Danila Yurov is likely to be a litmus test for how National Hockey League teams view players from Russia, especially ones who are not based in North America.
Yurov is one of two Russian-based players ranked highest and likely to go in the draft’s first round. The other player, Ivan Miroshnichenko has health issues that may affect things beyond where he plays hockey.
Birthplace: Chelyabinsk, Russia
Date of birth: December 22, 2003
Position: Right Wing
Weight: 179 lbs.
Team: Metallurg Magnitogorsk (KHL)
His talent may force a team’s hand, but we will get a good indication of whether things are different relatively early on.
Yurov has been one of the best Russian players in his age group for years. His performance at international tournaments put him firmly on the radar for this year’s draft, including 11 points in seven games at last year’s World Under-18 Championship.
The elephant in the room is the two points in 42 regular-season games in the KHL over the last two seasons, including no points in 21 games this year. He also had 19 playoff games in the KHL with no scoring. There is some very important context to those numbers. KHL teams often shy away from playing their youngest players, even when they are too good for the under-20 league, like Yurov has shown.
According to InStat, he averaged less than four minutes a game in his 40 KHL regular-season and playoff games, and maxed out at just over 10 minutes as his season high.
In the MHL, he had his best season yet with 13 goals and 23 assists in 23 games. Not only was he productive, but he drove play. According to Pick224.com, Yurov had the best even-strength primary points per game of any first-year draft-eligible player with at least 15 MHL games since 2018. He had 22 goals and primary assists at even strength in 23 MHL games for 0.96 per game. The closest player to him is Fyodor Svechkov who had 0.80 in 15 games in 2021. Svechkov was the 19th overall pick by Nashville in last year’s NHL Draft.
This isn’t the end-all or be-all because of course a lot of the young Russian players who are top of the class are playing in the men’s KHL league or second-tier VHL. That being said, you’d rather a player be productive than not.
Ice time was definitely an issue, but there is the question as to whether there was a reason he didn’t get more ice time, and that is what makes him hard to project. Could the lack of offence and flashes of skill be because he was simply trying to make the safe play to not hurt his team at the men’s level? Possibly. It did seem to scouts that he was a different player, so it’s possible it had to do with mindset.
It also could have simply been that he was not good enough for that level. As a 17-year-old, that’s fine. Even generational players may not be ready for the top level that young. That can also mess with a player’s confidence.
Elite Prospects: #23
Bob McKenzie (TSN): #8*
NHL Central Scouting: #7 (European Skaters)
Corey Pronman (The Athletic) #10
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): #12
Draft Prospect Hockey: #9
Hockey Prospect: #10
Craig Button: #12
* = not final ranking
Seen at times as a sure-fire top-10 prospect heading into the year, if not higher, after his Under-18 tournament last year, Yurov has slid down the rankings slightly almost across the board.
He is not a boom-or-bust pick. His floor is very high. Many scouts project him to be at worst a middle-six winger who can make solid possession plays at the NHL level. The question for those who see him in the top-10, and those who see him in the top-20 his how much his offensive skill will develop.
When you’re drafting that high, you would like to see a projectable offensive upside and Yurov just didn’t show that consistently outside of the dominance at the MHL level. He did score a goal in two games at the doomed World Junior Championship in December.
His hockey sense and awareness are the strengths of his game, and what allow him to drive possession. His offensive instincts are also very good. His MHL tape shows him making smart passes and creating chances for teammates. It also shows him beating MHL defenders off the cycle and off the rush, and while his shot is not elite, he can use it to beat goaltenders at that level.
Scouts differ on his defensive play. Some see a 200-foot forward, but others see a player who struggles in the defensive transition. He has a very mature game, and that is why he is seen as a high-floor player. He can succeed without scoring. He has played centre, but many scouts see him as being more productive and successful on the wing.
Despite the question marks in his game, if he drops low enough in the first round due to his offensive upside or his birth certificate, he might be able to provide a team with value.
We think of Russian wingers to be high-scoring, flashy players. Yurov doesn’t fit that profile necessarily, but he’s a professional player with a professional skill set. If a team wants to bet on his offensive potential, he can be a top-10 pick.