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Author: Evgeny Belashchenko (RP Exclusive)Date: 07/01/2004
RussianProspects 2004 NHL Entry Draft Recap: Round 1

There was hardly any question who the top two picks in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft were going to be. Evgei Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin have been the favorites to take those two coveted spots all year long. Some speculation did circulate that Malkin had a chance to surpass his countryman and be selected first overall, but that seemed quite unlikely and turned out to be untrue, as the Capitals used their pick to select Alexandrer Ovechkin with the and the Pittsburgh Penguins picked up Evgeni Malkin second overall.

ALEXANDER OVECHKIN - Round 1 (1st overall)
Alexander Ovechkin may be the best player playing outside the NHL right now. His selection at the first overall spot is no surprise, and barring a lockout this coming season, Ovechkin will be in the Capitals uniform within months. Unlike his fellow countryman Evgeni Malkin, who is almost a year younger, Ovechkin has already developed well physically and after three pro seasons in Russia, he can effectively stand up to the rigors of a NHL season. In addition to his on ice preparedness, Ovechkin’s transition to the American culture should be equally smooth, as he already has a solid grasp of the English language and appears not to be phased by all the scrutiny he has been receiving. If a NHL lockout happens, Ovechkin will likely return to Russia and continue his career with Dynamo Moscow, where he has been one of the leading forwards this past season. Due to the impending expiration of the transfer fee agreement between the NHL and the IIHF, the Capitals will likely sign the young forward to a rookie contract before his departure for Russia. Such deal would guaranty his arrival to the NHL once a new CBA is signed and the 2004-05 season gets underway.

Rumor has it that the Capitals were offered a lot for Ovechkin by several clubs including Boston and Chicago. According to the rumors, Boston offered the Caps two high selections in the draft and two players: Sergei Gonchar and Sergei Samsonov. The offer was not all that sweet, since Gonchar is now an unrestricted free agent and Sergei Samsonov is currently a restricted free agent. The most tempting offer came from Chicago, who reportedly offered three picks and two players for the coveted pick. In the end, the Capitals declined all the offers and chose the young budding super star.

EVGENI MALKIN - Round 1 (2nd overall)
It was not much of a surprise that the Pittsburgh Penguins selected Evgeni Malkin with the second overall pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft after Alexander Ovechkin was put on the board by the Washington Capitals. It is very difficult to compare the two talented Russian forwards, as Malkin is a center and Ovechkin is a left wing. Malkin is known for his hockey sense, soft hands and playmaking, while Ovechkin is a high energy finisher with a great burst of speed. However, while Ovechkin may have a stronger initial impact in the NHL, Malkin is almost a full year younger than Ovechkin and shows a lot of promise. In four or five years, he may even surpass Washington’s pick in his impact on the game hockey and the value he presents to his club.

To some extent, Pittsburgh should have been happy to pick second, as they didn’t have to make the difficult choice made by Washington. The talented young center is a dynamic playmaker, who sees the ice very well. He has great size, but will need at least another season to fill in his frame and become a more potent physical force. During the post draft interviews, Malkin stated that he expects to make the jump to the NHL during the summer of ’05, remaining in Russia with his Super League (Russia 1) club Metallurg Magnitogorsk for the 2004-05 season. With a NHL lockout looming, Malkin’s choice to return to Russia will likely be the wise one, as he will continue to get plenty of ice time and experience with Metallurg in the second best hockey league in the world. In addition to developing on the ice, the talented Russian forward has made his intentions clear to learn the English language, so that he would be prepared to adjust to the North American culture next summer. As is the case with Ovechkin, he will also likely sign a deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins before returning to Russia.

ALEXANDER RADULOV - Round 1 (15th overall)
Alexander Radulov was widely expected to be the third Russian selected at the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. The young forward has put together an impressive season in Russia in 2003-04. He performed well against professional players while with THK Tver in the High League (Russia 2) and his line (Radulov – Yunkov – Voloshenko) dominated international competition at every U18 tournament. Radulov’s high skill level, scoring ability and hockey sense made him a very attractive package to the NHL clubs. Some scouts described Radulov as an emotional player, referring to the trait as a positive quality, but it is actually a double edged sword. Radulov’s emotional play shows that he cares about winning, but it may also indicate some mental instability and that there are worse things to come. Regardless, it seems that the young forward has matured as the 2003-04 season came to a close and hopefully the incidents of him talking back to the referees and THK Tver’s coach are now far behind him.

RussianProspects estimated Radulov to be picked later in the first round, but we slightly overestimated the depth of the players available in the draft from other nations, and the young winger was selected 15th overall by the Nashville Predators. Nashville’s selection of Radulov appeared to be a logical one, as the club appears to have become one of the biggest backers of Russia’s top talent, drafting Konstantin Glazachev and Grigory Shafigullin in the second and third rounds respectively of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Nashville has struggled to boost the club’s scoring throughout the 2003-04 season and after several unsuccessful attempts to import snipers from other NHL clubs via trades, the Predators chose Radulov, hoping he could step and consistently score at the NHL level within one or two seasons.

Another factor that made Radulov an attractive selection midway through the first round was his free agent status in Russia, which exempts him from the transfer fee concerns between the NHL and Russia that have likely dropped many Russians in the draft and caused many others to go the entire nine rounds unselected. He fought hard for his free agency and may now reap the benefits by controlling his own destiny and vie for a NHL contract. Radulov has recently been selected by Quebec in the CHL Import Draft, which opens up a door for his arrival to North American. It is still unclear whether the young winger will choose to remain in Russia and sign a one year deal, or make his way to the NHL. Considering the vast salary difference between the Russian Super League and the juniors, for Radulov to come and play in the QMJHL, he will likely need to be first signed by the Predators, so that the young forward and his family could make use of his signing bonus while he plays for virtually nothing in the Q.

Related Player Profiles: . E.Malkin A.Ovechkin A.Radulov
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