The New Jersey Devils have been consistent in taking at least one player from a Russian-based league in the NHL Draft since 2016. Even with the ongoing ban on Russian and Belarussian teams in international play, the Devils have taken Zakhar Bardakov of the KHL in 2021 and Daniil Orlov and Artem Barabosha out of the MHL in 2022. Even with the Devils suffering from the Russian Factor in Arseni Gritsyuk signing with SKA St. Petersburg after his contract with Avangard Omsk ended last month, the Devils are not averse from taking talent from there. These are reasons why one should believe the Devils are continuing to scout the MHL, the junior league of the KHL. If true, then they know the subject of today’s prospect profile: Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk’s winger Roman Kantserov.
Who is Roman Kantserov?
Per his profile at Elite Prospects, Roman Kantserov is from Magnitogorsk, Russia and was born on September 20, 2004. Kantersov is one of the oldest draft-eligible players to enter the 2023 pool. He shoots left handed and he is listed at 5’9” and 176 pounds. Some may be scared off by that by claiming he is too small. That would be news to the 43 NHL skaters who were listed at 5’9” or shorter; a group that includes Brad Marchand, Cole Caufield, Jonathan Marcheassault, Tyler Johnson, Yanni Gourde, Jonathan Marchessault, Johnny Gaudreau, Jared Spurgon, Cole Caufield, and Torey Krug among others. His frame is consistent with those 43 or so players. I do not think that is the concern.
What could be more of a legitimate issue is his situation. Kantserov grew up in the Magnitogorsk youth system and jumped right into the MHL in the 2020-21 season. He put up 10 goals and 21 points, finishing just outside of Stalnye Lisy’s top ten scorers. In 2021-22, Kantserov put up 29 goals and 57 points in 55 games. He finished fourth on the team in points and second in goals. In this past season, he remained in the MHL with Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk for a third straight season. He put up 27 goals and 54 points in 45 games, leading Stalnye Lisy’s squad in scoring by 6 goals and 12 points. These are all impressive numbers from someone who has been in the MHL since he was 16. Yet, his hockey has been limited almost entirely to the MHL. Kantersov did play in one (1) KHL game with Metallurg Magnitogorsk. It was on January 20, 2023 and it lasted for 2:12. Again, with the IIHF ban on Russia and Belarus, there are no international competitions where one could see how Kantserov would perform in an unfamiliar environment and/or against another country’s best prospects. What you see from Kantserov is a guy who was a significant scorer for his team in the MHL over the past two seasons and that is pretty much it.
This is not an ideal situation for two reasons. The MHL is not that great of a junior league. The pace of play is not particularly fast. The intensity is not there like it may be in, say, Canadian junior hockey. The quality of the league varies quite a bit with some organizations loaded with youth talent and others just icing a squad of young guys. It is unclear whether Kantserov’s talent was on another level in that league or whether he was just better than peers who could not possibly hang with him. In the case of Kantserov, I wonder why he did not get any time in the VHL - which is the minor league of the KHL. Clearly, Kantserov had little to prove at the MHL level. Clearly, Metallurg’s coaches were not interested in giving him anything resembling a legitimate chance to play in the KHL. Why was he not given a chance in between both leagues? Is there a rule about junior-age players not being allowed to play in the VHL that I am not aware? I think these are fair questions about the player.
Then there is the Russian Factor. The reality that KHL organizations are able to negotiate higher salaries for players than what the NHL would allow in an entry-level contract. As there is no transfer agreement between the NHL and KHL, NHL teams can only wait for the player to be available to sign. Only for that player to already having conversations with a team that can afford to sign the player to more than an ELC. Or have his rights traded to a team that can. In the case of Kantserov, he is signed with Metallurg Magnitogorsk through 2023-24. Whoever is interested in drafting him has to know whether Kantserov is committed enough to come over when that deal ends. And whether he is willing to possibly take less money to do so in 2024.
