Maybe the most interesting development in the CHL took place Thursday night when Russian import Vladimir Tkachev suited up for Moncton for the first time and then promptly racked up four points in a 7-4 win over Chicoutimi.
While it was Tkachev’s official QMJHL debut, he made a big impression with the touring Russian squad in the Subway Super Series back in November. The native of Omsk demonstrated dazzling puck skills and uncanny hockey sense — at times it seemed like everyone else was playing checkers and he was teaching graduate physics.
In the Subway Super Series he picked up where he had left off at the world under-18s where he was among the tournament’s leading scorers, ahead of his Moncton teammate Ivan Barbashev. Says one NHL scout who saw him last spring and again in November: “(Tkachev is) so small, maybe 5-7, maybe, but some East European kids have some growth spurt after most North American players are fully grown. Right now, you’d rate his skating as good but it will be better when he matures physically and gets stronger. And if he grows a couple of inches his skating will be that much better.”
It will be interesting to see what the reading for Tkachev is when NHL Central Scouting gets out the scales and tape measure. Five-foot-seven would be the over/under and I’m sure a lot of late money coming in would be on the under. Likewise 145 pounds would be on the chalkboard. That he’s a late ‘95 birthday means the window for any growth might be pretty narrow.
Those given to paroxysms of enthusiasms will try to connect lines between Tkachev and Igor Larionov, which would be a huge stretch, but maybe Sergei Samsonov would be a better fit. What Tkachev can do water-bugging in and out of traffic going to the net brings to mind Samsonov when he arrived on the scene. The vast majority of the time Russian prospects are marked four- or five-out-of-five on skating. Tkachev, like Samsonov would have been average to a bit better than average with pretty unexceptional straight ahead speed. But it’s funny: Inevitably, when the puck was on Samsonov’s stick or lands on Tkachev’s, everybody else’s skating goes to pieces.
Where he lands in the draft is an open question: Any interest the KHL would have in Tkachev would put some drag on his climb up the board — we saw it with Dallas’ Valeri Nichushkin and Baie-Comeau’s Valentin Zykov last June. But if Tkachev is there in the second round, you’d have a chance to land puck skills that might be matched nowhere else in this draft class.
One player who caught your attention at the CHL Top Prospects Game qualifies as one of this class’ real enigmas: Josh Ho-Sang of Windsor. A pretty heralded kid when he was drafted into the OHL, Ho-Sang’s puck skills aren’t quite at Tkachev’s level but still up around the 98th to 99th percentile.
Said one scout: “He’s as regular as clockwork. He shows you that skill every hour on the hour. When you talk about guys being inconsistent you’re usually talking about players who are great one game and struggle the next night. Ho-Sang is really shift-to-shift. Not streaky, not a kid who gets on a roll. He can be the best player on the ice for the opening shift and you might not notice him in a positive way until the third period.”
When the scout qualified it — “in a positive way” — he was hinting at the fact that Ho-Sang’s flaws (beyond inconsistency) are more conspicuous than his gifts. “(Ho-Sang) does get the blinkers on,” the scout said, referring to the fact that his line-mates and teammates easily fall off his radar. What was interesting and maybe boosted Ho-Sang’s stock at the Top Prospects Game was the fact that he rose to the occasion more than somewhat, not impressing every shift but more often than not. Yeah, it was a major step up in talent but it was also a step up in surrounding talent.
“He might be a better player when he’s around other very skilled kids,” the scout said. “Maybe it’s maturity or something like that but he could come around to understanding that (with Windsor) he has the ability to make his teammates better.”