Anton Burdasov faces uphill battle to make impact with Oilers

Russia's Anton Burdasov. (Nathan Denette/CP)

EDMONTON — The danger of being too opinionated on a mid-camp acquisition like Russian Anton Burdasov, the left-shot right-winger who joined the Edmonton Oilers Wednesday on a professional try-out, is the lack of information.

How good can he be if he has never scored 20 goals in the KHL? How come he had seasons where he only played 41, 35, 21 or 18 games? How will he catch on here, if he is as severely limited in English as we are hearing?

The tendency is to comb back through the many KHL imports — particularly players who come over at age 28, like Burdasov — and unfavourably lump him in with, say, an Anton Belov, or a Vadim Shipachyov, who flamed out in Vegas after playing just three games.

We wouldn’t compare Bo Horvat to Zach Hyman, simply because they both carry Canadian passports. So we will be careful with the comparables on Burdasov, who perhaps has one in Nikita Gusev, the 27-year-old trying to crack the New Jersey Devils lineup this fall.

Gusev had 82 KHL points last season, and 144 points over the past two seasons. Burdasov had just 40 points in 79 games over the past two seasons, and on his own team in Ufa last year he trailed in production behind names like Linus Omark and Teemu Hartikainen — two players who proved in Edmonton they were unable to play in the NHL.

So what DO we know about Burdasov?

We reached out to Russian correspondent Igor Eronko, a writer for Sport-Express and a sideline reporter on KHL broadcasts, who broke the Burdasov signing. With his permission, we give you his take on Burdasov:

"His skating is OK. He’s not the best skater out there, but he can skate," said Eronko in a direct message on Twitter. "His biggest weapon is a wrist-shot. In that he could be compared to Tarasenko. It’s really lethal. He’s a very talented guy, he just needed different work ethics. And more than a year ago he decided to have a diet, not drinking beer etc. I have a real doubt he could make it in the NHL, but talent wise he sure should be in Oilers’ Top 6. And I hope he gets it."

Eronko reported in Russia that the Oilers have promised a one-year, $1.7 million contract if Burdasov makes the opening night roster, a report that was disputed by my sources within the team. Burdasov is a Ritch Winter client, and the fact that he is signing this PTO a week into training camp tells us that Winter was unable to find his client a guaranteed contract, and settled for a PTO on a team that is light on Top 6 wingers.

In 10 seasons Burdasov has donned the sweaters of five different KHL teams. Now, James Neal is the same guy in the NHL — and he has maintained his level of production, other than last season in Calgary. But coming over to a completely different style of hockey, on smaller ice and conducted in a language we are told Burdasov does not speak — all at age 28 — is a mighty tall order.

Back in 2013, then-Oilers GM Craig MacTavish brought over the reigning KHL Defenceman of the Year Anton Belov, who was 27. He simply could not play at the NHL level, and in fact returned to a successful KHL career which is ongoing, not to mention a spot on Russia’s Olympic team.

Artemi Panarin was just shy of his 24th birthday when he opened the 2015-16 season with the Chicago Blackhawks. He would score 30 goals and 77 points, and is currently an NHL superstar plying his trade with the New York Rangers.

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Defenceman Igor Ozhiganov joined the Toronto Maple Leafs last season just shy of his 26th birthday. He simply could not defend at an NHL level, and went home after one season.

On the other hand, Nikita Zaitsev had played seven KHL seasons when he joined the Leafs just before his 25th birthday. He had one good season, two decent ones, and was dealt to Ottawa in the Cody Ceci deal. Zaitsev is a much better player than Ozhiganov and could have a long NHL career.

It’s interesting how a mysterious, older Russian winger still peaks the interest of a fan base, with fans hoping their team has unearthed the next Pavel Bure or Alexander Mogilny. The reality of our international hockey world today is, the best Russians are picked over in the draft, or snapped up at younger ages if they have been KHL stars and their first contract expires there.

It is the rare player who blossoms at age 28, and can overcome all the challenges Burdasov will face in Edmonton, where he will practice with the Oilers on Thursday.

We will watch with interest.

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