That factor, the MHL and his playing situation so far, the lack of any international play and his small frame are all big reasons why Kantserov may end up being picked later than his talent suggests he should. There is a talent there. After all, this is a player who has put up 66 goals and 132 points in 147 MHL games. That is not an easy scoring rate to accomplish.
Where is Roman Kantserov Ranked?
As such, the rankings for him are all over the place among the places where I have seen him ranked.
- #16 European skaters - NHL Central Scouting (Final Ranking)
- #38 - Craig Button, TSN (May 15, 2023 ranking)
- #32 - FC Hockey (Final ranking - June 3, 2023)
- #51 - Gabriel Foley, Recruit Scouting (Final ranking)
- #50 - Draft Prospects Hockey (Spring ranking)
- #60 - Smaht Scouting (Final ranking)
- #54 - The Hockey Writers - Peter Baracchini (Final - June 1, 2023 ranking)
- #63 - The Hockey Writers - Logan Horn (May 12, 2022 ranking)
- #95 - Chris Peters, FloHockey (June 1, 2023 ranking)
This is a wide range of ranks. Especially when you consider some places like Elite Prospects, Steve Ellis’ list at Daily Faceoff, and Dobber Prospects did not rank him at all. Kantserov is seen as high as a late first rounder/early second rounder in a loaded draft class for forwards per FC Hockey and Craig Button. The latter is interesting as Button’s rankings tend to be informed by what NHL scouts and personnel may tell him. Others have him going in the middle to late second round. That CSS rank plus Logan Horn’s rank and Chris Peters’ rank may indicate someone who could be available from the third round and beyond. Roman Kantserov is truly a wildcard in terms of perception.
What Others Say About Roman Kantserov
Eugene Helfrick profiled Kantserov at The Hockey Writers back on April 21, 2023. Helfrick is to the point about Kantserov’s strength: offense.
When he has the puck, Kantserov understands how to utilize any space given to him by the opponent to drive the play. He may not have the best shot in the draft, but he has top-end hockey IQ, which allows him to make the right play often enough that he can drive scoring chances by himself.
However, Helfrick is also cautious about Kantserov’s potential in the NHL.
Given the era we are in, there’s no reason to believe that Kantserov can’t develop into a nightly starter in the NHL. While I doubt he will be a top-line winger, I could see him slotting in well in a team’s middle six, where he would act as an offensive driver while taking on top powerplay minutes.
The one problem Kantserov will encounter in this scenario is that his game plan and toolkit don’t translate the best to bottom-six minutes. While you can develop his defensive instincts in order to be an ideal third-liner, he simply would be wasted on a fourth-line.
Helfrick raises this important point. A prospect of Kantserov’s talents is limited in that if they do not get the role their skills are best suited for, then they may not be able to contribute all that much. In other words: Kantserov has the makings of a boom-or-bust prospect. Helfrick also does not touch whether Kantserov plays defense or off the puck well. Given that Kantserov is in the MHL and Russia remains banned from IIHF events, I can understand Helfrick not really touching on it. It is an unknown and even if you highlighted it, then it would come with the caveat about the quality of his competition given how varied the MHL can be. Yet, it could factor in to how useful the player can be in case his offensive talents do not translate to the next level. Helfrick suggests that he will need some time in the KHL and AHL to develop and I can agree. Whether that is the path he will go on remains to be seen.
Anton Rasegård profiled Kantserov for Eyes on the Prize back on May 22. Rasegård provides a reason as to a question I had about the player: why has he not played in the VHL? The answer could be in distance.
Metallurg’s AHL [VHL] affiliate is not a local one. Their VHL team plays their games in Kurgan, a city 600 kilometres away from Magnitogorsk. Hence, it can in some ways make sense to keep a young player around, playing MHL hockey and remaining under the tutelage of the KHL management in the home city. Especially when you are still eligible for junior hockey. Development is key, and playing games is crucial.
We can see from Zauralie Kurgan’s roster that they currently have two players born in 2003 and an additional four players born in 2002. This adds to the theory that Metallurg chooses to hold their most talented youngsters in the MHL for as long as they can, only lifting them up to play senior level hockey as they are aging out of Junior.
