As you probably know, some European players, before becoming draft eligible, like to come and play a year of North American hockey, as they feel it improves their draft status. Pavel Zacha was one such example. Others stay in Europe, playing professionally there if possible, figuring the experience playing against men is worth it. Kaapo Kakko this year is an example of that. Well today, we have someone who has gone the first route, coming to play a year of CHL hockey before entering the draft, and he was quite successful at it.
Artemi Knyazev (or you might see it as Kniazev) is a moderate-sized defenseman hailing from Kazan, Russia, a large city in the western part of the country that was apparently dubbed the “sports capital of Russia” in 2009. Makes sense that a hockey prospect might come from there given that moniker. Artemi stands at 5’11” and weighs 176 pounds, not a frame that will last in the NHL, but he is tall enough that he can make it work with some added muscle over the next few years.
Looking to prove himself in the North American game, Artemi came over to play a year in the QMJHL this season, performing admirably for Chicoutimi, producing well over a half point per game. This also got himself on Central Scouting’s North American skaters list for rankings, as opposed to the European skaters list, and an early round selection seems a likely result. Let’s take a closer look at the Russian.
Who is Artemi Knyazev?
Two seasons ago, Artemi was playing junior hockey in the MHL, which is mostly a feeder league for the KHL in Russia. There are a few teams outside of Russia in the league, but mostly that is its purpose. He played for his hometown team, Irbis, for 39 games that year, and was not offensively inclined, producing only 7 points. It is no wonder he decided to come play a year in North America, as had he continued down that path, we might not be discussing him as a potential early-mid round pick for the NHL this year.
The move over to the Q for this past season was absolutely the right move for the d-man, as his play improved significantly playing in Canada. In 55 games for Chicoutimi, he produced a very solid 34 points, 13 of those coming as goals. Considering a year prior, he was barely producing any points in Russia’s junior league, that is a big jump indeed. I would also believe that for many who are evaluating talent and are in the draft process in the NHL, seeing a Russian player commit to playing North American hockey before being drafted is also a plus, as it means the likelihood of him being signed and playing in the KHL to stay home is a lot less likely. Artemi has made it clear that he wants to play in the NHL, in North America, by coming here to play before he became draft eligible, and on that alone his draft stock probably rises for some talent evaluators.
Knyazev also has some international experience playing for Team Russia, although not as much as you might want to see. Again, with only one real solid year of junior hockey production, and that coming in North America, he probably did not show too much to his Russian coaches to gain more time playing internationally. He did play at the International Juniors as a 17 and 18 year old, combined producing 5 points in 18 games, but all of those points coming as a 17 year old. Just having any international experience at all is helpful, but it really is just clear that his draft stock is almost wholly contingent on the strong year he had in the Q and not on anything he did in Russia or for Team Russia.
Thanks once again to Habs Eyes on the Prize, we have free access to Mitch Brown’s CHL Tracking Project. Knyazev ranks extremely high in expected primary assists per 60 and one timer shot assists per 60. Also for offense, he is excellent at producing controlled zone entries, a great trait to have. On defense, he stands out in preventing carry-ins against, and just overall preventing entries into the defensive zone. He does have some red zones as well, struggling mightily overall in all possession stats, and especially worrying for a defenseman, at creating controlled zone exits out of the defensive zone.
Where is Knyazev Ranked?
Due to his very strong season in the Q, Central Scouting ranks Artemi as the #41 North American skater heading into the draft, arguably a 2nd round grade. That fits with the type of year he had in Canada, and says they expect him to continue that type of production moving forward.
-Future Considerations has a late 2nd/early 3rd round grade on Knyazev, ranking him 59th overall, not a bad grade at all for his strong year in the Q.
-The Draft Analyst is lower on him than any other rankings here, but not significantly so. Steve had Artemi ranked #80 at the midterm, and he has him at #89 now. A late third round choice.
-The Hockey Writers, in their May rankings, has our Russian ranked #61 overall, at the end of the 2nd round.
-Draft Site is extremely high on the defender, slotting him to go to Detroit with the 35th pick in the draft, one spot after New Jersey drafts (they have NJ taking right winger Nils Hoglander).
-Dobber Prospects is in line with the Draft Analyst, having him ranked #87 overall.
