One of the Calgary Flames’ prospects has found a new home for the 2021-22 hockey season. Sources have confirmed to FlamesNation that Russian forward Ilya Nikolayev has joined the United States Hockey League’s Tri-City Storm for training camp and has been added to their protected list.
Nikolayev, 20, was a third round pick of the Flames (88th overall) in the 2019 NHL Draft. The product of Yaroslavl came up through his hometown minor hockey scene, playing primarily with Lokomotiv’s affiliate clubs. He was projected as a two-way forward, but he struggled to find consistency last season as he bounced between the VHL (minor-pro) Buran Vorenzh and the MHL (junior) Loko Yaroslavl. Maybe because of the bouncing back and forth, but he didn’t move the needle offensively as much as you would expect a highly-touted 19-year-old to do in a junior league.
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Nikolayev was cut by Lokomotiv this past summer and briefly landed with Metallurg Zhlobin in Belarus. He played in the Ruslan Salei Cup earlier this month, but was released from his contract when a North American opportunity became available. He was well-regarded enough as a prospect in his teenager years that he represented Russia at the Under-17 Worlds, the Under-18 Worlds, the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and the Junior-A Under-19 Worlds, so the hope likely is he can rediscover his form and swagger playing in a pretty highly-regarded USHL circuit against players his own age.
If you’re thinking you’ve heard of the Storm, it’s probably for one of two reasons. First off, they recently received criticism for their addition of maligned former NHL prospect Mitchell Miller. In 2020, he was drafted by Arizona but had his rights renounced soon after it was revealed he bullied and abused a classmate when he was 14.
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The other reason they may ring a bell is because goaltender Arsenii Sergeyev, a 2021 Flames draft pick, is slated to play with the Storm this coming season before heading to the University of Connecticut for the 2022-23 season. Considering that Nikolayev hasn’t spent much time in North America and presumably doesn’t speak amazing English, pairing him with a fellow Flames prospect (and a Russian player who successfully transitioned from Europe) makes a lot of sense.