When you’re sitting at the bottom of the draft board, it’s hard to find yourself a reasonable bet at a home run. Sure, a few players fall enough to tempt you, but even they often have some sort of under-the-radar baggage that has led to their descent. That still doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go for a half-decent swing at the end, though, and that’s what the Leafs attempted to do by drafting Nikolai Chebykin in 2016.

Age 20 (August 1, 1997) Birthplace Moscow, Russia
Pos Forward (LH) Drafted 2016 (Rd 7, Pick 182)
Vitals 6’3, 209lbs Acquired Via Draft

Chebykin was part of a pattern in that draft class for the Leafs; specifically, that they weren’t scared of taking chances on players that were passed over in previous years. In Chebykin’s case, his size may have lured in some eyeballs his way back in 2015, but a lack of production made him an unsafe bet that no one decided to chance it on. That changed in 2015/16, though; the youngster became a key player on his MHL team, playing in all but one of their games and leading them in scoring by a significant margin, contributing to nearly 50% more goals than the player in second place.

17  2014-15  HK MVD Balashikha  MHL 32 2 4 6 55 4.7 -2
18  2015-16  HK MVD Balashikha  MHL 39 13 22 35 59 22.8 14
19  2016-17  Dynamo Moskva  KHL 8 1 0 1 0 7.6 2
19  Dynamo Balashikha  VHL 24 5 3 8 22 10.4 -7
19  HK MVD Balashikha  MHL 17 17 10 27 42 40.4 17
20  2017-18  SKA-Neva St. Petersburg  VHL 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
20  SKA-1946 St. Petersburg  MHL 2 1 2 3 4 38.1 2

This year, it became even more obvious that Chebykin was a bit too good for that level of development. Scoring a goal per game with HC MVD Balashika, Chebykin quickly jumped to the VHL to begin playing against men, picking up a respectable 0.33 points per game as a 19-year-old. The efforts even led to him getting some time in with Dynamo Moscow of the KHL.

pGPSn pGPSs Exp. Success % Exp. P/82 Exp. Value
Player did not play in a league with a pGPS-compatible sample size

Unfortunately, there isn’t really a ton to map with the VHL and MHL, due to the relatively short lifespan of the leagues so far. The best thing I can really say here is that Chebykin’s Draft+2 was a little bit better than Nikita Kucherov’s Draft year, but gets smoked by his Draft+1.

On the ice, Chebykin likes to aim his stick low; that is to say, he’s got a heavy shot that doesn’t always come off as your much-admired bar-down snipe, but gets through an opening that a goalie may leave nonetheless. He’s also got a hard, accurate pass to go with it, and while he isn’t a full-on, freight-train power forward, he’s not afraid of using his body to get to whatever destination he’s set for himself.

The Upcoming Year

Chebykin’s 2017/18 season was originally in question, thanks to the recent financial uncertainty of Dynamo Moscow. Some thought he might consider coming across to North America, but in July, he signed a two-year deal with SKA-Neva, who are the affiliate of KHL powerhouse SKA St. Petersburg. It’s going to be tough for him to get himself up to a big club that is widely considered the best non-NHL team on the planet this year, but after a bit of a delay to start his year, he’s already drawn into some MHL and VHL games this season. I’d expect him to spend much more time in the latter, perhaps getting a quick KHL look towards the end of the season if SKA decides to rest players before the playoffs.

I’d expect him to spend much more time in the latter, perhaps getting a quick KHL look towards the end of the season if SKA decides to rest players before the playoffs.

Long-Term Outlook

It’s just about impossible to say what the future holds for Chebykin. Most Russian-born and developed players don’t ever make the jump across to North America, and in his case, we haven’t really had much in terms of content explaining what his future is. When his status was up in the air earlier in the summer, he didn’t rule out playing on this side of the pond but noted that his biggest priority was simply playing men’s hockey this year.

I doubt we’ll know for sure where his long-term plans anytime soon, or whether he’ll be good enough at that point to entice Toronto into accommodating him.

To see the other profiles in this year’s series, please reference the full list.

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