It's getting impossible to ignore Danila Yurov's dominance in the KHL. Thanks to various factors, they got Yurov, a top-10 talent in his draft class, with the 24th pick of the 2022 Draft. Checking in about 20 months later, Yurov might be a top-5 member of his class at this precise moment. Heck, maybe even better than that.
Few members of the 2022 class are making an impact in the NHL this early on. Defenseman Pavel Mintyukov is something of a revelation for the Anaheim Ducks, with 19 points in 40 games. Meanwhile, just a bit east in the desert, Logan Cooley has 25 points in 48 games for the Arizona Coyotes. Everyone else is currently more accomplished in other leagues than in the NHL.
As for Yurov, he might be shining the brightest in arguably the second-best league in the world. Yurov entered Tuesday's action sitting in the top 20 in the KHL in goals (21) and points (45). If that kind of production sounds absurd for a 20-year-old, that's because it is.
Here's the list of 20-year-old KHL players with as many or more points per game as Yurov has this season:
When you're head-and-shoulders above someone like Artemi Panarin at age 20 (0.62 PPG in 2011-12), you're cooking. When you're a more prolific goal-scorer than Kuznetsov and Kaprizov at that age? Let's go.
And Yurov might leave Metallurg Magnitogorsk next season. While the Wild are reportedly fine with their star prospect developing another season in the KHL, his Russian squad doesn't seem to want to pay him like a player who's leading his team in goals and points.
If Metallurg lowballs Yurov, what would stop him from jumping to North America? The sticking point would likely be their strong preference for starting their top prospects in the AHL, making them work their way up to the big show.
The Wild have done this at nearly every turn under Bill Guerin, even when it didn't make sense. When Matt Boldy signed out of Boston College in Spring 2021, burning a year of his Entry-Level Contract no matter what, Guerin refused to give his star prospect a sniff at the lineup. That came even after Boldy torched the AHL for six goals and 18 points in 14 games.
Infamously, the same thing happened with Marco Rossi over the past two seasons. Rossi was nearly a point-per-game center for the Iowa Wild, whose parent club desperately needed help at his position. Guerin summed up his philosophy during this ordeal. "He's got to go through the process," Guerin told The Athletic's Michael Russo and Joe Smith in December 2022. "You really have to work for it. It's not just given to you. You really have to earn it."
Brock Faber has been the only exception to this rule. In fairness, Boldy was ready for primetime the second he signed out of the University of Minnesota last season. Still, wasn't Boldy also at that point two years before? Perhaps Guerin's philosophy is evolving.
But if he remains dogmatic in his "earn it" philosophy, why would that stop Yurov from coming over? If he plays in the NHL, Yurov would make more than double the $330K that is apparently on the table for him to stay in Russia. The catch is that he has to be in the NHL to make that money. If he's "earning it" in Des Moines, one of the "its" he'll be earning is a salary of around $70K, around 20% of what he'd make in the KHL.
To make the move to America make sense financially for Yurov, the Wild would have to guarantee him a spot on the NHL roster (or at least have an agreement to get loaned back to Russia rather than waiting in Iowa). As a rule, the Wild don't do this.
But this time, they should make an exception. Why? Because Yurov is exceptional.
Excelling in the KHL to this degree at such a young age probably has enough proof that Yurov can play in the NHL next year. But we don't have to blindly guess what a 21-year-old Yurov might do with a roster spot. In Tarasenko and Kuznetsov's cases, we know what they did as NHL players at age-21.
Tarasenko made his debut in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. The St. Louis Blues eased him into a role, playing him only 13 minutes and 25 seconds a night. He scored nine goals and 19 points in 38 games and was third among regular Blues forwards in points per hour at 5-on-5. Kuznetsov got a shorter stint a year later, playing 17 games. But he also scored about a half-point per game, collecting nine, including three goals.
Assuming that's the ballpark Yurov would be in, let's do a quick check of the Wild forwards scoring a half-point per game or more. The list is Kaprizov, Joel Eriksson Ek, Mats Zuccarello, Matt Boldy, Marco Rossi, and Ryan Hartman. It feels like there's more than enough room to add another high-upside scorer to the mix. Why wouldn't the Wild sign up for that next season?
Especially when the most important thing for young Russian players is to get them over. Yurov was available to the Wild in the first place because teams didn't think he'd be able to come to North America faster than other first-round prospects. Not only is this wrong, but Metallurg is practically gift-wrapping the opportunity to get a star-caliber prospect to the Wild at age 21.
It looks like all Minnesota has to do to take advantage is to guarantee a roster spot for Yurov. Maybe it's not the forward equivalent of Faber's do-it-all, minute-munching role. Maybe Yurov starts out playing a minimal amount of 5-on-5 time, but being an ace up John Hynes' sleeve on the power play. Isn't that a no-brainer, even if just to make absolutely sure he doesn't delay his arrival past next year?
But let's take this a step further. Imagine Chuck Fletcher having an opportunity to import a 21-year-old Kirill Kaprizov onto his roster in 2018-19. Fletcher could have added him to the mix before the old Wild core fell apart. Imagine that all Fletcher has to do is guarantee him a roster spot... but he refuses to.
The Wild fired after the 2018-19 season. Suppose this imaginary scenario were true and got out. Forget getting fired; he may never have gotten another GM opportunity.
Who cares about dogma? Successfully navigating the NHL requires flexibility. Guerin and the Wild showed that flexibility with Faber, and it's paid off beyond everyone's wildest dreams. With Minnesota in the final year of their $15 million salary cap disadvantage, they need all the help they can get. Yurov represents a potential life preserver they can have when they need it the most. Guarantee him a spot on the boat and go from there.
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