Today, in our continuing coverage of top prospects for the 2020 NHL Draft here at All About the Jersey, we have another potential first round prospect and another European. Rodion Amirov is a Russian winger who has grown up in the Russian system, moving up this year to play over half this past season in the KHL for Salavat Yulaev Ufa, which if I am not mistaken (after 5 minutes of research), the name comes from an 18th Century Bashkir national hero (the Bashkir are a subgroup of people living in Central Russia, where the team plays their home games. It was a fun 5 minutes of research). It is a hometown team of sorts for Rodion, who is from Salavat, Russia, about a two hour drive south of Ufa.
Amirov is a 6 foot, 168 pound winger who will be on the older side of the draft class. With an October 2, 2001 birthday, he will already be 19 by the time this upcoming season starts. He has pro experience already under his belt in what is arguably the 2nd best hockey league in the world. Considering he will most likely get a full season of KHL action under his belt next year, his prospects for a high draft pick are looking good, perhaps mid-first round when it all shakes out. The New Jersey Devils have picks in that range, so let’s take a good look at this kid.
Who is Rodion Amirov?
Starting near the end of the 2017-18, as a 16 year old, Amirov began playing in the MHL, Russia’s top junior league, and a feeder league for the KHL. It was not a particularly memorable 12 games for him, producing only 3 points, but as a 16 year-old getting experience in that league, it was worth it. The following year, he shone as a 17 year old, producing 26 points in 31 games, and another 6 points in 8 playoff games. He was also perfectly even in his goal-assist distribution in the regular season, with 13 goals and 13 assists. Of note, he also spent 9 games in the U18 league in Russia, a step below the MHL, and tore it apart, with 22 points in 9 games. Hence why he spent most of that year in the MHL.
As an 18 year old this past year, he split his time fairly evenly between the MHL and the KHL. In his MHL time, 17 games worth, he showed continued growth from the year prior, this time eclipsing the point per game barrier and ending with 22 points, 10 coming as goals. He also had a couple of points in 5 playoff games for them. He also spent 21 games up in the KHL, which again is generally considered the best league in the world outside of the NHL. He only produced 2 points in those 21 games, both assists, but remember that this was an 18 year old playing against true pros, many of whom could be playing in the NHL or perhaps once did. That is invaluable experience right there, and next season, he will get a shot at a full season there. According to the KHL’s stats page, Amirov averaged just under 10 minutes per game across those 21 games, which is not bad at all considering he was most likely a bottom 6 player, if not a fourth liner.
Rodion also has considerable international experience playing for Team Russia as a junior player. In 2018-19, as a 17 year old, he played in the World Junior Championships for U18, producing 6 goals and 3 assists in 7 tournament games, a downright MVP-caliber showing. It was the tournament that got his name out there, and led to his call up to the KHL at such a young age. He also played 27 games for U18 Team Russia in International Junior competition that year, producing 22 points. Again, excellent numbers for international play, and it shows that Russia was very comfortable using him often in international play, which is a great sign. This past season, he had 7 games of U20 experience in International Junior play, producing 3 points in the older division. These international stats will only boost his draft status, as they are top notch and showcase his abilities outside of the Russian game.
Where is Amirov Ranked?
Central Scouting, in their fairly newly released final rankings, have Rodion ranked as the #5 European skater. Despite juggling those ranked 2 through 4, they did not move Amirov at all. You could almost consider it tiers. You have Tim Stützle in his own tier, then Lucas Raymond, Alexander Holtz, and Anton Lundell in the second tier in whatever order you prefer, and then Amirov starts the third tier of Europeans in this draft.
-Future Considerations has Amirov ranked #19 overall, one of the lower rankings you will see for the Russian winger, but not the lowest.
-The Draft Analyst goes the other way, ranking Amirov #7 overall, ahead of Lundell. This will be the highest ranking you will see.
-The Hockey Writers, in their March rankings, has Rodion at #12 overall, a more average ranking.
-Draft Site, which has a mock draft that will continually be updated until the draft, currently is the outlier with how low he has Amirov ranked, at this point being mocked to Colorado at #27 overall. You can bet with fair confidence that Amirov is off the board before #27.
-Elite Prospects has their own top 31 rankings from February, and has the Russian #13 overall.
-The ISS, in their top 31, has him at #16.
-McKeen’s has him at #13.
-Finally, Dobber Prospects, in April rankings, has him #13 overall.
What Others Have Said About Amirov
The Hockey Writers have a profile up on Amirov from a couple of weeks ago. They are high on the winger overall, right off the bat noting that “he boasts a rare combination of skill and two-way acumen that a lot of 18-year-old forwards don’t possess.” They also note how he “looked like a man amongst boys” in the MHL, and while his role was limited in the KHL this year, it is definitely the best spot for him next year for his development. That is high praise indeed. Overall, they give him a 2/5 risk, and a 4/5 reward, a great score overall. They also give him a score of 7/10 on offense and 8/10 on defense, noting his strong two-way game. From this profile, here are a good two paragraphs on him you should read:
“Amirov’s game doesn’t have many flaws, as he’s a great skater which in turn makes him a great forechecker. Even though he’s not the biggest of forwards, he plays with an aggressive mindset and is unafraid of physicality along the boards. But the biggest asset of his game is his hockey IQ and ability to influence the game from all three zones and both special teams. The work ethic and attitude he possesses is also second-to-none. Basically he’s a complete player who is only going to get better. Expect him to attract a lot of attention from teams selecting in the top half of the first round.
