When it comes to drafting players with limited offensive upside, they need to have talent in other areas that more that covers for that deficiency. With Marat Khusnutdinov, he accomplishes that with his high-energy motor and outstanding defensive play.
We’ve profiled a number of players who have limited offensive production without a high offensive ceiling, but stand out in other ways that should appeal to NHL teams. Khusnutdinov is the next in that line, and as one of the youngest players in the 2020 NHL Draft he’s shown a ton of promise as a potential sleeper pick in October.
Birthplace: Moscow, Russia
Date of Birth: July 17, 2002
Weight: 165 lbs.
Team: SKA-1946 St. Petersburg (MHL)
When it comes to choosing one word to describe the way he plays the game, it has to be ‘relentless.’ The small centre is always pursuing ways to make plays happen in all three zones, and has already shown an impressive defensive acumen for one of the top teams in the MHL.
He point totals may not stand out, but at the same time he does a lot of the things that lead to future success in the offensive zone. He finds ways to carry the puck in with regular efficiency, and once on the attack he easily identifies passing lanes for teammates, without rushing plays to make things happen. While his strong play led to a regular top-six role with his club, his offence struggled a bit, but being a younger player in a league with players who were a few years older puts that in perspective somewhat.
Much like Luke Evangelista, the biggest part of Khusnutdinov’s game is that he thrives on playing with a ton of pace and energy, as opposed to finesse. He loves to carry the puck, not just into the attacking zone but just in general. He refuses to give up the puck without forcing the opposing team to work for it.
That’s where he shines. He never stops moving his feet, hustling through the offensive zone to try to create space for his teammates. He’s not overly large by any means, so he has to find creative ways to keep plays going, and with strong edgework, along with good hands, he can play keep-away with startling regularity.
When he creates that extra space, he is a capable playmaker, getting pucks to teammates in key areas. In particular he loves to set up and work from behind the net, using his constant footwork to keep defenders guessing on where his passes are going. While not a prominent goal-scorer, he has a decent shot, and, in the words of Elite Prospects, “He never saw a corner he didn’t want to pick.”
Defensively he plays a strong game, using that same hustle and skating to make life difficult for opposing offences. He anticipates plays well, getting his stick into lanes to disrupt passes or potential shots. While not overly physical he can still use his body to leverage opponents off the puck and force turnovers when he chooses to.
The biggest weakness in Khusnutdinov’s game is that his offensive ceiling isn’t high. With a lesser role in league play it would be expected that he could have created a bit more in terms of goals or assists.
Against stronger and larger teams, Khusnutdinov also got bullied around a bit, unable to overcome smaller stature in those games. He was younger than these opponents, but he’s going to have to show that he can overcome this issue to play his own style of hockey.
Elite Prospects: #53
Future Considerations: #34
Hockey Prospect: #39
NHL Central Scouting: #12 (EU Skaters)
Players like Marat Khusnutdinov are an intriguing proposition. They’re capable of being NHL players in the future, but the highest point they might reach varies greatly. He has a fantastic base to build on, he’s great defensively, never stops skating, and is constantly looking for options in the offensive zone.
The excuse of being younger won’t apply to the 2020-21 season, when he’s likely to see an expanded role after a strong rookie campaign. He’s already near a point-per-game pace in MHL action, and has also seen two games in the KHL, so it seems he’s progressing well. If he can build upon that first year offensively, he could be a tremendous addition for a team outside the first round in the NHL Draft. There is an NHL-quality player there, even if it’s as a penalty-killing, defensive forward.