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  • The Marat Khusnutdinov Countdown Starts Now

    Image courtesy of SKA English Twitter (@hcSKA_News)
    Tony Abbott

    Wave 1 of the Minnesota Wild’s great prospect infusion is basically wrapped up. The State of Hockey saw Matt Boldy grab a spot and hold it down for the last year and a half. Marco Rossi and Calen Addison struggled at times, but saw NHL minutes and are looking to majorly improve next year. Brock Faber arrived at the end of the season and looked like he belonged.

    We’ll see how the latter three establish themselves in big seasons next year (should they still be around, but that’s a different story), but we’re already taking our eye on Wave 2. That second phase of the prospect pool is scheduled to arrive next summer.

    The Wild expect Jesper Wallstedt to build on last season’s success in the AHL and make a case to grab a backup spot in the 2024-25 season. Minnesota is also looking to import a trio of prospects from Europe once their contracts wrap up. Liam Öhgren, Danila Yurov, and Marat Khusnutdinov all see their deals expire at the conclusion of the 2023-24 season.

    It’s a promising look for Wave 2, which will be counted on to contribute affordably for the duration of their Entry-Level Contracts. But Khusnutdinov has to be the player they’re perhaps most desperate to bring to North America.

    The 2020 second-rounder had enjoyed a breakout season of sorts in the KHL, scoring 11 goals and 41 points for SKA Saint Petersburg. That’s great enough to hear on its own, but here’s the biggest reason Minnesota’s eagerly anticipating Khusnutdinov’s arrival: He’s a center. A real center.

    Many times, a prospect will get listed at center despite having no real projection of playing down the middle in the NHL. Cole Perfetti and Seth Jarvis are some players in Rossi and Khusnutdinov’s class that fall into this category.

    But that isn’t the case with Khusnutdinov.

    He averages more than 10 faceoffs per game in the KHL, and won 350 of his 671 draws (52.2%) during the regular season. Khusnutdinov might eventually transition to wing. But for now, he’s playing in the second-best league in the world as a center, acquitting himself defensively and in the dot.

    The question is more: Can he score at an NHL level? Funny you should ask that. Let’s consult Khusnutdinov’s Hockey Prospecting player card and see who pops up.


    You might recognize “Kirill Kaprizov” from his role in “Absolutely destroying everyone the Wild face for the last three seasons.” Now, Kaprizov’s per-game scoring numbers (40 points in 46 games) eclipse Khusnutdinov’s (41 in 63 games) by a substantial margin. Accounting for ice time, Kaprizov got 3.24 points in all situations at age-20, compared to Khusnutdinov’s 2.47 points in all situations.

    The gap is a bit closer than that when comparing points per hour at even strength (3.05 to 2.50 in favor of Kaprizov), but it’s safe to say that Khusnutdinov won’t be quite on that level. Still, he should have a high floor, and his ability to contribute on both the power play and the penalty kill makes him someone who could challenge for that No. 1 center spot.

    But let’s say he doesn’t quite pan out, either by moving to wing at the NHL level, or not an impact player altogether. After all, he and Rossi produced similar numbers in their leagues, and look how happy the Wild are with Rossi. 


    There’s reason to believe he’ll endear himself to Minnesota better than Rossi has thus far, though. For one, he’ll be 22 years old when he hits stateside, probably having played around 150 KHL games. The front office isn’t forced to be patient for him to get ready, they’re patient for him to get over. That can create a massive difference in perception, as we’ve seen this year.

    From a stylistic standpoint, Khusnutdinov has speed and is willing to be a pest despite being 5’9”. That arguably makes him more of a Bill Guerin/Dean Evason type of player than Rossi, whose defense relies more on a quick stick and smart positioning. 

    If you take the pulse of the fanbase going into the summer, the everlasting pursuit of a No. 1 Center is probably going to be at the top of the wishlist, even as Minnesota doesn’t have the cap room to add, well, anyone. But it’s important to consider: Is the State of Hockey going to still feel that need next season?