Amirov has all the tools to succeed in the NHL from his elite two-way game to his hockey IQ and ability to come through in clutch situations, he is a player you win Stanley Cups with. Throw in his overall work ethic and mature attitude, and you have a complete player. He may not light it up as a top-line winger, but he will provide great production as a top-nine forward playing on both the power play and penalty kill.”
Steve Kournianos, the Draft Analyst, has his scouting report up on Amirov. Remember, Steve has the highest ranking for Rodion of anyone, #7 overall, so expect some serious praise here. Some quotables from the scouting report: “Shifty, aggressive and incredibly smart, Amirov impacts the game in all three zones with or without the puck.” … “He can play either side of center, and his shot accuracy on his off-wing is as accurate as it is on his strong side.” … “Amirov has a quick first step, but his directional changes in open ice are incredibly rapid and perfectly timed.” … “Amirov excels in both areas of special teams.” … “sharp instincts and decision making combine to force opponents into bad choices.” … “He has soft hands to handle tough passes, and his skate-to-stick transition is among the best you’ll see from a pre-draft teenager.” … “extremely elusive in tight spaces” … “He enters the offensive zone with his head up and consistently identifies and connects with the best option.”
In those Dobber Prospects rankings I listed above, the writer, Cam Robinson, gives a short couple of sentences about each player in his top 31. Here is what he had to say about Amirov: “An impressive two-way winger. Competes for every puck and tends to win thanks to his balance and strong core. Makes the subtle plays that add up. Still searching for that separation speed.” Here is the one area analysts will remark where his game needs improvement, top line speed. You see praise with his transitional skating and his agility, but less so with his speed.
A Little Video
Here is a highlight package both from international play and from the MHL. His team would be “TLP” when you see those games on the screen.
More MHL highlights:
Here is the first half of a shift by shift video from a MHL game from March 16th, one of the last he would’ve played this season. He is #27 in green. He scores the only goal in this half of the video, at around the 2:40 mark.
Here is the second half of the shift-by-shift. He gets a -1 at around 38 seconds in, then gets a primary assist at around 55 seconds to make up for it.
Given where the Devils will be picking with the other two picks they have in the first round, not including their own, I think they should be taking a strong look at this kid. Cap Friendly has the Devils projected to have pick #10 thanks to Arizona and pick #12 thanks to Tampa via Vancouver. Draft Site, in their mock, has the Devils picking at #10 and #17. Either way, you are looking at two picks in the middle third of the first round. In my opinion, that is the range in which Amirov should be going. For those who have him ranked below 20, I am not really sure why. To me, what the Russian brings to the table is exactly what I want to see in a prospect. He plays a 200 foot game and is incredibly talented, with a quality shot from anywhere on the ice and with soft hands for dishing the puck. However, his best attribute is none of those, but rather his mind; he is a great thinker of the game, and his work ethic is strongly praised. When your physical talent is exceptional but is not the main selling point, you’re doing something right, and Amirov certainly is. I think that profile above from The Hockey Writers had it best when it said “attitude and character also matter to a lot of teams, so don’t be surprised to see him chosen in the middle or even close to the top of the first round because of it.”
While I think the top of the first round is too high, I do think the middle is the ideal spot for him. A 10th overall pick for NJ, if they do get that one, is perhaps just a little too soon to take him; I previewed Dawson Mercer a couple of weeks ago and said the exact same thing for him too, and I think both Mercer and Amirov are similar in that regard. If I had to choose one, with a gun to my head, I might go Mercer as well over Amirov, but I am not fully sold on that decision, and I would definitely be happy with either player. Granted, I would not be upset if they took Amirov at 10, same with Mercer, but I believe that someone else a little better is still on the board (to me, you’re looking at a top 9, in no particular order, of Lafreniere, Byfield, Drysdale, Stützle, Raymond, Holtz, Lundell, Perfetti, Rossi. The odds of one of them being available at #10 is decently good, and I personally want any of them first. And even if they’re all gone, there are some other great names out there still).
To that end, if the Devils are picking between picks #12 and #17, and Amirov is on the board, he should be someone high on their draft board, if not at the very top. How can you argue against a winger with a strong mind who is great in all three zones, plays successfully on both the PP and PK, and already has pro experience in the 2nd best league in the world, and will have a full season of that next year to add to it? If that doesn’t sound like someone who can compete for a roster spot as soon as the 2021-22 season, I don’t know what else you could be looking for.
Now that you have read up on him, what do you think about Rodion Amirov? What do you think about his game, and do you think he would be a good fit in New Jersey? What do you think about him having KHL experience already, with more to come as a 19 year old? Where do you think is the sweet spot for him to be taken in this draft, and is that somewhere where the Devils could be picking? Do you want to see the Devils take him? Please leave your comments below, and thank you for reading another prospect profile here at AATJ!