Russian trio picked in first round of NHL draft
Three NHL franchises put fears regarding Russian players to one side to choose three of them in the first round of the draft in Montreal.
Due to complications related to Russia's military operation in Ukraine, which have resulted in restricted travel to and from North America, it had been suggested that Russian players might not be selected in the first round of the draft for the first time since 2005.
On Thursday, this was proven wrong when three top teams chose a trio of Russian prospects to form part of their squads for the upcoming season in the 32-pick first round.
First selected from Russia was Pavel Mintyukov by the Anaheim Ducks, whose manager Pat Verbeek remarked to the Toronto Star: "The talent is undeniable."
"We’re looking to get our franchise going in the right direction, towards winning the Stanley Cup, and we think this player is really going to help us get there," Verbeek added.
After Mintyukov was assigned a new outfit, the Washington Capitals, who already boast the leading Russian player in captain Alexander Ovechkin, chose his compatriot Ivan Miroshnichenko with the 20th overall pick.
Diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in March, Miroshnichenko's junior season was cut short in Russia but he has since received clearance to resume playing.
There should be no surprise that he was picked by the Capitals, though, given comments that their general manager Brian MacLellan made to Sportsnet this week regarding the safe return of Ovechkin and other Russians on the team from their homeland.
"I think obviously there's a little uncertainty," MacLellan admitted. "But talking to our guys, I think everybody's pretty comfortable that they're coming back and they're playing next year, so I can go by what our players say and their comfort level with it.
"And there might be some uncertainty, but I think we're pretty confident they're all coming back to play."
Four picks later than Miroshnichenko, the Minnesota Wild took a punt on Danila Yurov for the third and final Russian pick of the first round.
This disproved a mock draft by NHL Central Scouting director Dan Marr that concluded with Russians being completely shut out of the first round for the first time in 17 years.
All three of the youngsters picked on Thursday were expected to go in the first round, but doubts as to their likelihood of being able to arrive in the US were also triggered by the plight of Philadelphia Flyers prospect Ivan Fedotov, who was detained in St. Petersburg reportedly on suspicion of evading military service.
Previously plying his trade for CSKA Moscow until signing for the Flyers in May, the 25-year-old goaltender is now reported to be completing studies at a military center located in northern Russia.
Addressing travel and concerns of Russian players not returning from post-season breaks, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman insisted on Thursday that the league needs to "respect the process as to what goes on."
"The Russian players that still reside in Russia need to make sure they’re making the best possible decisions for themselves and their families," Bettman added.
The NHL chief claimed that North American hockey teams and the championship "probably don’t have the full story as to what’s going on in terms of what each player’s relationship is in Russia with respect to the government."
With the NHL season set to start in October, the final six rounds of this year's draft will take place in Montreal on Friday.