Who is Vladislav Firstov?
Firstov made a splash for his first season in the USHL, picking up 26 goals and 32 assists in 62 games for the Waterloo Blackhawks and making his way onto the USHL’s All-Rookie Team. Firstov made enough of an impact to earn an invitation to the Sherman Williams Top Prospects game, which he attended, and the NHL Scouting Combine last week, which he did not attend. Players transitioning to North American style hockey often take a bit of an adjustment period, but Firstov was matching his numbers from his Russian U17 league almost immediately. He had 10 goals and 15 assists in 24 games last season before turning 18 and moving up to the much bigger NMHL, where his production understandably slowed a bit to just 4 goals and 5 assists in 21 games. The 6’0”, 181lb winger was huge for the Blackhawks this season, ranking just third in points on the team (second among rookies and fifteenth in the league overall) and guiding the team to the postseason, though they were eliminated in the quarterfinals. Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, they will not be keeping their left-handed rookie more than one season— Firstov has committed to playing for the University of Connecticut.
Where is Vladislav Firstov Ranked?
Most scouts see Firstov as a very early third rounder, with a few predicting a second-round jump for him. NHL Central Scouting ranks Firstov 23rd out of North American skaters. Other rankings include-
The Draft Analyst/Steve Kournianos— 63rd
Future Considerations— 64th
The Hockey Writers/Larry Fisher—96th
Some Quotes and Notes on Firstov:
While the young winger has a number of positives to his game, Firstov’s shot draws the most praise from hockey experts around the leagues. NHL Central Scouting’s David Gregory described Firstov’s shot as “NHL-ready”. Last Word on Hockey’s Benn Kerr summarized the winger’s biggest asset:
His wrist shot and snapshot both feature lightning-quick releases. He has the ability to change the angle on his release point which makes things difficult for goaltenders. He also has a lot of power on his shot and so it beats goaltenders and when it doesn’t, it can be tough to control for rebounds. The accuracy is the most impressive thing about FIrsov’s shooting skills though. He puts pucks into corners of the net and can find very small openings. Firstov also has an excellent one-timer.
Firstov’s shooting skils are supported by good edgework and generally smooth puck control. Says Kerr-“Firstov has the hands and stickhandling ability to control the puck and extend plays. He combines this with his skating ability to slow the game down and speed it up when necessary.” Gregory labelled Firstov a power forward who “can possess the puck really well in traffic”.
Firstov’s overall speed isn’t one of his best assets, but he’s both agile and quick in his first few steps to allow him to “pounce on loose pucks or win other short races with an opponent.” (Kerr). Draftsite’s Bill Placzek describes him as a “slippery creative winger with a high skill set and the ability to make offensive play with regularity.”
Effort and hockey sense are also in no short supply here:
-”Reads the play well and has the willingness and competitiveness to play hard away from the puck...” -Placzek
-”He uses his hockey IQ to find open spaces and set himself up to take a pass from a teammate and fire it on net... He sees the ice well and makes smart decisions with the puck... competes hard in all three zones.” -Kerr
The Highlight Reel:
From the set up to the shot, well-executed snipe by Vladislav Firstov (2019). He sets up the defender as a screen on outnumbered entry. Shot is so clever, not giving away his spot with his blade + dragging the puck around the D's stick to shoot under it. 47p in 49gp in the USHL. pic.twitter.com/2WkI7Bj5j2— Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown) March 6, 2019
A quick play that highlights nearly all of Firstov’s abilities. He’s not looking to outstrip defenders with his speed but keeps the play moving just fine. He moves the puck well and stickhandles cleanly. Then we get to the shot, which he knows is so good that he doesn’t even bother to deke around the defenseman, instead using him like a human shield and some sort of obstacle course training dummy. Smart play, and a wicked shot.
ABSOLUTE ROCKET. @BlckHawksHockey Vladislav Firstov with a cannon from the point #WhosNext pic.twitter.com/idjS992P2k— USHL (@USHL) October 14, 2018
Sometime’s you get bored having to skate for your goals. With the Blackhawks on the man advantage here the defense isn’t pressuring Firstov, so with no one to embarrass, Firstov takes on the goalie instead and beats him cleanly with an absolutely brutal snipe.
Based on the score and Vladislav Firstov's celly, it appear @BlckHawksHockey is flying high tonight. #WhosNext pic.twitter.com/ffc3Wb1wiJ— USHL (@USHL) October 19, 2018
The speed of the release on this shot plus the angle he gets on it is all just ridiculous.
BLACK HAWKS WIN! ⚫️— Waterloo Black Hawks (@BlckHawksHockey) November 3, 2018
Black Hawks WIN 6-1 over the @fightingsaints behind two goals from Vladislav Firstov!
We head to Dubuque for a Saturday Night game at 7:05 PM, Listen Live on @1650KCNZ #WATvsDUB #WBHFamily pic.twitter.com/UvZMcyMgyN
Even his one-timers go opposite top corner. He has to be using a cheat code of some sort.
(On an unrelated note, I’m not usually much of a dramatic celly fan but I’m loving this random mashup here)
We’ve covered his shooting and his cellys, but can he skate? Does he go to the tough areas or just shoot from the safety of the point?
What an effort from Vladislav Firstov (@BlckhawksHockey) #WhosNext pic.twitter.com/QVMdteoEw9— USHL (@USHL) March 27, 2019
The Verdict: To Draft or Not to Draft?
Every second and third round draft prospect has their pros and cons. Firstov may have one of the shortest ‘con’ list of any player in the vicinity of his ranking though— most scouts comment on his need to bulk up a bit and his relatively average top speed. Firstov’s quickness and his ability to control the play make his ‘breakaway threat potential’ a non-issue for his style, and his choice for solid positioning over excess physicality marks a smart player that will undoubtedly add some muscle to his frame anyway over the next few years. Additionally, Firstov is not looking to become a 2020 NHLer. He’s committed to NCAA hockey which will give him time and training to further improve to the point where he’s ready to make an NHL lineup, which is a huge benefit for a team that is not in position to have a win-now mentality at this point.
Firstov has all the makings of a future NHLer with little drawbacks and and a development plan already in place. He’ll likely be on the board for the Devils late second round pick (61st) and possibly their early third (70th) picks—with two opportunities to snag this well rounded winger, there’s a decent chance we see Firstov in a Devils jersey later this week, and I wouldn’t mind that pick at all.
Is Firstov a good fit for the Devils rebuild, or should we be looking at some other players around the same ranking? How important do you think top speed is in assessing a players potential? Which pick would you draft him with? Leave your thoughts in the comments and thanks for reading!