Danila Yurov's tremendous potential and talent are being wasted in the KHL. After starting out with three points in four games, it looked like it was going to be a breakout season with Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the KHL. But now, the 2022 Minnesota Wild first-rounder is starting to see his ice time decline, with under 10 minutes in three of the last four games. He's now starting games as a 13th forward, which looks like he's hardly going to see a lot of action for the 2022-23 season.
It's common for the KHL to shelter 17 and 18-year-old skaters, but after what happened with Marat Khusnutdinov last year, it looks more sinister. Metallurg has signed him through the 2022-23 season, so at least for now, he can leave next summer. He shouldn't sign an extension. Instead, he should sign his Entry Level Contract for the start of the 2023-24 season to get Top-6 minutes in Iowa.
The problem is that the KHL disagrees, and they can hold his minutes hostage until he extends. That's bad for Yurov and the Wild. Their choices are to either delay his arrival or lose a year of development. Khusnutdinov took the years, signing a two-year extension. What will Yurov do?
A proper season to develop and produce will be the critical ingredient for Yurov to make an impact once Mats Zuccarello's contract concludes in 2024-25. The Wild can give Yurov a year to make a Matt Boldy/Marco Rossi-type impact in Iowa. Once he's done there, could he be ready to make a similar impact paired with Kaprizov? It's not a bad idea.
Make no mistake, Yurov is an incredible talent. Remember, this is a player who outscored current Russian NHL superstars Artemi Panarin, Nikita Kucherov, and Kaprizov in their draft years at the KHL's junior level. The only reason to let him play fourth-line minutes is to squeeze more KHL years out of him. Until that happens, though, Metallurg is setting him up for failure.
Also, the Iowa Wild could use more high-end talent on their team, and there'd be minutes for them. The hopefuls to provide that right now are Adam Beckman and Vladislav Firstov. Yurov's upside is much higher than the two, but how can he hit the ground running when he's not getting the playing time to learn from his young mistakes?
So far, Yurov has shown what he can do in a shutdown role in the MHL while bringing the offense. What's wrong with having patience and experimenting further? He isn't a one-trick pony who's an offensive juggernaut. Like Boldy and Rossi, he brings a well-rounded, defensively responsible game to the fold. Call it the anti-Kevin Fiala.
Yurov will face some growing pains in North America, but that's what spending a year in Iowa is for. The North American playing style will help him simplify his game, which will help him overcome his few weaknesses.
The good news is that he isn't a one-trick pony who's just an offensive juggernaut. Like Boldy and Rossi, he brings a well-rounded, defensively responsible game. He'll become a better passer and make better decisions with the puck. Call him a playmaking Nino Niederreiter, an element that stopped Niederreiter from being consistent on the scoreboard.
If Yurov can power through the year in Russia, Iowa will get a chance to instill Guerin's philosophy in Yurov. Forget about playing 18 minutes a night in the KHL; he could make his NHL debut in the 2023-24 season. That could be the same year as Jesper Wallstedt coming up and getting a taste of NHL hockey.
Getting to play with that sheer amount of young talent is a better route for Yurov than playing two years for a Metallurg team in a league where big-money, high-star power teams like CSKA and SKA are always waiting for you in the finals.
But in the meantime, Yurov can't lose confidence, which is a risk if he keeps playing only a few minutes a night. Might he start buying into some scouts thinking he doesn't have a chance to be a star? If Yurov can't see his talent play out on the ice, like last year in the KHL, can he still believe in it?
The KHL and Hockey Russia will keep putting pressure on Yurov to sign for as long as they can, similar to Khusnutdinov. But since he can be a free agent, Yurov can decide his fate.
He can choose to stay in the KHL and eventually get more playing time, or he can come over to North America and get a better chance to develop into a core player. It's a hard decision, but only one path takes him to a team that is invested in making him the best player he can be.