Semyon Chistyakov isn’t very tall, he isn’t heavy, and this season playing in the MHL, he didn’t floor anyone with his production. But his competitiveness and mobility gives an edge over many of the taller and more productive defencemen in this 2019 draft class.
Birthplace: Yekaterinburg, Russia
Weight: 168 lbs.
Team: Tolpar Ufa (MHL)
Chistyakov’s game is mature beyond his years. If he had a few more inches and packed a bit more weight, he could have easily played in a professional league this season. He is an attentive defenceman who prides himself on shutting down the opposition. He doesn’t take unnecessary risks, but shows flashes of a blue-liner who has more to give in possession of the puck.
He stood out from his counterparts at the World Under-18 Championship. He had his best performances in the medal round and was one of the main forces that lifted Russia over the U.S. in the semifinal. He was solid on the blue line and scored the game-tying goal in that game with a rocket wrist shot, cleverly fired in the opposite direction to Spencer Knight’s movement. It was his second goal of the tournament, with the first coming after dropping to one knee to one-time a cross-ice pass off the rush against Latvia (the second clip in the video below).
This other goal showed Chistyakov’s sense of timing. He joined the rush, using a couple of crossovers to catch up and level with his forwards, then slowed down, remaining in the cross-ice passing lane. When the first seam he glided into closed, he immediately propelled himself forward with a couple of single-leg pushes, lowered his stance to get better elevation on his shot, and sent the puck into the net.
Here are a few other offensive sequences from the tournament and his MHL games:
His passing and shooting motion is short and abrupt; the puck is launched at his intended destination when it leaves his stick. He also handles it quite well in tight spots, which combines with his fairly agile skating to make him elusive at the blue line. He didn’t make many creative plays at the point for the Russian team, but his aforementioned tools still made him an effective puck distributor and triggerman when needed on the power play.
Besides the offensive flashes he showed (mostly that: flashes), the best sequence from the defenceman at the tournament was against Sweden in the overtime of the Gold Medal Game. It illustrates the strengths in Chistyakov’s game very well, and outlines the way he could elevate it when needed.
He starts off the sequence with an aggressive step-up from his blue line. He denies access to a Swedish forward rushing for the puck to get it in the Russian zone. With a swift pokecheck, Chistyakov takes the puck away, gets it back, and bangs it off the boards to a supporting teammate.
The puck gets back to the Swedish zone and the opposing team attempts a second rush. This time, they get in on the other side of the ice. But as an opponent attacks the slot, Chistyakov pokes the puck away one time, then a second, in the corner and skates it out of the zone before sliding it to a teammate in neutral ice. That teammate is unfortunately surrounded by Sweden a second later and turns the puck over.
Sweden attacks for a third time with a lone forward. The defender lets the opponent enter in the wide lane, but realizes there is no support from the opposing team, so as soon as he sees a shot coming, he lunges and breaks the attempt.
It isn’t a perfect sequence — Chistyakov’s attempts at moving the puck didn’t end up evolving into further plays — but it showcases good defensive timing.
There are also indications in the blue-liner's defensive game that he is capable of misdirection, leading forwards into certain plays only to break them at the last second.
Watch this sequence in the MHL:
Chistyakov first anticipates a turnover in the offensive zone, backing away from it to be in a better position to defend a two-on-one. He adopts a middle position in between the two approaching opponents, with his stick in the passing lane, leaving the shot to his goalie as any good defenceman would do.
The difference is in what he does next. As the opposing puck-carrier is clearly thinking pass from his body language, Chistyakov fakes moving his stick like he wants to stop a shot that won't come. It triggers the cross-ice pass from the puck-carrier, and Chistyakov slams his stick back down to cut the feed a quarter of a second later. His effective bait allows him to pick the puck and rush it out of the zone.
The defenceman also isn’t afraid to get aggressive in his reads when needed, even using his body as a wall at his blue line to deny access. Forwards in the MHL were recipients of many, sometimes mean crosschecks when they tried to establish themselves in front of the blue paint with Chistyakov defending his goalie.
It’s hard to predict where Chistyakov will end up at the draft. He could very well be the first Russian defender off the board due to his mobility and overall solid game. There is a chance a team has been impressed enough with his Under-18 tournament, and sees enough dynamic elements in his play to select him in the early second round.
Rankings (not all rankings are final)
NHL Central Scouting: #16 (EU skaters)
But he could also fall (as sometimes happen with Russian prospects for one reason or another) and end up in the latter rounds. He would then be a prime target for any team looking to furnish their prospect depth on the second day of the draft.