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Report Card: Arsen Khisamutdinov made an impression, but at the wrong level

The over-ager did well in the VHL, but never gained a foothold during the 30 games in Russia’s top league.

Kontinental Hockey League: Admiral Vladivostok 2 - 0 Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk Photo by Yuri Smityuk\TASS via Getty Images

Arsen Khisamutdinov was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens after having had a great season in the VHL (the Russian Junior league), when he managed 55 points (26G, 29A). The season was highlighted with a trip to the KHL All-Star weekend as a member of the VHL All-Star Team.

As his name was announced late in the sixth round in 2019, there was a bit of confusion as no one really had heard about the over-age player. However, Montreal’s Russian scout was high on Khisamutdinov, and in order to not have to battle a lot of other teams for his signature as a free agent, Montreal used a late-round pick to get his rights. It was a smart move at that stage of the event, especially if Khisamutdinov were to have a breakout year in the following season.

Unfortunately, that breakout never came. His team, Neftekhimik, struggled at the start of the season and Vyacheslav Butsayev turned to his import payers and veterans to lead the offence. This left The Firestarter with an uneven usage and low ice time.

The forward did show his strength and skill when he got the chance to lead the offence for the wolves from Tatarstan. He got a goal and two assists in the KHL while being used infrequently in the 31 games he played.

He lit up the VHL when he got the chance to play with the Stars from Samara. In 14 games he contributed 13 points, nine of them goals. He also got the chance to lead the team on the power play and was quite good in the shootout when called upon.

Elite Prospects

Pluses

It’s easy to speak about the physique that Khisamutdinov possesses, and it is impressive to see him use it to his advantage even in the KHL. He uses his good skating to pin down defenders with a heavy forecheck in order to extend his team’s time in the offensive zone. He has also been used in front of the net on the power play where his big body gives him an advantage, not only while being physical but also using his height to get a better view of the ice.

What stood out to me when watching him play wasn’t his size, but rather his technique. The forward is quite skilled with the puck and could use it to his advantage in many situations.

Minuses

Khisamutdinov needs to become a more complete player. While his offensive work comes naturally, he’ll need to sort out the defensive part of his game — especially zone coverage — in order to be more successful.

Discussion

When the eyes of Canadiens fans turned to Russia this season, they were focused on CSKA’s Alexander Romanov, but in the massive shadow cast by Montreal’s blue-chip defence prospect, a sixth-round pick started to carve out his own professional career.

It is not easy for a young player to get a starting role on a KHL team, especially when that team struggles early in the season. Khisamutdinov did the best he could with sporadic usage and limited ice time, but most importantly he showed that he is a top player in the level under the KHL, where he managed .93 points per game. While a small sample size, few players could compare to that pace in the VHL. On top of that, he managed it on a team that missed the playoffs. It was clear that the Russian was too good for the domestic level below the KHL.

He fits the North American game and has good skating ability, which should benefit him if he were to cross the Atlantic. It is clear that the forward has potential, and I still think it was a smart draft pick even if it may not pan out in the long run. While I am unsure of the contract situation, I can see the big-bodied Russian play and develop at a good pace in Laval under the tutelage of Joël Bouchard.

Grade: D+

In order to get a higher grade Kisamutdinov would have had to solidify his role on the KHL team. Thirty-one games are good, but he was a healthy scratch at times and sent down to the farm team on a few occasions during the regular season. He possesses good hockey instincts but needs to improve his defensive game in order to solidify a roster spot on a good team where he can develop further.

While few sixth-round picks make the NHL, it is easy to see what made Montreal use a late pick to secure the rights of the Russian forward. He didn’t become the overnight sensation the team was betting on with his selection, but there’s still time left and plenty of latent potential for him to put it all together.