Size isn’t as much of a factor as it once was in the NHL, but it remains a clear advantage in many aspects of the game. A longer reach makes it easier to break passes, pokecheck the puck away, and stature allows for physical dominance in close quarters. It’s easier to separate others from the puck and shield possession.
It’s why prospects like Egor Afanasyev attract a lot of attention from the first look on the stat sheet. At 6’4” and 201 pounds, he is one of more imposing forwards in this draft class.
Birthplace: Tver, Russia
Date of birth: January 23, 2001
Weight: 201 lbs.
Team: Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL)
On top of his measurements, Afanasyev also had a productive year with the Muskegon Lumberjacks in the USHL. He finished as the top scorer on his team — an accomplishment as a first-year draft-eligible player. He scored 62 points, including 27 goals, and continued to produce at a fair clip in the playoffs.
To be a highly ranked forward in this era, Afanasyev can’t just a big body. There are other tools that are added to the mix to turn him into the player that he is, notably his great handling ability.
Effective dangles don’t come strictly from stickwork; quickness of the hands is just one of the parts that goes into selling a feint. Afanasyev has the hand agility and speed to pull off a few moves against defenders, but he supplements those with abrupt weight shifts while skating up the ice, allowing him to bait opponents into thinking he is going in one direction, only to break free the other way at the last second.
Egor Afanasyev wore #10 (and #11) with the Muskegon Lumberjacks in the USHL
In other words, the forward like to baits defenders when he has the occasion. He can use his reach to do the same, presenting the puck to the opposition to force them into poke-checks that he can evade.
Lastly, he shows the poise necessary to outwait defenders as he rushes up the ice, letting them make the first move and relying on his soft, rapid touches to pull the puck out of their reach
In the last clip above, Afanasyev glides into the offensive zone against four defenders, an impossible situation, but instead of trying multiple moves that would have had him lose possession in a second, he glides in without over-handling the puck, letting it slide up the ice. A defender lunges for it and Afanasyev pushes it inside the opposing stick and skate with a single touch, then gains the slot for a backhand shot on net.
Added to his stickhandling ability is a shot that can have him score from distance. He likes to pop open between the top of the faceoff circles and the blue line to hammer the puck on net with a slapshot. Once fired, it springs hard from his stick. The winger scored his first goal of the season this way.
His wrist shot is another one of his goal-scoring tools, as he softly receives the puck on his forehand from cross-ice passes, pivots to add power by centring his weight over it, and shoots in one swift motion before the goalie has time to fully reposition to counter his release.
Afanasyev fights to get positioning around the net. There, he shows that he can create space with his body and read passing and shooting lanes to better position himself to deflect pucks in, like in the last clip above where he shoves an opponent away from him before getting his backhand on a point shot.
He can set up the odd scoring chance for teammates, but his goal-scoring remains his main strength. He doesn’t find quick enough passing outlets in the opposing end, and doesn’t hit seam passes frequently enough to be a dual-threat offensive presence as of now. It could limit his output as he rises in levels. That being said, his stick-handling and refined puck-protection skills could help get there with development.
Rankings (not all rankings are final)
Dobber Prospects: #41
Elite Prospects: #39
Future Considerations: #54
Hockey Prospect: #59
NHL Central Scouting: #16 (NA skaters)
Pronman/The Athletic: #30
Afanasyev is ranked mostly in the early second round by different scouting services. His upside is interesting due to his size and goal-scoring tools, but concerns about his skating might prevent him from being a first-rounder on draft day. He can take some time to get going as he joins teammates in neutral zone rushes and cannot combine his skilled hands with bursts of speed to further separate from the defence.
Contrary to many of his USHL peers, Afanasyev’s won’t be joining the ranks of the NCAA next season. He de-committed from Michigan State University this winter and will probably join the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires next season, as the team owns his rights. It should be the logical progression for the winger’s career after the draft — unless his NHL organization decides on having him start his professional career immediately. As he is a European Import, albeit one who came early to North America to advance his hockey career, he could play in the AHL next season.