This could very well be the reason and it makes total sense from the perspective of Magnitogorsk. Yet, it does not help Kantserov or other prospects where, based on production alone, they are dominating the MHL to the point where they may be better suited for more of a challenge. It is what it is.
More relevant to Kantserov himself, Rasegård goes as far as to state that Kantserov is the smartest player in the entire MHL. Like Helfrick, he praises Kantersov’s offensive game quite a bit - while also not mentioning anything about his defensive game.. Also like Helfrick, Rasegard identifies the risk involved with the prospect:
If you want quality playmaking, this is where you go to hang your hat. Kantserov is a quality passer of the puck and can squeeze his passes onto a teammate’s stick with surgical precision. A smart craftsman, the Magnitogorsk native has thus far been able to rely on his cerebral advantage to stay ahead of the curve against opponents who are physically superior to him.
Hockey is a physical game though, and being the smartest player in Russian Junior hockey is not equivalent to being dominant in the best hockey league in the world. Since he has yet to prove his play at a higher level, it is improbable to see him being chosen on the first night of the draft.
I am finding myself in agreement with Rasegård about the risk and that he is unlikely to be a first round draft pick. I would like to think Rasegård would agree with Helfrick that Kantersov would need plenty of time to develop against tougher competition and against full professionals instead of just juniors in Russia.
Two of the rankings that included Kantserov did provide some reasoning for their selections. First, Gabriel Foley’s short blurb about Kantserov from his 51st ranking at Recruit Hockey is as follows:
Roman Kantserov is a tireless fireball on offense, using relentless forechecking to win battles for the puck. His awareness and ability to navigate play in the corners or along the boards is impressive, even if he doesn’t have stellar stickhandling, but the question of how he can really stand out from the rest remains.
This actually touches on some off the puck skills like forechecking, which is a positive. Also a positive: working along the boards. This is a positive given his small frame although it was in MHL play and it is a legitimate question of how he would handle more physical leagues with fully physically-developed men. Along with the point about stickhandling as that may be a tool to handle those board battles and situations where he is kept to the outside. And, again, nothing about defense. Still, anyone can find “relentless forechecker” to be endearing to go with a whole slew of points on the board.
The second ranking comes from Smaht Scouting, where Kantserov came at 60th. Someone by the handle Grey Matter wrote up this description of the player:
Kantserov is a skilled and creative dual-threat winger. He’s known more as a playmaker, but I think his finishing ability and scoring instincts are quite strong, and his shot—though nothing amazing—is underrated. On that note, while his shot may not be the best out there, his shot selection and decision-making in general is typically very good I find, which is what makes his finishing potential stand out to me. He’s a very skilled handler and passer; I’ve noticed improvement in his small area skill, and he uses his hands to beat pressure a bit more often than I saw early on in the season. But again, what stands out the most to me is his general sense, awareness, and decision-making. They’re not always executed to perfection, but the plays he tries to make are almost always the right ones. With the puck, he’s always looking to use his skill to create separation, get to the middle of the ice, and either find a shooting lane, or open up more space for him to feed a teammate; I only really see him take low percentage shots as a last resort. With all that, I find it easy to see his game translating to the NHL. Many will point to his size at 5’9” and say he probably won’t make it, and I will point to his size at nearly 180 lbs already and say I don’t think it’s an issue. (Gray Matter)
I like this blurb a lot if only for giving me more detail about the player. It is concerning that a player touted for his offense may not have great of a shot. It makes me think his goal totals may be more of a function of the league he was in than his shot. That said, it does counter Foley’s assessment of stickhandling being an issue as Grey Matter describes it as a plus. Further, Grey Matter’s praise of Kantersov’s intelligence (awareness, decision-making) lines up with the other profiles cited. It makes me feel confident that Rasegård is correct in calling Kantserov the smartest player in the MHL. Yet, I am again pointing out that this tells me nothing about whether Kantserov can play well off the puck or on defense. The intelligence suggests he could but I do not see it here. Still, it is a positive assessment of what is clearly an offensive winger.
