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2019 NHL Draft prospect profile: Questions linger about Arthur Kaliyev’s NHL projections

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Kaliyev has feasted on Junior defence, but there are a few signs that he will be able to adapt to better competition.

Brandon Taylor/OHL Images

Polarizing is the appropriate word to describe Arthur Kaliyev. Depending on the method used to evaluate him — a more analytics-intensive approach or scouting for tools, game sense, and projectability — Kaliyev can either come out as one of the better potential picks in the draft or one with a lot of question marks, some would say even red flags.

Birthplace: Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Date of birth: June 26, 2001
Shoots: Left
Position: Wing
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 190 lbs.
Team: Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL)

The main issue in ranking Kaliyev is that he operates quietly. He isn’t a put your head down, hustle, and skate the puck into the net kind of player. He isn’t a power foward who overpowers his peers in front of the net (even if his stature would suggest he could be), and he isn’t a flashy dangler who goes through entire teams to score.

Kaliyev drifts, glides, floats away from the sight of the opposing team and, to an extent, spectators, and comes up with a few goals, inflating his totals higher and higher, forcing eyes onto him after they glance at the stat sheet to figure out just what is going on.

He is quite unique. It’s hard to reconcile 51 goals — an incredible feat for a draft-eligible player, one that hasn’t been matched by many over the years and puts him in company of players like Alex DeBrincat and Jeff Skinner — to what appears to be a detached playstyle. The sheer numbers are impressive, but will he be able to replicate his success as he rises in the levels of hockey?

EliteProspects

The number-one element that will help him score goals at the next level is his shot. Kaliyev is a deadly weapon from the right faceoff circle, his off-side as a left-shot winger. He scored 20 of his 51 goals on the power play, and a good part of those markers where from that position.

Kaliyev fires pucks with a short-windup slapshot. He understands that the most important aspect of his release is speed: how quickly he can get a puck sliding toward him to fly to the net before the goalie has time to get to his left post. He takes a quick peek at the net as he is about to receive a pass and adjusts his shot to best have it slip by the netminder’s coverage.

The first sequence in the video below has a great camera angle of Kaliyev’s work at the right circle. He stands very low in the zone, below the dot and closer to the goal line. It doesn’t give him as much net to shoot at, but it’s the furthest distance for the goalie to travel to block his shot. As the puck slides to him, he engages the rotation of his body by opening up his hips and pointing his right foot toward the net, adding power to his shot but still controlling his release to place the puck between the post and the glove of the goalie.

That’s not to say that Kaliyev can’t just hammer it home, which he does a couple of times in the video from the same power-play spot. He simply adapts his release to the situation. There’s a clip in the video where the winger one-times a pass that falls completely behind him, strictly using his body rotation to get it on net. He also chooses a catch-and-release wrist-shot motion when he feels that more elevation will be necessary to beat the goalie. Finally, when he faces a fully-set netminder, his shot becomes a playmaking weapon. He shoots for rebounds, keeping the puck low or transforming his firing motion into a hard pass to the back post for a tap-in attempt, and fakes using his release to thread a pass to teammates in the slot.

He can take the puck through the defence himself at times. He will chain a few rapid moves to thread the puck inside opposing sticks and skates and get a one-on-one chance with the goalie. But he is at his best when being set up.

The winger is all about finding quiet ice. He controls his skating, trying to join the attack deceptively and remain unchecked for the longest time possible. This is how he scores his goals at even strength. Being left alone in the offensive zone can be a product of some lapses in defensive coverage — and there are a lot of them in Junior hockey — but also of the skating routes he chooses and his ability to anticipate offensive and defensive schemes.

In the clips above, you can see Kaliyev slow down, move east-west to remain in a passing lane, or change the position of his stick (bringing it behind him, for example) to create a new seam in which to receive the puck. He also waits for the defence to be pushed back before drifting into the zone. Trailing the play gives him space to get closer to the net and fire. When the puck gets to the point, the winger doesn’t immediately rush the net, but aims to arrive at the back post at the same time as the blue-line shot hits the net. Stick on the ice, he gets prime rebound occasions.

Those natural tendencies contribute to making him the goal-scorer that he is. Being able to find and create space and time yourself for the best opportunities are skills. The drawback is that it makes him play at a slower pace compared to his peers, and this is where the common questions surrounding the prospect come from.

Kaliyev is the guy who will sometime forfeit defensive positioning or a battle for a loose puck to take a step toward the offence, anticipating or hoping that his team wins possession and he gets an opportunity to set himself up for a scoring chance at the other end of the ice. The good ones start from rapid transitions, and he definitely knows that. The winger can also force some passes as he takes the puck from zone to zone, as his preferred play is to arrive as the shooting option in the offensive zone.

It comes down to this: It’s rare to see the scorer use the full extent of his motor. Sometimes it’s for good reason (as in the above examples of his goals), but other times it would benefit him to raise the tempo. He isn’t a top skater, but even considering his upright form and his lack of knee-bend, Kaliyev can still muster some speed, especially with the usage of crossovers.

Although the player he is up against in this sequence is Kevin Bahl (who isn’t exactly a speedster), you can see Kaliyev, enticed by the breakaway opportunity, separate with quick bursts and take the puck to the net.

His shot should allow him to produce at the NHL level, but if he wants to have further success and feature on the goal-scoring leaderboard he will have to adjust his feel for where the space is in the offensive zone and his goal-scoring timing to the much higher pace. That will require him to work on his skating and generally play the game a few higher gears.

The faith in his capacity to do that is reflected in the rankings of the prospect over different scouting services.

Rankings (not all rankings are final)

Button/TSN: #13
Dobber Prospects: #18
Elite Prospects: #11
Future Considerations: #30
Hockey Prospect: #34
McKenzie/TSN: #13
NHL Central Scouting: #7 (NA skaters)
Pronman/The Athletic: #14

On draft day, it’s likely that Kaliyev falls in the middle of the first round due to the risk he represents. There are other top prospects who don’t have the same concerns about their intensity who will likely go before the goal-scorer, but the package of skill he has also won’t let him fall too far in the first round.

It’s possible one lottery team with more analytically inclined views could find hidden value in the player. The dominant production that places him in somewhat elite company is one thing, but Kaliyev also comes out as quite an interesting prospect in Mitch Brown’s CHL tracking project.

From Mitch Brown’s CHL tracking project

As expected, he’s near the top of all shooting categories, but the passing grades also paint him as capable playmaker and transition skater, especially when it comes to getting the puck in the offensive zone.

What’s really interesting is the entry defence category. Kaliyev scores highly in backchecking involvement, which runs counter to what is often perceived as a weakness in his game. This can’t be interpreted as proof of a strong two-way game for the forward since it’s supplementary information, but it’s still interesting to note his effectiveness in tracking pucks back and breaking plays in the neutral zone.

His playmaking capabilities, those defensive stats, and his work at times on the penalty kill could be good indications that there is more to Kaliyev than his goal-scoring identity. He represents an interesting project to take on for a team’s development staff as they look to broaden his game and push it to the next level to match how he will have to perform against professionals.