Kicking off our TLN Top Twenty Leafs Prospects is newcomer Rinat Valiev, a Russian defender drafted as an overager by the Leafs in the third round of the this past June’s NHL Entry Draft.
Valiev’s journey to becoming an NHL prospect has been an unusual one, playing for four different teams in three different countries in the past three years.
In 2011-2012, Valiev jumped between Russian junior leagues as a member of Ak Bars Kazan’s junior affiliates, Bars Kazan and Irbis Kazan. Despite being drafted third overall in the 2012 KHL Junior Draft (ahead of the likes of Nikita Zadorov, Valeri Nichushkin and Tomas Hertl), Valiev chose to cross the Atlantic to continue his development.
Wishing to play in the CHL, but having not yet been drafted by a CHL team, Valiev spent one season in the USHL with the Indiana Ice. In 36 games, Valiev scored a pedestrian six goals and 13 points, returning to Russia following a season-ending injury. His status unclear, Valiev was passed over in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
After being selected by the Kootenay Ice in the 2013 CHL Import Draft, his stock stabilized. Valiev scored 28 points and was +27 in 55 games, establishing himself as a go-to guy on a thin Kootenay blueline and convincing the Leafs scouting department that he was worthy of a third round pick.
Leafs Director of Amateur Scouting Dave Morrison on selecting Valiev…
As suggested by his just-decent stat line, Valiev is not a flashy offensive defenceman. There’s too much inconsistency in his point production to suggest this will be a strength going forward, having alternated between near point-per-game months and extended slumps this past year with Kootenay. However, Valiev’s hockey IQ and mobility suggest that he could develop into an effective top four defenceman at the NHL level, even if he won’t produce significant points.
Appearing on five of our nine writers’ lists, Valiev fended off Sam Carrick and Brandon Kozun to grab the last entry in our Top Twenty Leafs Prospects rankings. Ultimately, there’s raw potential here that the others just don’t have. Valiev will return to Kootenay this coming season and should become the team’s top, all-situations blueliner.