If there's a true wildcard in the first round of this year's NHL Draft, it is Russian forward German Rubtsov. Rubtsov had impressive early season international performances at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament and World Jr. A Challenge to put him on the radar as a first round pick. This spring's World U18 Championships were supposed to be his big test.
But that never happened. A week before the tournament started, Russia withdrew every player from their national U18 team, including Rubtsov, over fear of testing positive for the drug meldonium, so Rubtsov didn't get the chance to make one final lasting impression heading into the Draft.
But his short term loss may be an NHL's long-term gain, because Rubtsov is definitely one of the more talent players available in the Draft, and a team that did their homework early on him could be in for a big reward.
Player: German Rubtsov
Team: Russia U18
Height: 6'1" Weight: 174 lbs.
Stats: 28 games, 12 goals, 14 assists, 26 points, +12
Final NHL Central Scouting rank: 5th among European skaters
What I Like:
If I say Rubtsov is a Russian forward ranked in the first round of the Draft, odds are that a certain stereotype immediately pops to mind: fast, slick skills, mostly an offensive player with little interest in the other end of the ice. That's not the case with Rubtsov, however. He's a really complete player that is just as good on the defensive end of the ice as he is offensively.
Rubtsov is a big forward that can play the center position, which is difficult to do and rare to find at the NHL level.
-Tracks play well
I really like Rubtsov's hockey intelligence away from the puck. He reads and reacts, understanding how the play is developing rather than chasing the puck all of the ice and taking himself out of position.
-Goes to tough areas
Rubtsov is willing to fight through contact to make plays, including driving hard to the net to create offense chances. What he lacks in elite offensive skills, he makes up for with hard-working, grinding, dirty goals.
What I Don't Like:
-Slow North-South skater
Rubtsov is strong on his skates and moves well laterally, but his footspeed is average, making him just an okay straight line skater. This limits his ability somewhat to attack one-on-one off the rush and put pressure on the opposing defense.
This isn't exactly a huge knock, but given the more defensive nature of Rubtsov's game, he doesn't necessarily project as a high-scoring first line franchise type forward. That's likely what keeps out of the top ten on the Draft.
Rubtsov definitely belongs in the category of the top 15-18 skaters in this Draft before a big drop off in talent behind them. I would suspect he goes towards the tail-end of that group of 15-to-18, but wouldn't be surprised if a team closer to 10th overall really liked him and took him earlier than that. As for the so-called "Russian factor" of getting a Russian player to come to North America, Rubtsov has told teams that he plans to play in the CHL next year, alleviating some concern, though his team in Russia seemed confident that he'll be back with them next year.
As mentioned above, I don't think Rubtsov quite has the offensive upside to be a first line center, but I think that in the right situation, he could be an extremely valuable, well-rounded second line center that plays a lot of tough minutes, and is the perfect complement to a high-scoring first line. Big, effective centermen are really difficult to find, and Rubtsov could excel in that role.