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2018 NHL Entry Draft Prospect Profile: Vitali Kravtsov

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Could the third time be the charm for Dallas’ attempt at drafting a Russian winger?

KHL

Name: Vitali Kravtsov

Team: Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL)

Stats: 4 Goals, 3 Assists, 7 points, 6 PIM, +3 plus-minus rating

Position: Right wing

NHL Central Scouting Ranking: #3 (European Skaters)

NHL Comparable Player: Andre Burakovsky

I’m not a draft expert. I research what I need to because I’m interested in learning more, and because I like to write about hockey. I say that to say this: it’s easy to see why teams miss.

The prevailing heuristic for making that pick at the podium is “floor versus ceiling.” As in, would I rather have player X who has the skill to contribute every shift, or player Y who has the skill to conquer single shifts? Kids who profile like player Y are typically seen as high ceiling picks. And that’s where Vitali Kravtsov comes in.

The 6’2, 170 lb right winger is in the wheelhouse of Dallas’ preferred forward style; with speed, pace, and agility, Kravtsov excels with a north-south game that earned him the KHL Rookie of the Year award (which should have gone to Eeli Tolvanen, though he did separate himself from Tolvanen in one particular category; which we’ll get to later).

The difference between Kravtsov and most north-south forwards is that he’s gifted enough with the puck that he can be creative off the rush. His overall vision helps him do more than just put pucks on the net (which probably explains why he’s played left wing and center in addition to his natural position), but setup his teammates in dynamic ways.

For non-draft nerds, you might wonder why some players are rated high despite low point totals. That’s because some draft picks play in men’s leagues (SHL, Liiga, NL, KHL, etc). If you watch the NHL with your blood pressure on high alert like I do, then you know what happens when a young talented player cracks the roster in a “men’s league.” The men don’t play them. They’ve got veterans to be trusted.

That’s what makes Kravstov such a special player. He started out in the KHL getting veteran savvy put in front of him, averaging under 10 minutes a game. After getting roster snubbed for the World Juniors, Kravstov blew up in the postseason (earning the trust of his coaches) thanks to work like this:

Clip courtesy of our Habs friends.

A backhanded toedrag speaks for itself. Kravstov ended his KHL postseason with 11 points in 16 games. That’s better than the postseason runs for the following U19 players: Evgeny Kuznetsov, Valeri Nichushkin, and Eeli Tolvanen.

Per Jeremy Davis, his estimated points per hour at even strength (1.97) is among the highest of those considered in the top 20: only Filip Zadina (2.40), Andrei Svechnikov (3.19), Oliver Wahlstrom (3.06), Joel Farabee (3.50), and Dominik Bokk (2.10) sit higher.

Most surprisingly, there isn’t a real thorough knock on Kravstov’s game. He’s considered defensively responsible, though it’s not his strength. The flaws worth pointing out are still important enough. Despite his size, Kravtsov doesn’t take advantage of his length. He’s a very slender 6’2, and this has a tangible effect on his effectiveness in the corners.

Is this the right pick at thirteen?

The concept of a north-south forward may create some eye rolling among Stars fans. And for good reason. When you put three forwards together, you want diversity — not symmetry. It’s this primitive notion of ‘balance’ by coaches that helped squash Dallas’ creativity (what little there was), and sunk their hopes of making the playoffs.

Dallas fans might also feel burned from Valeri Nichushkin and Denis Gurianov — two players sometimes seen as busts. I’m not in that camp, personally. Despite Josh Lile’s excellent analysis of what to expect from Nichushkin next season, the logic is simple; in the land of right wingers, Dallas is a beggar, so choosing between a right winger who can and projects to produce more than any right winger not named Alexander Radulov is no choice at all.

Picking Kravtsov might seem like the Stars organization hasn’t learned anything from their previous mistakes, but that’s just frequency bias whispering in your draft ear. Kravtsov will unequivocally be one of the most talented forwards available at #13 come draft day.