What to make of Detroit Red Wings prospect Dmitri Buchelnikov? It’s a fair question and one at this point that is lacking a definitive answer.
To be frank, very few NHL prospects can be labeled as can’t miss types. In the case of European players, especially those in Eastern Europe, the lines tend to become even more blurred.
— Hockey News Hub (@HockeyNewsHub) February 13, 2023
Selected 52nd overall by the Red Wings in the 2022 NHL entry draft, on paper, Buchelnikov’s numbers look to be solid. Playing mostly in the VHL, Russia’s Second Division, he was accounting for 15-13-28 totals in 35 games with SKA Neva St. Petersburg.
Talk to hockey people – front-office type, NHL scouts – and they will all caution you to take any numbers posted in these lower European leagues with a grain of salt.
VHL Not Highly Thought Of As Development League
The VHL is also known as the All-Russian league, because every player in the loop is from Russia. Still, even in Russia, they speak with little respect given toward the product that the VHL is putting on the ice.
“One could turn a blind eye to the name if the (VHL) became a springboard for hockey players,” writes Alexey Shevchenko of the Russian website Sport-Express.ru. “However, there are fewer and fewer strong players.”
— Hockey News Hub (@HockeyNewsHub) February 1, 2023
In fact, Buchelnikov, who finished 46th overall in VHL scoring, is just one among three players in the league’s top 100 scorers who are NHL draft picks. By contrast, centre Amadeus Lombardi, the 113th overall selection by the Red Wings in the 2022 draft, is one of six NHL draftees currently playing for the OHL’s Flint Firebirds.
The VHL is also known as the All-Russian league, because every player in the loop is from Russia. However, even the KHL clubs don’t view the VHL as a feeder system for their squads in the manner that the AHL is to the NHL.
“The only thing missing is the desire of the KHL clubs to look for players in the VHL,” Shevchenko noted. “In the elite division, they are well aware that the star of the All-Russian League may well not pull another level. Because in the VHL they mostly run, don’t think.”
Buchelnikov Has Shown Promise
By the same token, that doesn’t mean that Buchelnikov should be written off as a prospect, either. He has shown flashes that there is something in his game capable of taking him to the next level.
In a brief look with SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL this season, his account is showing 1-1-2 totals in 10 games. He was earning the honor as top forward playing for them in the preseason KHL Sochi Tournament. Sport-Express recently rated Buchelnikov as the No. 3 Russian junior prospect.
Certainly, Buchelnikov will be given plenty of time to ripen on the vine prior to coming to try and earn his Red Wings in Detroit. Earlier this season, the 5-foot-9, 150-point right-shot left-winger was signing a three-year contract extension with SKA St. Petersburg. That pact is locking him into the Russian club’s plans until 2025. He’ll be 22 at the end of the deal.
Will Buchelnikov evolve into a player worthy of the high selection that Detroit spent on him? In all honesty, at this point, no one can say that he will. Just as no one can assess with certainty that he won’t.