Whenever the 2020 NHL Entry Draft eventually occurs, the Nashville Predators will have an exciting opportunity to add to their pipeline with five picks in the first three rounds. That quantity of picks—pending any trades—allows a different degree of flexibility for the organization to take bigger swings at certain prospects.
One of those players could be Russian forward Marat Khusnutdinov of the MHL’s SKA-1946 club—one of this draft class’ younger skaters.
Previous profiles of entry draft prospects can be found above, as well as my initial top-31 ranking of eligible prospects. Over the next few weeks, I will release the second iteration of this ranking as it expands to 62 players.
Marat Khusnutdinov - C
SKA-1946 St. Petersburg [MHL] - 17 - Moskva, Russia
Khusnutdinov, born in July 2002, played his draft-eligible season in the Russian MHL (the top junior league in Russia) for SKA-1946 St. Petersburg after coming of age in the Podolsk organization. Before diving into his numbers, I must provide a disclaimer about the MHL: it’s a maddeningly hard league to watch. There is a massive talent disparity between teams; SKA won 55 of their 64 games this season, compared to the league’s worst team which won one game (I’m not kidding). It can also be hard to judge offensive ability. You may notice from the tracking I’ve done of Semyon Chistyakov that shot attempts are sometimes hard to come by in the MHL. This may be evident in some of the video clips below.
Regardless, Khusnutdinov was impressive for SKA this season. He started low on the depth chart before working his way into top-six minutes and power play responsibilities. Averaging just under 15 minutes of total ice time per night, Khusnutdinov scored 13 goals and 38 points in 44 games. His 0.5682 primary points at even strength per game ranks third among draft-eligible forwards in the MHL this season. With a 16.05% shooting percentage, he scored 25 of his 38 points as goals or primary assists at even strength.
Per the fantastic tracking data from Will Scouching, Khusnutdinov was a fantastic transition player for SKA this season, too, completing a high number of offensive controlled zone transitions at a 76.7% success rate.
It’s clear Khusnutdinov has the offensive tools to succeed at the next levels of Russian hockey—the VHL and maybe eventually the KHL—but his challenges will only grow stronger as he moves on from the MHL.
Khusnutdinov’s Scouting Report
|Good forechecking speed and angles of attack; impressive tenacity in backchecking, too||Size certainly won't do him favors for some NHL teams but skating should outweigh that|
|Excellent skater with great edge control, lateral agility and good stop & start acceleration||Too little discipline in defensive zone positioning - will need to change to play C in the NHL|
|Understands how to use his good stick handling skills to draw defenders & create space||Like the drive to chase down any puck but can tighten up puck support decisions more|
Marat Khusnutdinov, in nearly every viewing, announces his intent with and without the puck early: disruption and chaos. He’s simultaneously at every spot on the ice while maintaining fairly good positioning in most scenarios; he has an impressive motor that will help him adjust to bigger challenges.
Right from the start of this first clip, I see something I love. Khusnutdinov (#22, white) is an undersized center at 5’9”, so I like the small steps he takes to gain an advantage, including the second tap he takes off the face-off to push the puck to his winger. As his teammate carves around the top of the circle, notice how he’s crashing the net with good body position and his stick in a spot for a potential deflection. Khusnutdinov then displays how well he can map the ice, providing good cycle support and attacking open time and space.
Here’s another example: Khusnutdinov corrals a rebound and uses good puck protection skills to carve ice to the net and record a high-danger scoring chance.
In this clip, you’ll notice what I mean about his positioning; he covers maybe 60% of the zone in a matter of seconds. At times, he’s floating—aimlessly looking for space even if finding it won’t be helpful to his teammates—but at other times, he reads the play well, darting to a loose puck that culminates in another high-danger scoring chance.
As referenced above, Khusnutdinov’s transition skills are really a nice part of his profile. Notice how generates speed from his crossover step and accelerates into top speed with good puck handling to match.
Here’s another example. He doesn’t always take the direct north-south path, but evaluates for open space before attacking it with speed. At higher levels, he’ll need to work more on mapping out passing and shooting lanes before he pulls up in the offensive zone.
Above is a good example of Khusnutdinov using two layers of puck protection (upper body and leg) upon zone entry. His breakaway speed isn’t always an advantage, but possession is just as important.
This clip shows a good example of quick decision-making upon zone entry and the space his puck handling can create in other levels of the zone for his teammates.
This is one of my favorite plays from Khusnutdinov this season. He recognizes the forechecker is taking a good angle to the puck, so he chips it ahead to his teammate while noting another teammate attacking the blue line to set up a great passing play. Khusnutdinov then uses his speed to catch up with the play and bury an easy goal.
This is just pure, fun skill.
Khusnutdinov is a tenacious backchecker, too. He’s always hunting down the puck in all three zones—when engaged with good positioning—and can disrupt zone entries as seen above.
I really appreciate how mature his decision-making is at such a young age. You won’t find Khusnutdinov committing to a skating or passing path if it isn’t there; he’d much rather reevaluation and regroup. Despite taking a penalty, I like this backcheck on a broken play and subsequent body play. One area of his game to improve though is creating two layers of defense—his stick and body or leg—to cut off opponents from multiple skating or passing lanes at once.
His nose for the puck is no different in the defensive zone, but you may notice that he displays curious decision-making here for a center. I wouldn’t be surprised if clubs want to swap him to the wing, as he may be more useful there in the defensive zone. I like Khusnutdinov’s attention to puck support all over the ice, but I’d like to see him be more disciplined, too. For instance, when the play is on the half wall, he moves north of the puck battle to try and “pull” the play out of the zone and subsequently gives up prime puck support position to #26 in black.
Khusnutdinov has the advantage of a high-end motor and good puck skill to succeed in most systems, in my opinion, but it’s clear clubs will want to mold him more into their defensive and forechecking systems.
Expected Pick Range
Colin Cudmore (@CudmoreColin) over at silversevensens.com has done remarkable work compiling draft rankings and establishing an ‘Expected Pick Range’ from a variety of different sources. You can read about his methodology here, track the compiled rankings here, and use his data viz (embedded below) here.
Khusnutdinov’s Expected Pick Range: #20 to #79 - 1st to 3rd round
Like many prospects playing in less-popular European leagues, Khusnutdinov’s expected pick range has risen since last summer. The MHL can be an absurdly hard place to predict talent from, but it’s clear that some evaluators see him as a first-round talent. I imagine the Russian ends up as a second-round pick.