The Flint Firebirds are a bit of an infamous organization in the OHL. They seem to struggle year after year and aren’t perceived as the best environment for talent to flourish. In extreme cases it could lead some NHL teams to be slightly hesitant in selecting their top NHL draft prospects, but the flipside of the Firebirds’ situation is that some of those eligible skaters are given more minutes and bigger roles; an occasion to really show their talent instead of being pushed down the depth chart of a contender.
Vladislav Kolyachonok was traded from London to Flint after playing just one game with the Knights. He put up solid production from the back end for the Firebirds, with 29 points in 53 games, and was touted as one of the better defencemen at the World Under-18 Championship for Belarus.
Birthplace: Minsk, Belarus
Date of birth: May 26, 2001
Weight: 181 lbs.
Team: Flint Firebirds (OHL)
Kolyachonok is one of the more intriguing prospect in this class. He is exciting to watch every time he steps on the ice, but not for the usual reasons. He isn’t one of those flashy danglers nor does he score from the blue line, lacking the cannon of a point shot. The defenceman stands out with his graceful and, most of all, very powerful skating stride.
He is one of the best skaters in this class of defencemen. He possesses good form and his technique transfers into quickness, superior agility, and a lot of speed.
Watch him race to level with two forwards heading toward his goalie in the video below. His strong acceleration, combined with a 90-degree knee bend, a straight back, and a low skate recovery in his forward strides maximizes the power of his skating and allows him to catch up to the opponents. He forces one of them to change his course, turning the play into a two-on-one. With a smooth pivot that retains his full speed, he first cuts the passing lane, then extends his stick to completely neutralize the opposing puck-carrier’s shot attempt.
Vladislav Kolyachonok wears #18 with the Flint Firebirds and #5 with the Team Belarus
The second sequence is a display of his ability to open up to skate while facing the play. It’s a technique often used by smaller defencemen, but at 6’2” Kolyachonok can still match some of the prowess of many of his smaller counterparts. He opens his hips, using strong pushes and his body rotation to propel himself in a circle around the offensive zone before shooting the puck on net.
He moves fluidly in all four directions. Defending off the rush, he can track back faster with his backward skating than some of the attacking forwards, and pivot after forcing a dump-in to smoothly pick up the puck. He is also solid on his skates, which helps him play the physical game he likes in his end.
The defenceman plays with a lot of intensity. He likes to close on opponents in the defensive zone and relentlessly joust for the puck with his stick. It gets quite hard for opposing forwards to get away from him with his length and mobility.
When he is not going after puck-carriers, he shows a good awareness of opposing passing lanes and maintains quite solid positioning through the chaos that sometimes manifests around him.
Some of Kolyachonok’s defensive mechanics will need to be refined. He sometimes plays with a little too much desesperation, leaving his feet and lunging for pucks when conserving a better posture would be more appropriate. Yet there is a solid base of attributes and defensive attentiveness to work with for the NHL team that drafts him.
He also shows potential as a puck-mover. He can pass the puck up the ice, making the odd great feed through forechecking traffic, but it is usually his skating that gets him out of trouble after he retrieves the puck on the back wall of his zone. He can shield possession and cut away from opponents to gain the open ice and launch the attack.
There is offence in Kolyachonok’s game. He was one of the shot-volume leaders at the U-18s as a defenceman. He pinches in timely fashion from the point and isn’t afraid to use the space given to him by the defence to get closer to the net for better looks. But it’s a safe bet that most of the defenceman’s points at the next level will come from his transition game.
His biggest issue is consistency. His performance varies quite a lot depending on the night and seems to be driven by his level of confidence. It probably is in part the product of playing for the Firebirds, but Kolyachonok was still throwing a lot of pucks away that he could have skated out or made a better pass with at the World Championship. His play was generally up and down, even inside the duration of a game during the event, just like it was during his OHL season.
That being said, his relatively sound game away from the puck in Flint, his raw tools, and his ability to put them together at times for great sequences, where he breaks plays defensively and joins the attack to create in the offensive zone, forcing opponents to adapt to his mobility, still should have him go high on draft day.
Dobber Prospects: #29
Elite Prospects: #45
Future Considerations: #43
Hockey Prospect: #22
NHL Central Scouting: #31 (NA skaters)
Pronman/The Athletic: #63
How high? He may not be selected on the first day, but he shouldn’t have to wait long on the second to hear his name. Some team with a lot of confidence in their development staff will jump at the occasion to add a defenceman of his calibre to their pool, especially considering how young he is and that this season was his first in North America.
The upside is great. He comes out really well on a lot of tracjed categories (except for his shot differentials in Flint), with the numbers associated with transition capabilities are being especially impressive.
Even if Kolyachonok doesn’t fully reach his potential, his package of skill should still have him land in an NHL roster in a few years’ time as more of a shutdown presence.