I had a few surprises watching games played by top prospects this season, but none bigger than Ruslan Iskhakov. The Russian National Under-18 team was full of talent with players like Kirill Marchenko and Grigori Denisenko, but perhaps the most skilled player out of the group was, on most lists, ranked in the second half of the top-100.
You don’t have to look much further than the stats column to spot why: It’s the size of the Russian forward. Being 5’8” is a big strike against in the scouting world even to this day. In a changing NHL, where players under 6’0” thrive, it still remains quite hard to earn a spot in a lineup when you would be among the smallest in the league.
But Ruslan Iskhakov has a much better shot than most are projecting right now due to his very real talent.
Birthplace: Moskva, Russia
Date of birth: July 22, 2000
Weight: 152 lbs.
Team: Krasnaya Armiya Moskva
He scored 30 points in 33 games this season playing for Krasnaya Armiya Moskva in the MHL, the Russian Under-20 League, and impressed internationally recording good numbers while alternating between centering his own line and featuring on the wing next to other Russian top prospects.
Ishkakov has incredible hands and feet that work very well together. He is very agile and can slip and turn away from defenders while protecting the puck. He is hard to catch and he uses his great four-way mobility to avoid being angled to the boards where he is at a disadvantage.
He loves to open up his skates to quickly pivot away from opponents; the ten-and-two blade position is his trademark move in the offensive zone. It helps him delay and create space for himself to get his head up and look for passing options.
What stands out with Iskhakov is the amazing speed at which he processes the game. He knows that he can’t play like most of his teammates, who can fight back against the close pressure of opposing defencemen, coming out ahead after grinding on the walls. Instead, Iskhakov uses his elusiveness and great awareness of the ice to bait defenders into over-committing, allowing him to make quick feeds to his nearby teammates, freeing space and springing them for shots on net.
Ruslan Iskhakov wears #22 with the Russian U18 team and #34 with Krasnaya Armiya Moskva.
The diminutive forward could stay on the periphery and find himself a niche playing the game that way. But instead, he is constantly seen attacking defenders head on while moving towards or while in the offensive zone.
He is primarily a playmaker. He doesn’t have the shot power of some of his teammates, but he has the handling ability to beat opponents one-on-one, get inside the slot and create scoring chances for himself. He can also be a dangerous shooter in his own way with very quick catch and releases.
Plus, Iskhakov is completely unafraid to get near the blue paint to bang in rebounds if necessary and is often seen going right for the cage when he doesn’t have possession on zone entries.
Iskhakov brings a ton of skill, but is also a very hard worker, both in the defensive zone and on the forecheck. He is very effective when pursuing opponents, able to steal the puck away from them deep in their zone or on the backcheck. He is smart, anticipates opposing moves well and has a high level of energy that allows him to continuously take away space from the opposing team and create turnovers.
Future Considerations: #128
IIS Hockey: #102
McKeen’s Hockey: #68
Hockey Prospect: #57
NHL Central Scouting (European Skaters): #31
What makes the forward so effective is that he shares a quality with a lot of other smaller players that have made it to the NHL. He is constantly acquiring information on his surrounding. This is important for any player, but even more so for a diminutive one, who can potentially get hit hard by opponents and doesn’t have the luxury of better puck protection tools in a bigger frame.
This ability to read the game at a high level allows Iskhakov to slip through the opposing team - aided by his superior handling and skating - creating chaos, going in and out of scoring areas, and locating teammates in a fraction of a second.
He has the potential, as he develops, to constantly remain one step ahead of others and make a big impact despite being 5’8”. He is also a late birthday when compared to his peers. He should grow and add to his frame, becoming harder to knock off of the puck. Adding more breakaway speed would also push his game to the next level.
Size will always be a concern, but the qualities that he possesses can’t be passed on. He is one of the best talents in the draft with the puck on his stick. Selecting him is not taking a flyer, it’s banking on his pure skill and high ability to read the game.