If you managed to catch a glimpse of Rodion Amirov this season, you’d likely come away impressed.
But you would’ve been hard-pressed to find an opportunity to watch the skilled winger -- even in the pre-COVID-19 Era.
Amirov wasn’t on Russia’s squad at the world juniors and saw just an average of 9:53 in ice time for the KHL’s Salavat Yulaev Ufa, where he spent roughly half of the year.
Despite the limited shine, Amirov still managed to grab the attention of talent evaluators. In the NHL Central Scouting’s final 2020 rankings, he placed fifth among European skaters behind Tim Stuetzle, Alexander Holtz, Anton Lundell and Lucas Raymond -- all of whom went earlier in the draft.
Here’s what you need to know about the Russian winger and why he could end up being one of the “best players” to come out of the 2020 NHL Draft:
Team: Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL)
Position: Left wing
Age: 19 (born Oct. 2, 2001)
From: Salavat, Russia
Weight: 177 pounds
‘Best is yet to come’
Limited ice time resulted in, unsurprisingly, limited production for Amirov. In 21 games with Ufa, he put up just two assists.
But the talented winger also spent half the 2019-20 season with the club’s junior league team, where he dominated, notching 22 points and four power-play goals in 17 games.
He was also named an all-star after putting up nine points in seven games as Russia earned a silver medal at the 2019 U18 worlds.
Many mock drafts had Amirov being selected anywhere from the early teens to early 20s. But based on his upside, he could one day end up vastly outperforming his peers taken in that range.
“I just think, down the road, he may prove to be a real diamond in the rough. Even though he's a well-known player, it's just there's been limited views on him and some games there's limited ice time,” said Dan Marr, director of Central Scouting.
“He's the guy who could shoot up to end up being one of the best players to come out of this draft as well. There's just that little bit of unknown that the best is yet to come with him and we need to assume that's gonna (become reality).”
While the sample size may have been small, Marr said it’s a “good indicator” that Amirov was able to get noticed while playing in the big leagues. And though Marr said the four players in Central Scouting’s European rankings after Stuetzle are “a little interchangeable,” Raymond and Holtz managed to separate themselves from the rest of the group because “you know what to expect.”
However, Marr said scouts remain very appreciative of Amirov’s talents.
“He's got all the tools to be a player … The reason he is so high is because everyone feels the best is yet to come,” he said.
Drive and skill
But what exactly are those tools?
As you might expect from a guy who models his game after Auston Matthews and Nikita Kucherov, Amirov is skilled, fast and thinks offence first.
But scouts have also taken notice of his drive.
“The one thing about him is he's very consistent. He's a real natural talent, as far as good offensive instincts, very good hockey sense, he's got really good speed, good hands, good tools -- and, again, he competes with his skills and assets,” noted Marr.
That elusive high compete level that coaches and evaluators are always chasing, Amirov has it.
“You're always gonna use the term ‘hard-working’ -- that's why you notice him -- because he's always working on the play,” said Marr.
“His ice time went up in the second half in the junior league (in Russia) … a lot of it is not only because he's talented, it's because he's one of the hardest-working guys there.”
It’s this fight -- as well as an impressive package of on-ice skills -- that’s helped him get on the radar of scouts, despite his minimal high-profile exposure this season.
And he’ll have to keep it up as the lights get brighter.