Even before looking closely at his game and tools, Artemi Knyazev is an intriguing prospect due to his path. Last year, the Russian-born defenceman played in the MHL and scored seven points in 39 games for the Irbis Kazan.
Birthplace: Kazan, Russia
Weight: 176 lbs.
Team: Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL)
For the 2018-19 season, he decided to fly over the Atlantic to join the Chicoutimi Saguenéens for his first North American hockey season. Like many before him, it was a completely new experience; a new language, a different environment, and a change of on-ice system.
So, his production in his debut in the QMJHL of 34 points in 55 games — put into context — can be considered a breakout performance. He also finished first in point-per-game for the Saguenéens, who were a middling team during the season, and his 13 goals were five more than the next closest blueliner on his team.
Knyazev generally plays the game aggressively and also in a bit in a loose manner, which makes for some fun viewings.
The area that needs the most work for the defenceman is probably his defensive game, but not necessarily for the reason you may expect for a defender on the smaller side. He can be quite physical in his zone. On a given night, the defenceman can have a few sequences where he manages to hit an attacker low in his zone, separate him from the puck, and start the breakout. But, there is also just as many times where he will overcommit on his check, or misses them, and renders himself late on assignments and in overall positioning.
His aggressive nature pays off more in his neutral zone. This is where Knyavzev looks to break up play early by using his stick to cut off passing lanes. He angles opponents to the boards to body them off the puck and turn it over to immediately get on the attack. Just like in his zone-defence, however, Knyazev’s attempt can go south if opponents manage to slip past him as he closes his gap early.
But teams won’t draft Knyazev for his defensive game. He will be a good gamble to take in June because of his mobility, his potential as a puck-mover and his willingness to step up.
The advanced stats doesn’t show the defenceman to currently be a controlled exit machine — he doesn’t attempt them as often as other blueliners in the data — but all the tools are there to transform him into more of a breakout force in latter seasons.
Artemi Knyazev wears #8 with the Chicoutimi Saguenéens
Knyazev is an agile and quick skater. He wins races and makes good use of his edges to open up and turn away from pressure. He doesn’t have blazing straight-away speed, but his ability to circle around opponents makes up for it.
The defenceman likes to hold on to the puck, skate it out of his end all the way in the offensive zone, and shows no fear when doing so.
The above clip didn’t end on the greatest note with a blocked shot, but it displays Knyazev’s adventurousness and mobility well. He first uses a couple of ‘‘shuffle’’ strides to get to the puck, then accelerates with crossovers to gain the zone where he slides the puck away from opposing sticks, turns back before faking a drop-pass and setting at the point.
Every game, there are a couple of interesting puck-moving sequences like this one with Knyazev. Here’s another one.
He picks up the puck in the middle of the defensive zone, and immediately opens up his skates, going 10-and-2 to protect it from forechecking pressure. He then gets on his outside edges to cut away from the opponent on his back, but seeing that he will be double-checked if he turns that way, he recovers and cuts in the other direction. He makes his way behind the net and hangs his pursuant on the net before escaping to the open ice with a last move.
And one last clip that transitions into his offensive game.
Knyzev descends in a supporting position behind the net, receives the puck and escapes the forecheck with a tight turn to face the play and carry the puck out from below the goal line. He baits a pokecheck, goes around an opponent, and sends the puck to a teammate at the offensive blue line. Then, Knyazev joins the offence.
He skates to the other end and up to the slot. Seeing his blue line covered, he continues his course to the far post where he barely misses his shot at an empty net from a cross-crease pass.
The defenceman doesn’t have a hard point shot (he generally prefers wristers), and jumping up on the offence is how he finds his best scoring occasions. He is also a smart passer who knows when to hold on to the puck and when to dish it quickly before passing lanes are blocked. His team employed him as a power-play quarterback during the season.
Rankings (not all rankings are final)
Elite Prospects: #60
Future Considerations: #55
Hockey Prospect: #50
NHL Central Scouting: #41 (NA skaters)
All in all, due to his status as a CHL rookie, selecting Knyazev in the second round of the 2019 Draft is betting on him taking a lot of steps forward in his second season with the Saguenéens; transferring his skills to more production, and using the experience of this first season overseas to develop more consistency and become one of the better puck movers in the QMJHL.