The New Jersey Devils will have three prospects competing and developing in Russia this upcoming season in D Yegor Zaitsev, D Daniil Misyul, and LW Arseni Gritsyuk. They will also have another prospect in C Mikhail Maltsev that has developed in Russia and is set to join the Binghamton Devils after signing his entry-level contract with the Devils back in May. I reached out to Viktor Fomich who runs the @RUSProspects twitter account to learn more about these players and where they currently are in their development. I want to thank Viktor for taking the time to answer my questions and for running a comprehensive account covering Russian hockey prospects. I highly recommend following his account if you haven’t already. It is an amazing way to keep up to date on everything going on with prospects in Russian hockey.
C Mikhail Maltsev (SKA St. Petersburg, now signed with Binghamton)
Brian Franken: The New Jersey Devils drafted Maltsev in the 4th round of the 2016 NHL Draft with the hopes that he could become a mobile, two-way center. How would you describe his game? What are his strengths and weaknesses?
Viktor Fomich: Maltsev really is a two-way center and his biggest strength is that he is an all-around player with basically no real weaknesses. Still there is a weakness: he is decent at everything, yet you can’t really say he excels at something in particular, so it is not clear if there is something that can be eventually developed to the level high enough to be a successful NHLer.
BF: How do you feel Maltsev’s development has gone over the past 3 seasons? What type of player do you think he can be in the NHL and do you think he will realize his potential to make it at that level someday?
VF: Maltsev’s development has been going pretty steady, no real “wow” moments, yet no actual issues: he has shown that he has grown out of the juniors, as he was looking pretty solid at the VHL level, still he didn’t become a full-time KHLer. Now I think hopes are that in the end he can become the next Brylin for the NJD — a reliable 3rd line center, obviously it will depend on how his development will be ongoing further, but here Brylin himself can help, as he is a coach on the Bing Devils team.
D Yegor Zaitsev (Dynamo Moscow)
BF: The New Jersey Devils took a flier on Zaitsev by drafting him in the 7th round of the 2017 NHL Draft despite him being an overage prospect. What is his style of play? What does he do well already and what does he still need to work on?
VF: Zaitsev is an athletic, hard-working and hard-hitting defensive D, who is comfortable with playing at both sides of the ice. Not a lot of offense in his game, but can occasionally dangerously shoot the puck from the blue line. He has been one of the league leaders in hits in the KHL 2018-19 season, which is very impressive at his age, but he definitely needs to become much more reliable, as it is mandatory for the defenseman of his type.
BF: From an outsider’s perspective, it seems he really took a step forward last year with Dynamo by appearing in 47 KHL regular season games while averaging 12:51 per game and 11 playoff games while averaging 12:22. How do you feel his development has been going? Is he a potential NHL player?
VF: In terms of Zaitsev’s development you can say that it has been going not bad and not good. On one hand he has successfully developed to the point where he has proven that he can play at the KHL level, on the other hand he still has too many flaws in his game to be considered a full-time KHL regular. In the upcoming season, it is about time to finally step up and start showing that he is able to do something more than just hit everything that moves. Until then it is hard to judge his NHL potential.
BF: It appears that he’s under contract with Dynamo through the end of the 2020-21 season. What type of role do you expect him to have over the next 2 seasons with the club?
VF: Continuing the thought from the previous question, the upcoming season will be extremely important for Zaitsev. The Dynamo team is aiming high and the competition at D is extremely high as well. If he won’t show that he isn’t error prone anymore quick enough, he is going to find himself healthy scratched and maybe traded away to a weaker team. Still there is also some good news: Dynamo is switching to the NHL-sized rink this season, which should be more comfortable for defensemen of Zaitsev’s type.
D Daniil Misyul (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl)
BF: The New Jersey Devils selected defender Daniil Misyul in the 3rd round of the 2019 NHL Draft. Misyul spent most of last season in the MHL with Loko Yaroslavl, logging an average ice time of 20:29 across 46 regular season games and an average ice time of 22:39 across 10 playoff games. Should we expect to see Misyul split time between the KHL/VHL/MHL this upcoming season? What do you think would be best for his development?
VF: There are a lot of uncertainties about the coming season in terms of Misyul’s role, as a lot has changed in the Lokomotiv organization recently. In the KHL Craig MacTavish has been named as the head coach and it is not clear how much trust will he put in the young players. As for the VHL, Lokomotiv has signed an affiliation agreement with the independent VHL organization Buran Voronezh and for now it is not clear how much icetime they will want to allocate for Lokomotiv’s players. With that being said, I still think that the organization will play Misyul mostly outside the junior level, as he looked pretty confident at the KHL level last season and, in my opinion, this would be the best for him. Additionally, Misyul is expected to spend a lot of time with the Team Russia U20, as he is one of the main candidates for the WJC roster spots on defense.
BF: I’ve seen various reports that describe Misyul as a mobile, two-way defender who plays well with his long frame in front of his net. How would you describe his game and do you think he has the tools to potentially translate it to NHL success someday?
VF: Misyul definitely has got the tools that can be developed to the NHL level, the issue was always the toolbox, but it looks like there has finally been some progress in the second half of last season when he showed that he is capable to carry important roles both on the KHL level and in the Team Russia U20. If talking about his game, while he is a defense-first type of D, but still he likes to carry the puck too from time to time and is comfortable at the PP orchestrating duties. Misyul definitely likes to play physical game and is gifted enough for that and is a very solid skater — so yeah, as I’ve already mentioned, the tools are totally fine, needs to put those in a proper toolbox and on this stage of his development he is working exactly on that.
LW Arseni Gritsyuk (Avangard Omsk)
BF: One of the under the radar late round picks the Devils made was taking left wing Arseni Gritsyuk in the 5th round of the 2019 NHL Draft. Based on various draft guides I’ve read, it seems that Gritsyuk has above average speed that he’s able to use to make plays offensively and on the forecheck. I’ve also read differing opinions on his hockey sense/IQ. How would you describe his game? What are his strengths and weaknesses?
VF: I’ll start with the weaknesses: Gritsyuk isn’t exactly the most naturally gifted guy in terms of the size and skating combination — while he has got decent speed, it’s is one of the cases when you can hear complaints that you’d expect him to be faster for his size. Additionally, at the current point, his defensive game is quite subpar. Still I think that the Devils were very smart with this pick, as in Gritsyuk I see a very good attacking skillset, creativity and a solid overall understanding of the game, which eventually might result in something good.
BF: I don’t see any confirmation on EliteProspects but should we expect Gritsyuk to be back with the Avangard Omsk organization this upcoming season? Do you think he’ll mainly be a MHL player this year or maybe see time in the KHL and/or VHL?
VF: Currently he is at the Avangard KHL team’s camp, training under the guidance of Bob Hartley, but the general expectation is that Gritsyuk will mostly play in the MHL in the coming season.
BF: Do you view Gritsyuk as a legitimate NHL prospect? If he makes it, what type of player do you think he can be?
VF: Gritsyuk is definitely a solid prospect, but in the same time he is a long-shot: there are good tools to develop, but for the player of his type the result will likely be seen in something like 4-5 years. In terms of the ceiling I think he can become a Top 6 LW in the NHL one day.
I want to thank Viktor for providing us with insight into all 4 of these prospects. Be sure to follow him on twitter (@RUSProspects) to keep up to date on all things prospect related in Russian hockey. Now I want to hear your opinions on these prospects. Which of these prospects are you excited about? Which of these prospects do you feel are likely to make an impact for the Devils down the road? What are your expectations for the upcoming season when it comes to these prospects? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!