Name: Marat Khusnutdinov
Team: SKA-1946 St. Petersburg (MHL)
Stats: 44 games played, 13 goals, 25 assists, 38 points, 16 PIMs, +27 plus/minus rating
NHL Central Scouting ranking: 12th (European skaters)
Comparable NHL player: Vincent Trocheck
The goal of the NHL draft is not to find and acquire the most purely fun players available, but if it were, Russian center Marat Khusnutdinov would be a hot commodity.
Simply put, Khusnutdinov is a hell of a lot of fun to watch play hockey. He can absolutely fly with his skating, he has one of the best pairs of hands in the entire draft, and he has a motor that just doesn’t quit. When he goes full Energizer Bunny he is incredibly entertaining, buzzing around all 200 feet of ice, stick-handling his way through or around opponents, and trying to set up nifty and creative plays.
It’s not just fun hockey, though — it’s also quite effective. Khusnutdinov is a sublime possession player who can do a whole lot to keep the puck under his team’s control and manage the pace of the game. He’s the type of guy who can pick up the puck in his own zone, carry it safely out of forecheck pressure and then take it to the offensive zone to set up a rush chance or a cycle. And he can do all this on a regular basis without breaking much of a sweat.
He began the 2019-20 season lower in the lineup on a fairly veteran SKA-1946 St. Petersburg team, but steadily began earning more and more ice time as the year went along. While his 38 points in 44 games don’t exactly jump off the page, Khusnutdinov did not receive very much time with the man-advantage, which makes those numbers pretty impressive. And make no mistake: he is a player who could do damage on the powerplay if given the right chance. He’s crafty and cerebral, and has the puck skill and passing ability to create space and opportunities. His shot, however, is pretty weak and not much of a weapon. On the flip side, he does generate prime shooting chances for himself when he carries the puck toward the enemy net, which happens pretty frequently.
For a guy who measures in at roughly 5-foot-9, his defensive game is very advanced. He always seems to know exactly what’s going on around him defensively and what he needs to do next to help his team. His motor is great for applying tight man-to-man pressure, and he’s not afraid to throw his body on the line to block shots. It’s not often that you see 17-year-olds in the MHL handle important penalty killing duties for their clubs, but Khusnutdinov did exactly that for his team. Being a boss in the faceoff circle (he won over 60% of his draws last season) certainly helps, too.
Jan 08, 2020 MHL: Marat Khusnutdinov SH OT goal vs Kapitan pic.twitter.com/hbxhnVwyxV— HockeyRU20 (@HockeyRU20) January 8, 2020
One of the things that I love about Marat Khusnutdinov is how well he reads the situation on the fly. Khusnutdinov is defensively responsible. Drops back for his defenseman who is out of position and comes away with a shot block. pic.twitter.com/44Y5vHcgrB— Josh Tessler (@JoshTessler_) May 8, 2020
If there are knocks about Khusnutdinov’s game, the biggest ones are probably his size and his lack of production in certain showings. There’s no denying that he’s not a big guy, so there are some obvious limitations to his ability in board battles and fighting for space in front of the net. Some guys are strong and brawny for their stature, but that’s not really Khunutdinov. And while his play in the MHL this season was very impressive, he was a little hit-and-miss internationally. He displayed his strong 200-foot game and generated a fair number of scoring chances at the World Junior-A Challenge and the U18 5-Nations, but wasn’t quite a dominant difference-maker for the Russians. He certainly wasn’t bad in these events, but didn’t look like a surefire 1st-round pick either.
The thing about Khusnutdinov is that you have to take the good with the bad, and there is a lot of good here to work with. He has incredible upside as a player who can leave an impact in all three zones, control possession, and drive controlled zone exits and entries with ease.
For the Dallas Stars, who (at the time of this writing) will now be picking with one of the final four picks in the 1st round, Khusnutdinov would be quite an interesting option. The organization doesn’t have any prospects quite like him in the pipeline, so his tools would certainly fill some specific holes. And for a team that can often be boring to watch because of their slow, defensive style of play, a high dose of fun shot right into their arm would be a welcome sight for the fanbase.