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2021 NHL Draft: Nikita Chibrikov is a very technical winger

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Chibrikov has been heralded as the most talented Russian forward of the class.

IHOCKEY-EURO-RUS-CZE Photo by ANDREAS HILLERGREN/TT NEWS AGENCY/AFP via Getty Images

Nikita Chibrikov is a joy to watch with the puck on his stick. Truly someone that can just run an entire segment of Sportscenter by himself, the young Russian winger has some capabilities that most hockey players dream of having, but it has been counteracted with some heavy criticism for his play away from that vulcanized rubber disk.

Chibrikov really excelled in the junior and minor league levels this season, but when he got chances to play in the KHL, his impact was fairly muted. It will obviously take some time for a player to hone in all their skills to play well against top competition, but while some other prospects that lead their respective draft classes can shine above the rest no matter the experience on the other end of the ice, Chibrikov will need some time to get there.

He can do a lot with the puck and even as the first forechecker, but away from the play or being directly involved with it, there is just something missing. Other than that, he is an absolute electric player with all the talent in the world to put up points. Maybe it all changes in a more prominent role in a more structured system with the right linemates, but Chibrikov is still someone you can take all his bumps for the talent he possesses.

Pre-Draft Rankings

#4 by NHL Central Scouting (EU Skaters)

#39 by Elite Prospects

#17 by Dobber Prospects

#28 by Scott Wheeler/The Athletic

#14 by Corey Pronman/The Athletic

#21 by FC Hockey

#26 by Craig Button/TSN

What Scouts Are Saying

Chibrikov spent the season playing for three St. Petersburg teams (KHL, MHL and VHL). He didn’t necessarily dominate – not even in the junior level – but he scored 13 points in 7 games at U18s and had strong showings in men’s national exhibition games. Chibrikov is a really skilled playmaker with great skating ability. He’s a smart, deceptive passer and possesses a great vision. It seemed as though sometimes he didn’t stand out at the junior level since he benefits greatly from a more structured game and utilizing his teammates. That’s why his skills might not be as evident at lower levels his teammates struggle to convert on his playmaking. He is very raw physically and had some consistency issues throughout the season, but I think playing in the KHL will help him grow and develop a more complete game. Chibrikov might be a bit of a risky pick in terms of reaching his potential but if everything goes right, he could become a good top six point producer in the NHL.

-Eetu Siltanen, Dobber Prospects

Where many gifted young prospects play loose, flowing games that rely on hanging onto the puck and often playing away from pressure until the right play opens up, Chibrikov plays a direct, more intentional game. Against his peers, that game allows him to attack at and through pressure, create his own chances, and drive play to the inside when he has the puck. When there isn’t the same space to attack into or the same openings in coverage against men, his game can really quiet. When he’s engaged in the fight and keeping his feet moving, there’s a lot to like about his ability to impact a shift (both by ramping up the pace with his skating or slowing the game down to play a little more calculating) in a variety of ways. But I’ve also come away from some viewings feeling like he wasn’t nearly as active or present as he needed to be. He’s a bit of an enigma. A strong performance at U18 worlds definitely helped him solidify his stock as a first-rounder, though.

-Scott Wheeler, The Athletic

Chibrikov impressed early at the junior level this season, earning a quick promotion to playing versus men where he held his own at the VHL and KHL levels and making an appearance with Russia’s senior team. He was also a top scorer at the U18 worlds with 13 points in seven games. He’s undersized and not an amazing skater for his size, but he’s done well versus pros because of his tremendous playmaking ability and his ability to win battles despite his size. He can make slick one-on-one plays, creative plays under pressure and find seams consistently. He’s physical and responsible defensively. He could be a more explosive skater ideally, but the other elements of his game pop. In a sentence, Chibrikov projects as a top-six forward who will be on an NHL power play.

-Corey Pronman, The Athletic

Chibrikov loves to drive to net-front. He will consistently look to drive to net-front with or without the puck. It doesn’t matter if it’s mid-cycle or off the rush, Chibrikov skates hard to the net. When it comes to getting to the net, Chibrikov has shown at all three Russian hockey levels (KHL, VHL and MHL) that he is more than capable of pushing off attackers, standing his ground and driving to the net without possession of the puck. When doing so, he keeps his stick blade facing parallel to the puck carrier incase the puck carrier passes to him as he charging the net.

