by Peter Ruicci (Independent Media) | Photo by Bob Davies
His first season in Canada has been one of growth – both athletically and linguistically.
Kirill Kudryavtsev is so pleased with his development, his teammates, coaches and the city he’s living in, the native of Yaroslavl, Russia, said he plans to play a second Ontario Hockey League season with the Soo Greyhounds.
“I like it. This is a good place to improve,” said Kudryavtsev, who has impressed at both ends of the ice after being selected in the first round (No. 6 overall) of the 2021 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft. “I’m playing a lot. I’m on the second PP unit and first or second PK unit. I’m playing 20 minutes a game all season. For sure, I’m happy I came here.”
Going into Friday’s 7:05 p.m. game in Sudbury, the 18-year-old (2004 birth year) has produced four goals and 31 assists, along with a plus-minus of plus-10, in 63 games.
“I think I’ve played pretty well, but I can still be better,” added Kudryavtsev, who continues to grow more proficient in his command of the English language. “I need to work on my offence.”
Fortunately, playing within the Hounds puck-possession style, has stretched and helped develop his offensive skills, he noted.
“I’ve worked on my offence and the coaching staff has helped me,” Kudryavtsev said.
“He’s a very intelligent player who knows exactly where to be positionally,” associate coach Jordan Smith, who works with the Hounds’ defencemen, said of Kudryavtsev. “He puts himself in really good spots.”
Because he’s consistently in the right position, while making few mistakes, the first-year player “can look a little lackadaisical at times,” Smith added.
However, the Hounds coach went on to praise the impact Kudryavtsev has had on a very-talented, blue-line brigade which also includes Rob Calisti, Jack Thompson and captain Ryan O’Rourke.
“And that’s rare at such a young age,” Smith continued. “But he’s been a great presence for us and he’s had a really good rookie season.”
While Kudryavtsev has taken strides in a number of areas, Smith was asked where he’s seen the biggest improvement.
“His offensive ability,” the coach answered. “Coming over, he might have been more of a defensive defenceman. But in our system he’s been given the green light to jump up and make plays and he’s shown the ability to do that.”
Smith also spoke of how the lone import player in the Soo’s lineup knows what to do with the puck on his stick.
“He’s got a great shot, he’s heads up all the time with the puck, he has the ability to make plays. It’s been nice to see him flourish throughout the season.”
Coming from Yaroslavl, a city of roughly 600,000, to the Sault has been an adjustment, Kudryavtsev admitted. But his teammates – especially billet brother Samuel Ivanov – have made the transition much easier.
“Everybody helps me, the older guys have helped me,” he said.
Smith spoke of the language barrier the young player needed to clear when he first arrived, but how “late in the season we’re starting to see more of his personality. He keeps guys laughing.”
Kudryavtsev was ranked No. 103 among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting’s midterm rankings. Final rankings are typically made public in late May.
He said he’s hoping to be drafted “as high as I can be” this July, while discussing his determination to one day play in the NHL.
Kudryavtsev is “definitely going to be drafted,” Smith predicted. “Like all young defencemen he needs to improve his footwork and his skating. But he’s very committed off the ice.”
Can he play at the next level?
“He’s got all the tools to be a pro defenceman,” Smith answered. “He just need to work on his game and continue to develop.”
Meantime, the Hounds take a 35-21-6-1 mark into Friday’s game. That’s four points back of second-place Flint in the OHL’s West Division. Both teams have five regular season games remaining.
The Soo, fourth in the Western Conference, is also six points up on fifth-place Guelph. The Storm has six games remaining.
“We want to keep focusing on our game and keep improving,” Hounds head coach John Dean told Independent Media. “There are a lot of things to keep cleaning up before the start of the playoffs.”
Asked about the last two games, a 9-3 victory over Saginaw and an 8-2 thrashing of Sarnia, Dean spoke of how “obviously we’re happy, but we still have things to work on.”
Friday’s clash is the first of three straight against the Wolves (23-34-3-4), who are ninth in the Eastern Conference, five points back of eighth-place Peterborough, which holds the final playoff spot. Sudbury has a game in hand.
Sudbury and the Soo also meet on Saturday and next Wednesday (both at 7:07 p.m.) here. After that, the Hounds close the campaign with games in Flint next weekend. The teams are set to square off on Friday and Saturday.
Wingers Marco Mignosa (upper-body injury) and Ethan Montroy (lower body) will miss Friday’s clash. Winger Tyler Savard’s (upper body) status for Friday was up in the air as of Thursday morning.