Prospect Report: Marat Khusnutdinov
Marat Khusnutdinov’s been making waves for quite some time now. The 5’9, 165 pound Moscow, Russia native is one of the most dynamic and exciting players in this draft, and I still believe he’s criminally underrated by most. He grew up playing in Vityaz Podolsk’s youth program, and was a top scorer at every level. Khusnutdinov also lit up the U16, U17, and U18 levels for team Russia over the course of his D-2 and D-1 seasons, playing a mind-boggling 37 games at the international level in his D-1 year. Even though he was fantastic in all of his international showings, Khusnutdinov didn’t get an opportunity to play in the MHL. After such dominant showings for team Russia, MHL/VHL/KHL powerhouse SKA St. Petersburg plucked him from Vityaz Podolsk, and he hasn’t looked back.
In his rookie MHL season, Khusnutdinov scored 13 goals and 25 assists for 38 points in 44 games. That’s not quite the kind of statline you’d expect from a player I currently have pegged as the 14th best player in this draft. Like many other prospects over the years, stats don’t tell the whole story. Khusnutdinov played the majority of the season as SKA’s 3rd line center, and was continually tasked with shutting down top opposing lines. I would have liked to see him higher up in the lineup, but it’s not as if he barely got any ice time. He was given lots of well deserved minutes on the power play, and was SKA’s best penalty killer by a mile. When it comes to defensive play, Khustnutdinov is an animal. He’s an excellent faceoff taker, and always plays with full effort. He’s constantly pressuring puck carriers with pokes and shoves, and for a small guy, he loves to use his body to gain position. He’s someone who will do whatever it takes to win, which bodes well for his NHL future.
The key aspect of Khusnutdinov’s game is speed. He’s got an endless motor, with some of the quickest feet in this draft class. He’s extremely agile, both with and without the puck, and his edgework is elite. His stride is quick and powerful, and doesn’t ever break down. His hands are just as quick as his feet, making him a truly dynamic puck carrier. Khusnutdinov knifes through the neutral zone like it’s nothing, weaving his way in and out of cover at will. Pay no attention to the defense in this next clip, it’s against ORG Junior, the worst team in the MHL, but this is the kind of zone entry you can expect from him:
His speed, coupled with his agility and puck handling skills make him so hard to take the puck away from, and he’s got the ability to make high level plays under pressure. He can handle the puck at top speed in tight areas, often showing off that ability by making quick cuts to the middle of the ice. Watch this shorthanded OT winner from earlier this year:
He starts by blocking the shot at the point, then applying pressure to the puck carrier along the wall. He’s careful not to overcommit, and returns to cover the middle of the ice. I’m still not sure if he ended up blocking that second shot or not, as the stream quality wasn’t great, but it seems like he got a piece of it. His teammate lays the puck off to him in the neutral zone, and 90% of players would have iced the puck right there, or forced a bad play. Khusnutdinov knows better though. He analyzed what was in front of him, and decided to circle back, reaching his top speed while doing so. Once he completes that circle, he’s got too much speed for anyone to be able to catch him. He fakes like he’s going inside on the first defender, then cuts outside, leaving him in the dust. He repeats the same move on the second defender, but with even more speed. Finally, he cuts inside on the third defender and slings the puck past the goalie. This is one of the most impressive short handed goals I’ve ever seen, regardless of the fact that it was 4 on 3.
These end to end rushes are commonplace for Khusnutdinov, and once he gets going, there’s not much anyone can do to stop him. When he gets to the net, he’s such a versatile finisher, and isn’t afraid to get flashy:
He builds up speed so quickly with just a few strides when he gets the puck, and goes in for the backhand finish. He’s got the ability to adapt to whatever situation he’s faced with as well, and managed to pot some very creative goals this season:
His speed and puck handling skills also make him a massive threat in the offensive zone, and a nightmare for defense schemes to deal with. He has the agility and evasiveness to circle the zone for an entire shift without being touched, and he’s got no problem doing that:
When it comes to actual goal scoring ability, I wouldn’t rank Khusnutdinov too highly. He’s got an accurate shot with a nice release, but it’s really nothing special compared to his peers, or even the other aspects of his game. As a playmaker, he’s well above average. He’s got no problem sending a pass across the zone to a teammate’s tape, or making a quick one touch pass:
He thinks the game faster than most of his teammates, and he’s always looking to break the ice open. In a lot of the games I watched, he was 4-5 steps ahead of his linemates, and they just couldn’t keep up with his pace. There were probably 20-25 assists Khusnutdinov would have had if not for his linemates’ inability to finish.
Khusnutdinov’s all-around abilities project him as a potential top 6 center in the NHL, who can kill penalties while providing a high-octane offensive game. He may not have the scoring potential of some of his peers, but Khusnutdinov’s speed, coupled with his advanced defensive game should make him an easy first round pick in this draft. The Datsyukian element to his game is so rare, and If he doesn’t go on day one, I would be doing everything in my power to acquire the 32nd overall pick.