Just one look was all it took for Kyle Dubas to know Sergei Tolchinsky is worth the calculated risk for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
Small-market Ontario Hockey League teams typically don't land players such as Tolchinsky, a 5-foot-7½ , 150-pound speedster who basically plays like a mini-Nail Yakupov is definitely the latter. However, if Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk (who went through the regular draft, not the CHL import draft) could goes Nos. 1 and 3 overall in the NHL draft after starring for the Sarnia Sting, why shouldn't the Greyhounds try with a player who is also advised by Igor Larionov?
"I'd rather swing for the fence with a kid we know we is an elite player than bring in anybody who is average and below," Dubas said.
The elephant in the room for Dubas is that his last big move did not pan out for the Greyhounds. Last November, he added three-time U.S. world junior goalie Jack Campbell from the Windsor Spitfires at the cost of eight players, picks and prospects, including defenceman Patrick Sieloff, who signed with the Spitfires before the Calgary Flames drafted him on Saturday. The young GM was criticized heavily when the Campbell-less Spitfires beat out the Greyhounds for the final playoff berth.
"The next step will be talk with Igor, get an idea for where they are," Dubas said. "We had heard that [Nikita] Zadorov [whom London took at No. 9] and Tolchinsky had interest in coming over. Of course they always have the option of signing back home with the club that owns their rights. We'll have those conversations and will probably have to do some recruiting."
Tolchinsky dropped jaws with his performance at the world under-17 challenge in Windsor, Ont., last season. It a coming-out party for both he and Ivan Barbashev, whom the Moncton Wildcats took No. 1 overall on Wednesday
It's become a frequent sight to see small-market teams peddle a high import pick to a well-heeled franchise. Last season the Quebec Remparts traded up to No. 2 overall to land Mikhail Grigorenko, who become a first-round pick. Some teams have more resources to recruit a player who could stay in the his country's elite league or the KHL. Four of the first 10 picks in this import draft were dealt. However, other small-market clubs used theirs. The WHL's Prince Albert Raiders, picking second overall, took German scorer Leon Draisaitl. The Erie Otters, the first OHL team up at No. 3, took highly touted Swedish goaltender Oscar Dansk, whom many assumed would go to a franchise such as London or Windsor.
"Teams in our league have a decision to make," Dubas said. "You either pick the best player available or you let him slide by and you have to play against him eight times a year and they dominate the scoreboard against you. That was our process, to be totally open. Now we'll work on trying to sign Sergei."
The Larionov connection looms fairly large for the 'Hounds.
"I think so," Dubas said when asked if he felt more confident choosing a player whose adviser also represents another Russia-to-CHL-to-lottery pick success story. "If it were anyone else ... but even still, we made that decision that we weren't going to trade away our pick for middle-round [OHL priority selection] draft choices and then complain about it in a year when we move back and get a [European] player who's equivalent [in ability] to a seventh, eighth or ninth-round [OHL] pick. I think a lot of people complain about that, that it's a process that favours big-market teams."
The Russians won the bronze medal at that U17 tournament. If Tolchinsky signs with the Greyhounds, who are coming off consecutive seasons where they missed the playoffs in the tough Western Conference, it would give the Soo two players who were U17 tournament all-stars. Defenceman Darnell Nurse, the team's first-rounder in 2011, was also recognized after playing for Team Ontario.
"I only had to see Sergei go end to end against the United States once to know that everything that everyone said about him was pretty bang on," Dubas said (referring to this goal). "It was probably the best goal I saw all year. He takes the puck from his own end and goes right in and leans sideway and puts the puck under the crossbar with not a lot of room at full speed. Not a lot of guys can do that."
Russian forward Valery Nichushkin, a 6-foot-3 forward, opted not to come to the CHL this season. That forced several teams to adapt on the fly.
"The news broke really early that Valery Nichushkin wasn't coming," Dubas said. "That really threw off the order of the whole draft."
It's not a fait accompli that Tolchinsky will end up in Greyhounds red and white. Taking the best player available in no way ensures he'll show. Before current Colorado Avalanche centre Gabriel Landeskog became a NHL lottery pick, Calder Trophy winner and North Americanized import player, he declined to report to the Plymouth Whalers after being chosen in 2009. The Whalers ultimately dealt his rights to the Kitchener Rangers.
"There are precedents both ways of teams getting guys and get a situation like [Gabriel] Landeskog where Plymouth did what we did today, take the best player and after they couldn't work it out, they facilitated a move to Kitchener," Dubas said. "Which is not our preferred route, but it's another option."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.
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