The Calgary Flames have inked one of their more intriguing prospects. Russian forward Ilya Nikolaev has signed a three year entry level deal, which will begin next season.
Nikolaev, 20, was the Flames’ third round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. A promising two-way centre with an understated offensive touch in Russian hockey, he spent the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons sort of bouncing around a bit throughout Lokomotiv’s system. He played in Russia’s national U20 league (the MHL), their national U18 league (the NMHL), and their secondary pro league (the VHL) but never got a chance to play in the KHL at all. (He was a good shutdown centre in the VHL, but didn’t move the needle much offensively in that league.)
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Without an obvious spot in in Russian hockey, Nikolaev took a chance on himself and headed over to North America in the fall, joining the USHL’s Tri-City Storm as an overage import player. He emerged as one of the better players in his league, with 23 goals and 72 points in 58 games. He carved out a niche for himself as a savvy all-situations player, eventually ending up as the team’s top centre by the end of the season.
There’s some question if Nikolaev can be a play-driver at the pro level, as his production in the USHL was heavily skewed towards power play points and secondary even strength assists. But if nothing else, the puck went in for his team – a lot – when he was on the ice, and the Flames will need young, savvy players in Stockton to keep stocking the cupboards.
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Nikolaev is the third player from the 2019 draft class to sign with the Flames, following Jakob Pelletier and Dustin Wolf.

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