A Little Video
You may think there could not be much video available about Roman Kantserov. And you would be sort-of right. But there are two worth your while.
The first comes from the MHL’s Youtube channel with the title “Roman Kantserov highlights! Future HOCKEY STAR!” Clearly, the people managing the channel like Kantserov’s future. Especially since the description states “The forward will seek to become a full-time player of Metallurg coached by Andrei Razin.” That would be the next step for Kantserov. Anyway, this 3:15 video is filled with #8 finishing plays and showing off what the kids used to call “swag” after goals. Some of it is impressive in how Kantserov blew by some defenders. Yet, I wonder if those guys he beat were future pros at some level or just guys.
The second is a bit older as it shows a 17-year old Kantserov doing the same thing in the MHL: putting many points on the board. This one is a bit shorter at 2:09 in length. Look for #8 in this one too. Like the other highlight video, Kantserov looks great because, well, it is a highlight reel he’s supposed to look great. But, again, it is hard to ascertain how valuable it is.
An Opinion of Sorts
As stated in the headline, I see Kantserov as a wild card. More so than other prospects. He can absolutely light it up at his level. Some his moves with the puck are quite skilled. If he is the smartest in his own league, then that may help him at higher levels where he will need to process more of the game much faster. Yet, the questions arise for Kantserov. It is completely unknown if he can do that at tougher levels in the pro game anywhere, nevermind the NHL. It is unknown how he stacks up with other prospects given the lack of Russian involvement in international tourneys. Also: Whether or not Kantserov makes those teams is another question. While he is signed through next season, it is not known how interested he would be coming over for further development in North America. I have no idea if Kantserov can play defense well. He very well might if he is as intelligent on the ice as others who have seen him say he is. And I have no idea if he can play above his small frame like the majority of the 40 or so NHLers with Kantserov’s listed height or shorter. This is a lot of mystery for an undrafted prospect.
All of the mysteries put together paint the picture of a prospect with some tantalizing talent where, if it all works out and Kantserov is willing to come over the Atlantic Ocean sooner rather than later, then a lot of teams are going to be wondering why they passed him over. But if he is not so interested or his offense does not translate or his non-offensive game (neutral zone play, defense, etc.) is not good enough, then he is just going to be another name in a long list of names picked on the second day of the draft that just do not turn out. It is the kind of prospect I totally understand why some scouts and services rank him in the mid to late second round and why others do not even include him in a top 100. He could be selected as late as the seventh round and I would get it - even if I think teams can/will take a swing on him earlier if they liked what they saw of him at Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk.
This is the part where I am supposed to answer the question of whether or not I want the Devils to take him. I would not be opposed to a later pick being used on Kantserov. As stated earlier, the Devils have been consistently drafting out of the KHL or MHL for years. They clearly trust their scouts in those regions to take players from there late and see what they can find. Some may not work but finding a Yegor Sharangovich or even an ELC-worthy player like Daniil Misyul beyond the third round is a victory of sorts even if it happens a couple of times. Kantserov would at least be someone the Devils can let cook for a bit and see if any of those questions get answered positively over the next three to five years. I would prefer that he does not get picked by New Jersey with the second round pick as I think it is too much of a risk unless the Devils are certain he is legit and willing to come over when his current deal ends. Fourth round or later, sure. Maybe it does not work but if it does, it is going to be really shrewd. Which is usually how it is with wildcard prospects of all kinds.
While Roman Kantserov has plenty of question marks, the exclamation marks from his time spent in the MHL may convince someone to take a chance on him. And that could be the New Jersey Devils. I want to know what you think about him. What did you like reading about Kantserov? What did you not like reading about him? Regardless of what I think, would you want the Devils to take a chance on him at all in the 2023 NHL Draft? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Roman Kantserov in the comments. Thank you for reading.