What Others Have Said About Knyazev
As mentioned above, Habs Eyes on the Prize has their profile up on Knyazev already. Right near the top, writer David St. Louis comments that Artemi “plays the game aggressively and also in a bit of a loose manner, which makes for some fun viewings.” Interesting tidbit right out of the gate. As for positives, he writes that “his aggressive nature pays off more in his neutral zone. This is where Knyazev looks to break up play early by using his stick to cut off passing lanes.” This makes sense with his tracking data, showing great ability to prevent defensive zone entries. However, St. Louis notes that “teams won’t draft Knyazev for his defensive game.” He stands out offensively, and specifically will be selected “because of his mobility, his potential as a puck-mover and his willingness to step up”.
Given that praise offensively, it makes sense that his criticisms will come with his defensive game. St. Louis writes that, at times, he will “he will overcommit on his check, or misses them, and renders himself late on assignments and in overall positioning.” It is a trait of being aggressive, which reminds me a lot like Marek Zidlicky, although I have not watched him play personally to make that comparison myself. Just from what I am reading.
Fansided’s affiliate Puck Prose had a blurb about Knyazev back in November when discussing future Russian defensemen coming up the pipeline. Some positive quotes: “known for his two-way game and his abilities to create offensive chances for his team. He is not an overly physical defender but when need be, he will use the body.”...”smart player who uses his speed and his stick to defend and get the puck away from the opposition. He excels on the rush as he is strong at carrying the puck with speed and skill. Knyazev uses these abilities to create chances in the offensive zone.”...”a strong passer and can make effective passes while on the rush.”
Finally, here are two short quotes about the defenseman compiled here at My NHL Draft:
Will - Scouching.ca - Jan. 7th: “Absolutely love his mobility and he’s adjusting to the QMJHL more and more as time goes on … He’s an excellent skater with a really great ability to spot teammates and get them the puck in the offensive zone. Even as a potential power play specialist, there could be great value with Knyazev.”
Andy Lehoux - Future Considerations - Dec. 7th: “He possesses some slick edges, great agility and an impressive top speed that helps him move around the ice at his will. He controls the action offensively for Chicoutimi with his great instincts, positioning and puck distribution. The Russian defenceman is very poised and he’s always moving to adapt to the play.”
A Little Video
Here is a shift-by-shift video of a game from when he was still in the MHL. He scored a goal in this game:
From a while ago, Feb 2017, in an international U16 game where he scored 5 goals:
Here is a goal he made happen in the Q early in the season:
Here were his first goal and assist playing for Chicoutimi:
At first when I was looking into Artemi, I was not too excited by what I saw. He has had one amazing season, and other than that did not have stand out numbers while playing in Russia. But diving into him more, I can understand why he is ranked higher by some, although I might not quite agree on the early 2nd round grade that a few have placed on him. His offensive game, as a defenseman, is promising, and his aggressive nature to want to play outside of the defensive zone can be a positive when his aggressive nature pays off. That can lead to many offensive breakaways and odd-man rushes. For a team looking to generate more offense from the blue line, drafting someone like Knyazev can pay dividends.
However, I brought up Zidlicky earlier because I remember clearly the negatives of being that aggressive as well. Zidlicky was the king of pinching from the blue line to generate extra offense, and there were many times that worked really well to keep the forecheck going. But there were so many other times that it led to odd-man rushes against, and Zid was caught trapped up zone looking lost. It is a dangerous game to play; it is fun to watch for sure, but for a team looking to play sound hockey, and perhaps low-event, Knyazev’s style would not fit.
I am not exactly sure what Ray Shero, John Hynes and the New Jersey Devils are looking to get out of their defensive corps moving forward. Do they want more Will Butcher-types, offensively-minded? If so, they might want to take a closer look at Knyazev. He would definitely help to generate more offense on an offensively-starved team. And considering he has already committed to the North American game, being afraid of losing him to the KHL as a Russian is much less likely. If they are looking for more defensively-safe players, however, perhaps a little more Damon Severson or Andy Greene, then they might want to shy away from the Russian and look to other d-men in the second round. It really all depends on style. Me, I would probably look to other defenders for the end of the 2nd round, I would be less inclined to want a defender who is least comfortable in his own end of the ice. But Shero does have picks #55 and either #61 or #62 depending on Boston; if he decides he is intrigued by Artemi’s offensive drive and desire to play up ice, I would not be upset if the Devils call his name with one of those two selections. Preferably the 61st or 62nd pick in my opinion, but 55 is not a reach according to consensus rankings.
Now that you have read up on him, what do you think about Artemi Knyazev? Do you agree with me that he might not be the best fit as a defender for NJ, but considering the position is a huge area of need, would not be the worst choice? Do you think that he is the type of defender the Devils need, or would you go with a defender with a different play style? Where do you see Knyazev going in this draft? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading another prospect profile here at AATJ!