February 28 2016 03:04AM
Photo Credit: KHL/Youtube
The "free wallet". Brian Burke popularized the phrase in the hockey world in the midst of his tenure with the Maple Leafs, to signify young, unrestricted free agent prospects added to the team without having to give up any form of compensation. The premise was sensible, even if most of his wallets turned out to have been empty. After all, why wouldn't you want to stock your cupboards up with as many potential NHLers as possible?
The hockey world stretches across many leagues in many countries, and in those leagues, you'll find a ton of players that are free to be picked off by NHL teams. Most aren't worth the aggravation, but every so often, somebody sticks out and catches the eye of the rest of the world.
But what if I told you that the best of these thousands of players isn't getting even the slightest bit of attention and that he's hidden in plain sight? Enter Anatoly Golyshev.
Golyshev is a 21-year-old winger born in Perm, Russia. If his name sounds familiar to you, that's because he's played in Toronto before as a member of Russia's 2015 World Junior Team, on a roster that included Toronto Marlies defenceman and Leafs prospect Rinat Valiev. He wasn't particularly notable, however; head coach Valeri Bragin was far from a fan of his, limiting his minutes and declaring that he didn't have much of a chance of becoming a regular professional player.
It was a weird statement, given that he was already well on his way. He was 11th in MHL (Russia's top junior league) scoring as a 17-turned-18-year-old in 2012/13 and was in the midst of his second KHL season. While he wasn't lighting up the league, he was doing more than most teenagers. Despite playing 13 minutes night, he managed 19 points in 44 games; good for the eighth-best scoring rate by a 19-year-old in the KHL. Most of the players above him have turned out pretty good; Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nail Yakupov (lockout year), Artemi Panarin, and Vladamir Tarasenko were the lines he was chasing. It was only a matter of time before Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg, who's system he had been in for several years, would finally give him a chance at being a star.
This year, they increased his minutes and threw him into offensive situations. In an even bolder move, they also named him alternate captain. Let me tell you, did all of it ever pay off.
Golyshev wasn't just one of the best 20-year-olds this year; he was one of the highest performing players in the entire KHL. Despite averaging a very modest 17:14 of ice time per game, Golyshev finished in a tie for 18th in points with 44 in 56 games. More impressively, he finished fourth in the league with 25 goals.; two more than Alexander Radulov, and nine more than Ilya Kovalchuk (who admittedly, is declining hard). Golyshev's 25 tallies are the most by any Under-21 player in KHL history. Or Under-22. Or Under-23.
On an all situation, rate basis, Golyshev paced out at about 1.56 goals and 2.74 points per 60 minutes. Using the NHLe approximation of 0.8 NHL points per KHL point (2.20 NHL p/60), Golyshev matches up well against younger rookies.
While NHLe is far from perfect, it gives an allusion to the level of play that Golyshev brought to the table on a relatively weak team in a league that doesn't like to give its non-Brand Name youth regular playing time. As well, Golyshev's quick feet led to him drawing 14 penalties, and while he did contribute a decent amount on the powerplay, 18 (72%) of his goals came at even strength; a ratio better than most of the league's best.
Even when you looks at his assists, which are admittedly more of a subjective stat in the KHL than they are here, there are some things to note. 58% of his helpers came at even strength, and the same percentage of them were primary helpers. Clearly, he doesn't need the other team to give him extra room to be successful.
That doesn't mean he won't create advantages of his own, though.
At face value, his 18.7% shooting percentage seems a little alarming and unsustainable, but as you dig deeper into the video, it becomes apparent that while there's likely still some luck that will regress its way back, he's likely to be an above league average shooter throughout his prime years.
Golyshev scores a the vast majority of his goals from the high-percentage, "scoring chance" areas in front and off to the side of the net. In fact, goals that come from rush opportunities are practically non-existent. Golyshev often uses his blistering speed and dodginess to either carry the puck into the zone and start a set play or to chase a dump and recover the puck on the other site. Rarely does he come in with the immediate goal of scoring, which is part of what makes him so dangers.
Avtomobilist will set up, he'll hover around his assigned area, and once he catches an opening? Bang. He'll sprint, he'll take in the pass, the goalie will still be two feet away from covering it, and he'll bury it into the open net. Does he score from that Darcy Tucker, pre-Babcock Tyler Bozak distance? Yes, most of the time. But he doesn't stand in the same spot Tucker did or only pick up rebounds from one shooter like Bozak used to. He finds his spots on the fly, out-thinks his opponents, outskates them, and makes them pay.
Even his assist attempts draw from that awareness. Most of the time, Golyshev will seduce multiple back checkers into the boards, only to slip a pass between all of them and give his teammates a chance to bury it. He's a modern finisher, and while the smaller ice might make finding a space more difficult, he's capable of going for a traditional shot when he needs to.
In a late night conversation, a friend of mine once suggested that there are no "late bloomers" in hockey; only players that were never given the opportunity at the spotlight due to a "deal breaker" flaw. Martin St. Louis was his shining example; he excelled in junior, but nobody drafted him. He excelled in the NCAA, and the Flames eventually signed him, but even with good numbers in the minors, it took four years and a waiver claim to get an NHL look. Fast forward to 1033 points later, and everybody feels a little dumber about letting him simmer as a freebie.
Golyshev has two traits that make him extremely vulnerable to being passed over, his small stature (5'9, 175lbs), and his Russian heritage. With that said, a smart team wouldn't worry about those too much. There's plenty of room for small players (15 players under 5'10 have played 40+ games this season) so long as they're skilled and fearless, which he is. As for the Russian factor, for every Nikita Filatov, there's a handful Artemi Panarins, Evgeny Kuznetsovs, and Vladamir Tarasenkos (who Golyshev matches up closest to statistically). The Leafs already dipped into the KHL market with Nikita Soshnikov last year, and the 22-year-old has played extremely well on the Marlies.
Now, since this is The Leafs Nation, do I believe the Leafs should sign him?
Toronto would certainly be a heck of a fit. He's the right age to be part of the first generation wave of new Leafs prospects. He has the foot speed to keep up with the up-tempo core. The strength and conditioning team can put good mass on him to help him crash the slot even more aggressively than he does already. He's likely to have a Russian teammate or two to surround him, can play both wings, and his finishing ability can take weight off of the many creative playmakers in the pipeline.
But, given the numbers, I think any team would be wise to give him a shot, no matter what their situation is. It's not known what the exact terms of Golyshev's long-term contract are with Avtomobilist, but assuming there's an NHL-clause or a low buyout cost, there would be no reason for a team not to add him. In fact, after five months of quietly identifying Golyshev as a prospect to keep an eye on and tracking his progress, I've decided to post this article today upon being told that multiple NHL teams are monitoring him as well.
As it stands, Golyshev still has playoff games to take part in, though Automobilist seems likely to fall to Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the first round. Moving forward, though, it wouldn't be a surprise if the one of the youngest and best players in the world's second highest league decides to make the jump to the next level.