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2023 NHL Draft prospect Mikhail Gulyayev is a strong puck-moving blueliner (but he’s Russian)

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Photo credit:Sergei Belski/USA Today Sports
Ryan Pike
1 year ago
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As we’ve noted previously, the Calgary Flames have never taken a player based in Russia in the first round. 1999 first-rounder Oleg Saprykin, who’s from Russia, was playing in the Western League when he was selected. But there are a couple promising Russians in the 2023 draft class that might tempt the Flames outside of their comfort zone.
Next up: dynamic, puck-moving defender Mikhail Gulyayev.

Scouting report

A product of Novosibirsk, Russia, Gulyayev is an April 2005 birthday – he’s on the younger side of the 2023 draft class. He’s a left shot defenceman listed at 5’10” and 170 pounds.
Gulyayev came up through the Sibir Novosibirsk system, then moved west to Avangard Omsk – he’s played in their organization since 2019-20, when he was 14. He has two seasons remaining on his current season with the KHL club. He’s been coached in the junior MHL circuit by his father, Alexander, who was on the coaching staff of his under-16 and under-17 clubs in previous seasons.
Over at Dobber Prospects, Jordan Harris wrote this rundown:
Gulyayev had a very busy season playing several games across three different leagues while playing in some international tournaments as well. Truth be told, I think he could have benefited from consistent time in one or two leagues as it felt like much of his season was getting acclimated to new teammates and situations. Still, Gulyayev showcased his offensive skill with 25 points in 22 MHL games. Gulyayev is a small but speedy defenseman who likes to activate and transitions the puck well. He’s not afraid to attempt difficult passes if it means it’s an opportunity to set up a scoring chance. There are some instances where he can be a bit too dialed in on the path when carrying the puck and not see better opportunities to distribute the puck, but he’s still a good distributor. Gulyayev has excellent 4-way mobility and uses this to defend the rush effectively. A big concern remains his size and in-zone defensive positioning and awareness. This area of his game needs a lot of work and will likely be the difference between being a capable top 4 defenseman vs. a fringe NHL/very good KHL player.
As part of their draft rankings, Smaht Scouting’s Josh Tessler delved into Gulyayev’s game:
Gulyayev has the mobility and the speed to be productive off of the rush, but isn’t really using his mobility to generate open ice for himself. With that said, he really needs to get out of his comfort zone and stop settling for low danger shots. I do believe that the mobility is there and he just needs to deploy it. But, every other facet of his game is well-rounded.
Even if he doesn’t use his mobility more and plays more of a conservative game at the NHL level, he will still earn plenty of minutes because of his defensive pressure, but he won’t have as big of a role. I do see Gulyayev playing in a top four defensive role, but if he doesn’t end up using his mobility more and more, he will likely end moving up and down in the lineup. But, at the same point, Gulyayev has been trained to play more conservatively like quite a few Russian defensemen and there are NHL teams that are looking for more conservative defensemen. Some teams will want Gulyayev to use his mobility and some might ask him to stay put along the blue line in the offensive zone.
He can be an asset on the power play at the NHL level with how well he toes the line to open up space for himself when an attacker is present, but he still needs the mobility to pinch up and drive play into / towards the slot.
Gulyayev is almost the exact opposite of fellow Russian blueliner Dmitri Simashev. Simashev is a strong defensive blueliner with an offensive game that’s a work in progress. Gulyayev seems to have the offensive side of the game developed, but his defending needs a bit of tidying up. But he’s got the mobility down, and if you’ve got skating, you’ve got a lot.
As we mentioned when breaking down Simashev’s game, we’ll state again: Since 2013, 15 Russian-based players were drafted in the first round, all but one – 2022 Minnesota pick Danila Yurov – have signed with the team that selected them.

The numbers

Gulyayev’s 2022-23 season was split between three teams in the Avangard Omsk ladder – he played in the 2021 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, capturing gold, but Russia was barred from the 2022 tournament after the invasion of Ukraine.
He played 13 games with the KHL team, registering an assist. He was fourth in games played by an under-18 player, and one of just five who registered a point.
He played 12 games with the minor-pro Omskie Krylia VHL team, registering four assists. He was third in that circuit among under-18 players in both games and points.
He played most of the season, 22 games, with the junior Omskie Yastreby MHL team, registering two goals and 23 assists. He led the circuit’s blueliners in points-per-game and was 21st in defensive scoring overall. He led all under-18 blueliners in points.

Availability and fit

The Flames sure could use some blueliners, as AHLers Jeremie Poirier, Ilya Solovyov and Yan Kuznetsov remain works in progress and need some time. If they selected Gulyayev, he’d suit their needs but not necessarily help with the timing issue – he’s under contract with Avangard Omsk through 2024-25 and it’s unlikely he gets out early due to the lack of a IIHF transfer agreement with Russia – so he’s not really going to be the cavalry coming in to bail the Flames out from their defensive depth issues. He’ll take awhile. He may be worth it, though.
Based on the scouting consensus, Gulyayev will probably still be available when the Flames select at 16th overall. FC Hockey has him 16th, McKeen’s 19th, Scott Wheeler 21st, Sportsnet 23rd, Daily Faceoff 23rd and Corey Pronman 30th. He’s generally considered a first-rounder, but there’s just a bit of lack of consensus regarding where in the first round he’ll be taken.

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