The Russians are coming!
At least that’s what Jeff Chynoweth, president and general manager of the Kootenay Ice, is hoping.
Chynoweth and the Ice held the first-overall pick at the 2016 CHL Import Draft, which took place via conference call Tuesday morning.
With the top pick at the annual international refresh, Chynoweth selected elite Russian prospect Klim Kostin, a 17-year-old forward who captained his nation’s entries at the 2015 World U17 Hockey Challenge and 2016 U18 Hockey Championship.
Kostin is eligible for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and widely projected as a preliminary name to look for in the first round.
In addition to Kostin, Chynoweth selected another Russian, Nikita Radzivilyuk — a bruising, 6-foot-3, 187-pound blue-liner — with the 61st pick at the top of the second round.
“It’s a tough draft, make no bones about it. It’s not a level playing field,” Chynoweth said. “It’s very difficult to select players. Unfortunately, you’ve got to work with agents you trust and that you’ve had a rapport with over time. If you don’t, it makes it even more difficult.
“Everyone I talk to raves about [Kostin’s] potential. He’s a big man and growing. He has leadership qualities and possesses an offensive upside — all the things NHL teams look for in a big forward.”
Kostin has already caught the eye of the many pro scouts in North America, with TSN’s Craig Button listing the native of Penza, Russia, as one of his preliminary ’17 in 2017′ names to watch for next year’s NHL Entry Draft.
“Powerful winger who can beat defenders one-on-one with skill, but also drives the net and attacks to scoring areas with real determination,” Button wrote of Kostin. “Smart and not one-dimensional and can make a play off the wing and because he’s a threat to drive past a defender, he can take advantage of ice if they back off. Very good speed, quickness and balance and is very difficult to knock awry.”
While the selection of Kostin is worthy of excitement for Kootenay Ice fans, temperament of expectations is advised.
Chynoweth expects Kostin will report to Cranbrook and suit up for the Kootenay Ice for the 2016-17 Western Hockey League season, but as he reiterates after each and every import draft, nothing is guaranteed until you see a player walk through the door for training camp.
“We’ve heard that he will [report], but again, until you see the whites of their eyes, we don’t really believe anything,” Chynoweth said. “It’s definitely not a slam dunk. But I do think, from all reports from the people we’ve talked to, he will be coming over.
“We think there’s a good chance, but there’s no guarantee [he reports].
“He’s a world-class player and if he comes, he makes our team better immediately.”
Key in Chynoweth’s selection of Kostin is the fact the young Russian is represented by the same player agency that helped bring a former Kootenay Ice fan favourite to Cranbrook.
Rinat Valiev — a 2014 third-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs — is represented by the same agency now representing both Kostin and Radzivilyuk.
Valiev came to North America in 2012-13, first suiting up for the Indiana Ice of the United States Hockey League, before being selected by the WHL’s Kootenay Ice at the 2013 CHL Import Draft. The native of Nizhnekamsk, Russia, promptly came north of the border and went on to be one of the most exciting defencemen to suit up for the Kootenay Ice in recent history, amassing 74 points in 107 career games in Cranbrook.
While the jury remains out on Kostin, there are fewer doubts in regards to Radzivilyuk’s intent to report to Cranbrook.
“Guaranteed 100 per cent,” Chynoweth said of Radzivilyuk. “He will be here for sure.
“There’s potential there. He brings a physical presence and he’s 6-foot-3 already. He likes to play physical, but his offensive side should improve as he matures.”
The addition of Radzivilyuk gives the Ice a second 1999-born defenceman, helping boost the organizational depth in that particular age group. Sam Huston (2014, ninth round — 198th) is the other 1999-born defenceman on the depth chart after 2014 first-round pick Griffin Mendel opted to take the NCAA route via the University of Denver.
Kostin spent the 2015-16 campaign with HC MVD Balashikha of the Russian Junior Hockey League (MHL). In 30 games, the skilled forward registered eight goals and 21 assists, good for 29 points alongside 74 penalty minutes.
He also added two goals and five points in six games at the U17 Challenge, before posting four assists in five games at the U18 World Championship.
Radzivilyuk, who is also eligible for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, spent the 2015-16 season with Tyumenski Legion U17 where he collected three goals and eight assists for 11 points in 26 games.
“Unfortunately, we’ve got a lot of holes on our team,” Chynoweth said. “We couldn’t have gone wrong if we selected two forwards or two defencemen. We need help. These are just some more building blocks that we will need moving forward.
“Obviously we’re happy, but until we see them both arrive here in August then maybe we can get a little more excited.”
All 60 of the CHL’s member clubs were eligible to participate in the 2016 CHL Import Draft, though a handful opted to pass on selections in favour of retaining import players already on their roster.
The Ice selected forward Roman Dymacek (Czech Republic) and defenceman Mario Grman (Slovakia) at the 2015 import draft, but released both following the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, opening up space for both Kostin and Radzivilyuk.