietly been improving and rounding out his game. Last year, he was 17th on the FlamesNation prospect rankings. This year he’s cracked the top 10, landing at 8th.
Born July 20, 2000 (Age 23) in Mogilev, Belarus
6’3”, 191 pounds
Selected in the seventh round (205th overall) by Calgary in the 2020 NHL Draft
A product of Mogilev, Belarus – located east of Minsk towards the Russian border – Solovyov progressed through Belarus’ domestic junior levels in a fairly step-wise, but standard way. His 16-year-old year saw him play in their under-17 and under-18 leagues. His 17-year-old season saw him play under-18 hockey. His 18-year-old season saw him play in their under-20 league.
Despite having NHL size, Solovyov didn’t make a big splash with NHL scouts. He was one of the youngest players available for the 2018 NHL Draft but didn’t crack the Central Scouting rankings. He also didn’t hit the rankings in 2019, his second year of eligibility. He moved to the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit in 2019-20, his 19-year-old season, and posted 40 points in 53 games. He cracked the midterm rankings (as 119th among North American skaters) but didn’t make the final list. Despite this, the Flames took him in the seventh round – in his third year of draft eligibility.
The 2020-21 season would have seen Solovyov return to the OHL… except he would have counted as one of Saginaw’s overage players and import players, making him a “two-spotter” in junior hockey parlance. So instead of taking up a roster spot in the OHL as a two-spotter, Solovyov headed closer to home and spent the season instead in a more challenging environment: the Kontinental Hockey League, where he played with Dinamo Minsk. At 20, he was fifth on Minsk’s blueline in games played and tied for third in points.
Following the 2020-21 season, Solovyov signed his entry-level deal with the Flames. He had eight points in 51 games with the Stockton Heat in 2021-22 and 18 points in 68 games with the Calgary Wranglers in 2022-23. His first season saw a bunch of fits and starts as he adjusted to the differences between the AHL and KHL – but he improved throughout the season. In 2022-23, he was quietly really good, especially in the second half of the season when he was used on a shutdown pairing with veteran Nick DeSimone.
Expectations for 2023-24
Solovyov is entering the third season of his entry-level deal in 2023-24. He’s likely ear-marked for the Wranglers once again.
The exciting thing about Solovyov’s game is, ironically, how not exciting he is. He’s not a threat to jump into the rush. He’s not a power play quarterback or anything like that. He’s a really reliable, predictable, steady defenceman. He turned 23 and he’s played three seasons of pro hockey between the KHL and AHL, and he’s also represented Belarus at the Olympic qualifying tournament, the World Championships and the World Juniors. He’s played in a lot of high-end leagues and tournaments and he showed a really low-risk, composed, mature style of hockey. In a sport where managers and coaches can be risk-averse, that’s a big plus.
If you need to call up a defender to the Flames to play on the third pairing, or maybe somebody to act as an extra defender just in case somebody’s playing through something and might not be able to go… Solovyov might be a player whose style and vibes are appealing. Sure, there are differences between playing shutdown hockey against Tucson and against Vegas. And yeah, you probably want to give him some reps in the pre-season to see how he fares before you slot him in as a situational call-up option. But for a player that was a seventh-round selection in his third year of draft eligibility, him being a feasible, logical call-up option is subtly pretty impressive.
We’ll see if he can continue his progression and his upward momentum this coming season.
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