While Chibrikov thrives at the pushing attackers when he doesn’t have possession of the puck there are instances especially when facing defenders on the rush, in which he struggles to exert his strength and maneuver the puck around the defender. But, he also struggles to get around attackers when he is playing the puck along the boards. He has difficulty stick-handling and pivoting out of danger.

Chibrikov’s forechecking ability is where he really shines in the offensive zone. When he is in the defensive zone and looks to put pressure on the puck carrier in the other defensive zone, he will quickly get in gear. He will complete two lengthy extensions in the defensive zone. Then in the neutral zone, he will shorten up his skate extensions as he generated quite a bit of acceleration off the first two extensions in the defensive zone. Once he gets to the blue-line, he will once again go into power stride mode to catch up to the defender who has the puck. When Chibrikov is in the offensive zone on the forecheck, he uses his lengthy skate extensions to muster up the appropriate speed to chase after the puck carrier and implements strong pressure once he has arrived at the carrier.

-Smaht Scouting

Would He Fit In With The Wild?

Unlike some other one-way players in this year’s draft, Chibrikov has some immense ability on the forecheck and can overall affect a game that way. On the other side, his off-puck decisions still needs some work and that whole defensive side of his game will take time and development, but he is a fun as hell player that can make your jaw drop with the flick of a stick.

Minnesota is turning a new leaf and getting away from every single player being two-way robots, so someone like Chibrikov can certainly help down the line. A core full of talented offensive players that just work their ass off is tough to come by, so why not have players that will just rack up points?

Could The Wild Get Him?

The Wild sit at 21 and 25 in the first round, the mysterious zone where it all depends on your scouting preferences. Some really like the flashes of playmaking that Chibrikov puts out on a nightly basis, making him an upper-half first-round pick, but others see him as kind of an empty calorie producer that needs a lot of work off the puck to turn into a top-six winger.

All in all, it’s a tricky spot that I’m sure Judd Brackett would love the opportunity to draft him, but it also depends on who else is available at that time.

A Minnesota Relation

It might be extremely lazy to just pair a couple of Russians together, but Chibrikov’s highlights really remind me of Kirill Kaprizov. Obviously not even close to the star level or ability at the NHL level, but nifty backhand passes, setting up teammates in opportunistic areas on the ice, absolutely ripping some bombs on the power play — it’s Kirill.

Again, this comparison is just about style, but there’s one to really write home about.

This draft board isn’t a ranking, it’s just the order in which we published our draft profiles and some guys we just wanted to write about.

2021 NHL Draft Board

  1. Owen Power — D, University of Michigan (NCAA)
  2. Matthew Beniers — C, University of Michigan (NCAA)
  3. Brandt Clarke — D, HC Nove Zamky (Slovenia)
  4. Luke Hughes — D, University of Michigan (NCAA)
  5. Dylan Guenther — LW/RW, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
  6. Simon Edvinsson — D, Frolunda (SHL)
  7. William Eklund — C/LW, Djurgårdens IF (SHL)
  8. Kent Johnson — C, University of Michigan (NCAA)
  9. Mason McTavish — C/W, Peterborough Petes/EHC Olten (OHL/Swiss)
  10. Carson Lambos — D, Winnipeg Ice (WHL)
  11. Aatu Raty — C, Kärpät (Liiga)
  12. Chaz Lucius — C, USNTDP Juniors (USHL), U.S. National U18 Team (USDP)
  13. Cole Sillinger — C, Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)
  14. Sasha Pastujov — LW, U.S. National U18 team (USDP)
  15. Jesper Wallstedt — G, Luleå HF (SHL)
  16. Fabian Lysell — RW, Luleå HF (SHL)
  17. Matthew Coronato — LW, Chicago Steel (USHL)
  18. Oskar Olausson — F, HV71 (HockeyAllsvenskan/Swedish)
  19. Corson Ceulemans — D, Brooks Bandits (AJHL)
  20. Fyodor Svechkov — C, Togliatti (VHL)
  21. Brennan Othmann — LW, EHC Olten (SL)
  22. Zach Bolduc — C, Rimouski Océanic (QMJHL)
  23. Xavier Bourgault — C, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)
  24. Olen Zellweger — D, Everett Silvertips (WHL)
  25. Isak Rosén — LW/RW, Leksands IF (SHL)
  26. Zachary L’Heureux — C, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
  27. Nikita Chibrikov — LW/RW, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL)