[Insert joke about the Washington Capitals stopping partying just long enough to announce their pick here].
Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals have done it! They finally won the Stanley Cup and silenced all their doubters...and then Barry Trotz left and the salary cap means they might have to say goodbye to some important players. Such is life in the National Hockey League.
With an eye to the future, the Washington Capitals select [potentially] their next great Russian forward, Vitali Kravtsov from Traktor Chelyabinsk of the KHL.
Kravtsov is a big winger (standing 6’ 2” tall, and weighing in at 170+ pounds) with some serious skill (sound familiar Caps fans?). He is not a finished product (Corey Pronman of the Athletic cites his need to work off the puck), but he has steadily improved his game becoming the go-to guy for his KHL team in the playoffs. As the Hockey Writers points out, he scored 6 goals in his first 7 playoff games, tying Valeri Nichushkin’s record for most playoff goals for a teenager (though Nichushkin needed 25 games to do it). He went on to break Evgeny Kuznetsov’s record for points scored by a player under the age of twenty by notching 11 points in 16 playoff games. Kravtsov accomplished all of this while competing against grown men in arguably the second-best hockey league in the world.
So he’s a big winger who can score goals and perform in the playoffs against strong competition... Why is he still available at number 31? The answer is one with which Wild fans (who long for Kirill Kaprizov to don the ol’ green & wheat jersey) are all too familiar: the “Russian Factor”.
The “Russian Factor” means he is Russian, and he plays in Russia, and will likely stay in Russia for at least one more season. That is more than enough to scare some teams off who might opt for a more “sure thing” from North America or Scandinavia. However, if there is any team comfortable with handling the “Russian Factor”, it is the Washington Capitals (see Ovechkin, Alexander and Kuznetsov, Evgeny). With Kravtsov likely needing some more time to develop before he is NHL ready, his extra year in the KHL likely won’t be a huge issue and, if they have any trouble convincing him to sign, I would imagine a couple calls from Ovi would get the job done.
How Does He Fit the Wild?
Other than the fact that he shoots left, he fits some organizational needs for the Wild: speed (check), goal scoring (check), and proven playoff performer (check). As he is at least one year away from playing in North America, he would be a solution “down-the-road”, which may or may not be what the Wild are looking for. Additionally, General Manager Paul Fenton has stressed the need for the Iowa Wild to be a developmental team and his desire for all players to mature down there. With that in mind, I don’t know how kindly Fenton would look on a pick that seems destined to stay in the KHL until he is ready to make the leap straight to the NHL.
How Could the Wild Get Him?
With Kravtsov projected to go anywhere from top ten, to 12 to 14 to 19 to out of the first round entirely, he very well may be available at pick #24... or he could be long gone. The Wild could definitely move up and get their man, but I don’t see him as being such a high upside guy that they’ll feel the need to do so. If he does fall to the Wild, maybe Kravtsov and Kaprizov can form a Wild ex-patriot club in Russia. With his size and skill, Kravtsov will likely be a Rorschach Test on teams’ tolerance for the “Russian Factor”, so it’ll be interesting to see where he ends up going in the draft.