    Ryan Hartman is slated as Kaprizov’s center. It's a spot he’s occupied for two-plus years and has, paradoxically, seemed at once capable and stretched in the role. But next summer? What if Rossi finds his footing in the NHL just as Khusnutdinov arrives? You’d almost have too many options. Don’t forget about Joel Eriksson Ek, whose broken out over the past two seasons and just put up a career-high 61 points.

    Who do you go with, then? The bigger two-way stalwart in Eriksson Ek who shows on the power play and at 3-on-3 that he’s comfortable playing with the superstar? The most skilled of the bunch in Rossi? Or do you line him up alongside his countryman and fellow 5’9” Russian Rocket in Khusnutdinov? It’s a happy thought, and a much better problem to have than what the Wild are facing currently.

    However, a lot has to go right for this to become a pressing issue. Because of this, it might still be a smart move to target a center in the draft in June. After all, it’s true that you can never have enough centers. And if you do find yourself with “too many” centers, at least to fill out a depth chart, the Dallas Stars just showed Minnesota the value of having centers pushed off to the wing in Roope Hintz and Tyler Seguin.

    The Wild need help, but help might be on the way. Best of all, it might be the exact help they need to surround Kaprizov with what he needs to turn Minnesota’s fortunes around.

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    Thanks for article. Didn’t realize might have K this summer. Is there a decent chance he ends up centering Kirill next season with Ek centering Boldy and JOJO and Rossi as 3rd line? (Move Hartman to wing somewhere)

    i realized you discuss this … guess looking for even more thoughts and rampant speculation lol thx 

    Edited by jessail
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    45 minutes ago, jessail said:

    Didn’t realize might have K this summer.

    I think you may have misinterpreted something in the article.

    It appears that Khusnutdinov will play the 23-24 season in the KHL, and possibly be available in the summer of 2024.

    The roster could look a bit different going into 24-25, given that the Wild have just 7 forwards under contract for that season at present, and a couple could be traded by then, so speculating on where someone might play at that time seems a tad premature.

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    Daniel Briere does seem like a relatively reasonable comp for Rossi, even if that looks like and unattainable upside comp at this point.

    Briere was a bit more goal scorer, but similar in size. I still think Rossi's game will end up more like Mikael Granlund's at the NHL level, but added strength and skill over the next 2 years could change things a bit.

    Granlund had a couple decent assist years at ages 21 and 22, but didn't exceed 8 goals until his age 23 season. Starting with that age 23 season through age 30, Granlund has 396 points in 592 games. That is roughly 55 points/82 games, and that 55 points would be around 17.5 goals and 37.5 assists.

    Though slightly ahead of Rossi's development, Briere hardly did anything in the NHL before age 23, then scored 603 points in 701 regular season games from his age 24 season through age 34(roughly 30 goals and 40 assists per 82 games), so I think some patience with Rossi is definitely warranted.

    Zuccarello did not play in the NHL at all prior to age 23. He then averaged around 18 goals and 38 assists per 82 games prior to being paired with KK97.

    Rossi doesn't turn 23 until September of 2024.

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    I'm not just tracking Khus, but also Yurov. I'm wondering if these are eventually Kaprizov's linemates? I also wonder if Boldy-Rossi-Beckman are an eventual line? 

    But '24 is as soon as we might see this happen. And, once the kids do come up, where does that leave some of our current players? They'll need to be thinned out. I could see something like a Duhaime-Ek-Freddy line, and a Shaw-Dewar-Milne line. (That was for Pewter)

    This particular scenario is heavily favoring the left handed shot, and leaves no room for any prospect flaming out. It also starts out pretty inexpensive. This would allow for some influx of top 6 talent, if needed, in '25. At that point, could it lead to an offersheet?

    Edited by mnfaninnc
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    Will Knudee become a bigger goal scoring threat? 

    Mogilny was an outstanding goal-scoring Russian who had some of the same qualities. Of course he scored over 50 NHL goals at times. We can only hope it translates to the NHL. I like the trajectory so far. The skating and ability to create 2v1s is something I've noticed from Knudi highlights that is something he generates via directional change or jump into space. A little bit like a Barzal or Brayden Point. If he keeps getting stronger and shows up for 2024-25 on the same upward trend the Wild will be glad to have made something of the Kunin pick from 2016.

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