The Minnesota Wild were convinced they got a steal in Danila Yurov when they selected him 24th overall in the 2022 NHL Draft. They weren't alone. Some experts saw Yurov as a top-10 talent in his class, with the so-called Russian Factor, accelerated by real concerns about geopolitical uncertainty, letting him tumble down the board.
Although Yurov was cartoonishly dominant in the Russian junior circuit, his time in the KHL made it a genuine concern whether he could translate his talents to the NHL. His ice time in his draft year was absurdly low, but it was still concerning that he registered zero points over 40 KHL games in 2021-22. Even after rebounding somewhat with 12 points in 70 games (still with under 10 minutes a night) the following year, his stats were a concern. No matter how young, you'd probably like to see a player put up over 15 points in 101 KHL games over their career.
The Wild would probably breathe a sigh of relief if Yurov was producing like a first-rounder in the KHL this year. However, that relief should be turning into euphoria. In recent weeks, Yurov is starting to look like the top-10 talent people hyped him to be.
Yurov still could stand to get more minutes, but his 14 minutes and 55 seconds per night is almost double the 8:06 he averaged last season. That increase in ice time is partially leading to a big jump in scoring. Yurov has climbed just outside the top 20 in the KHL in points with 26 in 33 games. Those 26 points are tied with former NHL stars like Alexander Radulov and Alex Galchenyuk, and premier youngsters like 2023 Draft super-prospect Matvei Michkov.
More encouraging is that Yurov is appearing to get better and better as the season goes on. With an assist on Thursday, Yurov notched his 22nd point (nine goals) in his past 23 games. Yurov has racked up four goals and 13 points in his past ten. This rapid, linear progression is exciting for a player who spent the past few seasons looking for any traction in the KHL.
It's also boosting him into the realm of the best young KHL prospects we've seen. Here are the best Draft+2 seasons (in terms of points per game; minimum 20 games) by a KHL player over the league's history:
1. Vladimir Tarasenko, 2011-12: 0.87
2. Kirill Kaprizov, 2016-17: 0.86
3. Nikita Filatov, 2009-10: 0.85
4. Evgeny Kuznetsov, 2011-12: 0.84
5. DANILA YUROV, 2023-24: 0.79
6. Alexander Vasilyev, 2013-14: 0.75
7. Nikolai Prokhorkin, 2013-14: 0.71
8. Pavel Buchnevich, 2014-15: 0.63
9. Artemi Panarin, 2011-12: 0.62
10. Kristian Vesalainen 2018-19: 0.55
Prospects are never a sure thing, but Yurov's on a path as surefire as it gets. Tarasenko, Kaprizov, Kuznetsov, and Panarin each became stars in the NHL, with Buchnevich becoming a bonafide top-six forward. The odds are good, and with Yurov creeping toward the cream of the crop, they can get even better.
All Yurov might need is just to keep logging more minutes. Yurov has played 16 or more minutes six times during his ten-game surge, which had only happened three times that season until that point. If that workload becomes the norm, expect big things to continue. His per-minute production stacks up better than most star Russians before him.
Kaprizov is the only player who was more productive on a per-minute basis than Yurov, and he and Tarasenko are the only two surpassing him in scoring rate. You have to be a special player to get into the same conversation as those two. Not only does this season dispel concerns about Yurov's development overseas, it has to make you dream of him staying on the Kaprizov track.
The good news keeps rolling in. Yurov's hot streak coincides with a shift toward playing him at center. The Wild mentioned before the season that they believed Yurov could make the transition despite Yurov mostly playing the wing. Now, we finally have some proof of concept. In his last 10 games, he's averaging nearly nine faceoffs per night, taking 10 or more draws in six of those games.
We don't have many underlying stats to break down his overall game, but he has a strong reputation as a two-way player. Furthermore, his coaches are trusting him to play down the middle. That's a rarity for a 19-year-old Russian in the KHL, especially one who hasn't committed the next eight years or so of their life to the league.
It's huge for Minnesota if Yurov keeps growing his game while learning a new position. As soon as next season, they might be able to field a group of centers that includes Joel Eriksson Ek, Marco Rossi, Ryan Hartman, Marat Khusnutdinov, and Danila Yurov. The Wild are getting closer to having genuine depth down the middle.
Debuting Yurov next season at age 20 might sound aggressive, particularly for a Bill Guerin-run organization. But the more Yurov improves, and the closer he gets to coming stateside next season, the more realistic the possibility becomes. He's on track to have about 160 games of KHL experience by the time he can play for Minnesota next year. Is that enough experience to have Guerin resist his urge to slow-roll him in the AHL?
If so, Wild fans might finally get the answer to a question they've wondered about for nearly a decade: What happens if Minnesota can get a Kaprizov-caliber player at age 20? Let's hope we get to find out.
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