Petr Kuznetsov grew up watching and dreaming about the CSKA Red Army of the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia.
“That’s all he talks to me about in the van when we are driving,” said Okanagan Hockey Academy Varsity Black assistant coach Michael O’Rafferty. “They love the KHL. KHL is like everything to those guys in Russia.”
Now Kuznetsov has the chance to eventually play in the league, but not for CSKA Red Army, his hometown team. Two weeks ago Salavat Yulaev UFA contacted Kuznetsoff to say they were interested in drafting him. Late last week, Salavat Yulaev, based in UFA, Bashkortostan Republic, drafted him in the third round, 126th overall. The OHA posted the announcement of the selection on their Twitter account on May 8.
Kuznetsov, 17, is excited about being drafted into the KHL, although he now says he would like to play in the NHL.
The skilled defenceman is coming off a season in which he scored five goals and finished with 17 points in 27 Canadian Sport School Hockey League games, while also netting two assists in one game with the OHA Prep team.
“He is a puck-moving defenceman with a very hard shot,” said Ben Cooper, head coach of OHA Varsity Black in a team statement. “He likes to play a physical game as well and has good size (6-3, 185-pounds). He has good hands and is very quick. He does a lot of things well. He is a very competitive player.”
Kuznetsov lists Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Duncan Keith and Montreal Canadiens blue liner P.K. Subban as his favourite players.
“I like the way he plays,” said Kuznetsov of Keith. “I love his stick (work) and his good position.”
Kuznetsov felt he improved his play this season and the way he uses his stick, though he is still focused on more improvement, especially his shot and passing.
Kuznetsov came to Penticton after spending a season with OHA Europe. O’Rafferty said he arrived raw, but has all the tools to be a good player. O’Rafferty added that Kuznetsov is among the most competitive in the academy in terms of wanting to be a player.
“Very hard on himself,” said O’Rafferty. “He needs to understand he has a long development curve. It’s not going to happen today. I never have to push him to do more. He is always asking to do more. He has elements of other guys who have come here and moved on. Curtis Lazar (a first round pick by the Ottawa Senators in 2013) was the same way. Never had to ask him to do anything more.”
“He is the first player from OHA to be drafted into the KHL and it’s nice recognition for him,” said Cooper.
Kuznetsov returned from Chicago for the United States Hockey League showcase last weekend and was invited to the camps of the Youngstown Phantoms and Green Bay Gamblers. If that doesn’t work out for him, there are also four camps he will attend with teams in the North American Hockey League.