That’s Valeri Kharlamov following the flight of the puck while trying to disengage from New York Ranger Carol Vadnais (the arm of #18 is also in view, that would be Walt Tkaczuk and I believe the goalie is John Davidson based on height and that would mean this photo is 1975-76).
For old guys like me, Kharlamov is the one we remember. He was a beauty player, fluid and creative, fast and furious and for all kinds of reasons he stood out when no man on the red team was known to any of us that fateful month 36 long years ago.
The Russians are still in many ways a mystery. My children think it’s a cold place where men with hideous furry hats walk uphill both ways to the Kremlin and the kids listen to pop songs with titles like “I Hurt Myself Picking Up Heavy Things.”
Come to think of it, not much has changed over the years.
We have come to realize that Russian hockey players come in as many varieties as our own: brave men with grit, skilled ones with little taste for the rough stuff, some leaders and some bleeders.
I can say without a doubt that many of my favorite hockey players over the last 20 years come from Russia, but Kharlamov has a special place for me and many Canadians who sat down to a hockey game one night and instead received a body blow.
Word today from the Journal that the Oilers are aware of Nikita Filatov. Quoting the paper “The Oilers talked to phenomenal Russian forward Nikita Filatov on Monday, among other teams, although they have little shot at him unless they can trade into the top five. Filatov speaks good English and will likely be playing junior in Sudbury next winter because they have the first pick in the Canadian Hockey League import draft.”
This is a wonderful 2-sentence item that can fill all kinds of hours during a long spring. It brings up countless questions (“ARE the Oilers going to finally trade up during the Lowe regime?” and “who WAS the last really good Russian drafted by Edmonton?” and “who would they give up in a deal?”) and since we have a month let’s talk about it.
Filatov is listed at 6-0, 165 in the Hockey News Draft Issue and is ranked by ISS and Redline Report as the #2 prospect available in this draft. Scouts say he could be the most skilled player available and his performance at the World Juniors (7gp, 4-5-9) was impressive enough to move him up the draft charts. Filatov says “I think that my main strengths are my speed, my capacity to see the open guys on the ice and my passing.”
- Are the Oilers finally going to trade up during the Lowe regime? Kevin Lowe has moved back the median age of this team with baffling consistency and making a big move up at the draft (without dumping massive salary that can be used to attract sufficient replacements) means more time outside the second season. If he can unload extra parts and his own first round pick in order to move up to the slot where Filatov is available then it’s a no-brainer. Having said that, it seems very unlikely.
- Have the Oilers drafted Russians recently? Trukhno is the best of the current prospects from the USSR. The Oilers drafted him out of the Q and with Filatov coming over to play in Canada it may make him more attractive to Edmonton’s procurement group. Ales Hemsky, though a Czech, would also fall into this category and Alexei Semenov is also in the group. I think we can agree that Filatov’s being in the CHL and not in Russia puts him on the prospect map for the Oilers.
- Who was the last really good Russian drafted by Edmonton? Does Anatoli Semenov qualify? That was 1989.
- Who would they give up in the deal? The Oilers would have to trade up 17 slots or so, and that means a lot of assets. Remember this is a very deep draft we’re talking about here. The number one target would probably be Toronto since the Leafs will abandon the draft like they always do (I’d bet money on it) let’s talk about what they might need. GM Cliff Fletcher has publicly stated that a half dozen changes will be needed this summer and the specific areas of need include a team that can take on salary (or at least give expensive players of value in exchange for expensive players of lesser value), at least a couple of good NHL forwards and more help (under 5M) on the blueline. Among the players the Oilers might want to send away are forwards Jarret Stoll, Raffi Torres and Ethan Moreau. Toronto might ask after someone like Andrew Cogliano or Denis Grebeshkov. I can’t see Edmonton getting that far up the draft day list without giving up a very good, young and inexpensive asset already helping at the NHL level.
- How many assets would be enough? I think the Oilers would have to be willing to deal a very valuable young NHL player plus a veteran forward and the pick at 22 to make it all the way up to the top 5. Or deal a very good young NHL player and the #22 pick for an expensive veteran who is overpriced and the higher pick. Is that fair? In the range? I don’t think there’s a 10% chance of this happening.