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Vasili Ponomaryov: 2020 NHL Draft Prospect Profile; Flashy Russian Center

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Vasili Ponomaryov is a prospect that is tantalizing on film, but unspectacular in the box scores. He looks like a modern forward, but can he put it together to be a long-term NHLer?

2018 Under-17 Four Nations Tournament - Slovakia vs Russia Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images

Who is Vasili Ponomaryov?

Vasili Ponomaryov is a 6’0”, 176 lbs Russian Center playing in the QMJHL for the Shawinigan Cataractes. He’s routinely excelled in his age-appropriate international competitions, and he’s averaged just shy of a point-per-game in both the MHL and the QMJHL.

Ponomaryov pops off the screen more than he pops off the stat sheet. Some may argue that this is an indication that he has a high ceiling because his skills are better than his production so far. Although, as the line in Moneyball goes, “if he’s a good hitter than why doesn’t he hit good?” Film (especially highlight packages) lies more than numbers.

And according to the numbers, it’s highly unlikely that he turns into a star, and slightly below 50/50 that he even makes the NHL.

His comps cover a wide range, but Peter Bondra is an attractive ceiling. Some realism with regards to his projection is certainly warranted, though. He’s far from a lock, as tantalizing as the upside may be.

Where is Vasili Ponomaryov Ranked?

#48 North American Skaters - NHL Central Scouting (Final Ranking)

#36 - Future Considerations (March Ranking)

#24 - ISS Hockey (March Ranking)

#23 - The Draft Analyst (March Ranking)

#46 - TSN - Bob McKenzie (Midseason Ranking)

#38 - TSN - Craig Button (March Ranking)

#39- Dobber Prospects - Cam Robinson (April Ranking)

Colin Cudmore’s (@CudmoreColin) “Expected Pick Range” tool which takes rankings from 34 sources has originally had him projected as a back-end 1st rounder, and he’s since slid to a top-end 2nd-rounder. His skill is pretty obvious, so scouts likely were hoping the stats would follow the eye-test, and that didn’t pan out in as convincing a fashion as hoped.

What Others Say About Vasili Ponomaryov

I’ll start off with Bill Placzek’s DraftSite blurb as it’s always a concise intro thought to the scouting portion of these profiles.

Russian import who arrived ready to be Shawingan’s best player through his hard work at both ends. Well conditioned and able to consistently play at a high pace shift after shift. A good skater who is danger with every touch who can spin off checks and outmuscle bigger defender and unearth pucks on dump ins. Escapes contain, on the attack and is ready for rebounds in front. Works back to help out on defense. Excellent in the dot at tying up his opponent of the face-off circle.

Next I want to take a section from Ruby ISS because it talks about a feature of his game that will slap you in the face when you see the kid’s highlights.

[Ponomaryov] has an extremely high hockey IQ. He is very creative with the puck and almost always makes the correct play. Doesn’t seem to rush himself when pressured with the puck on his stick. He draws defenders to him and then with his excellent edge work and puck skills makes the perfect pass. Thinks the game a few moves ahead like most players in this draft class.

Most of the first two quotes are also agreed to by Steve Kournianos of The Draft Analyst — he also comments on his “flash and pizzazz” — but he goes a little further into Ponomaryov’s defensive game as well with some nuance.

Ponomaryov is a versatile forward who can be trusted with checking assignments, and as proven in the Hlinka and WJAC, can also succeed when given tough matchups against heralded players. He can play center or wing and be used on the penalty kill or for late/close faceoffs. There’s also a fearlessness in his game, as Ponomaryov is not only willing to battle and stand up to bigger opponents, but also bounce right back up when he’s hammered into the boards. He is consistent with his efforts on the backcheck and will cover a vacated low slot with regularity. Ponomaryov’s adherence to forechecking, puck battles and positioning off the puck can tire him out however, and there are periods where he is mostly dangerous during the power play.

It’s not surprising that a player like Ponomaryov would be hyper-effective in spurts, and then suffer from prolonged stretches of anonymity. I

A Little Video

We’ll start off with Prospect Film Room since they are the go-to for prospect clips. Check the two clips starting at 1:28 for an example of his excellent vision. Both of those are no-look passes that open up the ice a ton for his teammates. Getting the puck into open space is a foundational component of modern NHL scheming and he fits that mold very well.

The next package is where the pizzazz comes in. The first 3 or 4 highlights in this link will give you reason to be excited. The guy skates circles around people and can sustain a possession for like 15 seconds by himself. Once again, NHL coaches will have no problem envisioning how this skillset could be helpful in an NHL scheme.

An Opinion of Sorts

I’m somewhat conflicted on Ponomaryov. I love watching video of this guy. He seems to be a natural fit in the modern game. He has great spatial awareness, always gets the puck to his teammates in space, and can transition between zones with the best of this crop. His skillset maps perfectly onto that of a 2020 NHL forward. But I’m an analytically-inclined fan, and when I look at his production, I’m left assuming that this is just another kid that has the tools, but can’t put it all together. According to Pick224 he has a negative EV_GF%Rel which means that his team actually performed better relative to their opponent when he was off the ice. There were 3 highlights from one game in that package linked above, but he hasn’t cracked a point per game in either of his last two seasons.

I see a little of Jesper Bratt in him. Bratt has always had great vision, used space well, and had an active stick. But, until the second half of this season, his impact numbers were negative. This leads me to wonder if maybe Ponomaryov is like Bratt and he has the tools you need to be gifted with, and only needs to acquire the ones you can develop.

Overall, I’d be inclined to take him with a back-end 1st round pick were that available. It seems likely that no remaining players will have his ceiling at hat point in the draft.

Your Take

What are your thoughts on Vasili? Do you think his numbers are misleading? Or do you think his tape is misleading? Are you not impressed with the film? Where would you take him? Should the Devils consider taking him or moving their picks around to put themselves in a position to do so? Thanks for reading and leave your thoughts in the comments below.