His name is Vadim Shipachyov. Or Shipachov. Or Shipachev. It depends on who you ask; Nikolay “Nikolai Kulemin” Kulyomin can attest to this. Anyway, Shipachyov is a Russian centre who, like projected #2 pick Patrik Laine, has North America in a tizzy thanks to his stellar showing at the World Championships so far. In eight games, he has an absurd 16 points, which leads all players in every participating countries.
He’s a great player. But there are limits to that statement, limits which we passed this afternoon.
Now, I’m not here to rip on Burtch. Steve puts out a lot of quality written statistics work, even if I still don’t fully get the nuances of dCorsi. To be fair as well, when you average a tweet every 10 minutes not accounting for sleep, sometimes you need to think out of the box to avoid plagiarising yourself. Steve is great. He’s not really the problem here.
The votes going in Shipachov’s favour, even if it was just temporary until others began brigading the poll back the other way, are what really baffle me.
I understand that there’s a lot of fear and uncertainty with Steven Stamkos right now. Nobody wants to talk about the hidden-in-plain-sight rumour that has only gotten bigger, not smaller since it started years ago. Many are worried about his blood clotting issues that have taken him out of the playoffs. Many are scared of his cap hit coming back to haunt the Leafs like many thought David Clarkson would. Those are topics for another day.
But Vadim Shipachyov probably isn’t the knife that you want to bring to this gunfight.
I will say this; Shipachyov is one of the most dominant players in the KHL right now. In 54 games played, he put up 60 points; a career high. He’s been an efficient scorer in the league for the past seven years now but has exploded into a point-per-game player in the past two. He projects to have an all-situations NHLe of around 2.7, which would make him one of the top 25 most productive players in the league.
These are awesome numbers that imply that we’re talking about a very, very good player here. But there are some downfalls.
There’s a difference between Shipachyov and say, Nikita Zaitsev or Anatoly Golyshev, two other KHLers we’ve talked at length about on here. That difference is age; Zaitsev is 24, Golyshev turned 21 midway through the season and Shipachyov? He’s 29. Age means everything in the KHL; young players don’t get big minutes unless they are very obviously special talents, which is why our on this site and why much of the NHL’s focus in its poaching tactics have been placed towards standout players under the age of 25. At 29, Shipachyov will usually get first dibs at opportunities based off his combination of senority and talent.
More importantly, he’s at an age where players start to wilt, rather than blossom. Burtch’s post-poll argument against Stamkos is that age is against him consistently reaching elite plateau’s again, but Stamkos is also three years younger than Shipachyov is. If he’s inching towards a downswing at that age, then the Cherepovets native only has 16 of his 18 wheels still planted on the cliff.
Not that there’s anything wrong with veteran players, but to take a player that’s playing well in another league and hope that he’ll excel in another is already enough as it is. A 29-year-old who will turn 30 midway through the season? That’s rough; Petri Kontiola certainly didn’t transition well when the Leafs attempted a similar experiment with him in 2014/15. At least he had some North American experience under his belt; Shipachyov has never played a season outside of the SuperLeague/KHL system. A successful transition and continued top-rate production is a huge ask.
There are also a few other concerning bits. Shipachyov has been shooting at over 15% this year and has been closer to the 20’s in this tournament. Over half of his goals this year came on the powerplay (13 of 24, regular season and playoffs combined). He doesn’t shoot much, either; he had 156 shots on goal in 69 games. He doesn’t have to shoot a lot, though, because he has great linemates to feed.
Yeah, about that.
When you have good chemistry with somebody, you just know. It makes you better, it makes them better, and you push forward as a group and never want to split apart. The issue is that nobody can quite tell for sure if you’re much better separately without experimentation.
Shipachyov broke out last year on what became known as one of the most made for each other lines in hockey. To his right, he had Artemi Panarin. To his right, he had Evgeny Dadonov. They were SKA St. Petersburg’s high minute second line, who came out whenever Ilya Kovalchuk and pals were ready to come off the ice. They got hefty but cushier minutes, matched each other’s play style, and were never broken up. They excelled.
Panarin took advantage of his newfound success and, with another teammate, Viktor Tikhonov, parlayed it into a contract with the Chicago Blackhawks. Panarin was the youngest of the group and the most individually skilled, and as such transitioned pretty well. Having the Art Ross Winner in Patrick Kane on your other wing helps, as does having another countryman in the middle in Artem Anisimov. This left Shipachyov and Dadonov without a third musketeer; thankfully for them, Nikita Gusev, another youngster who plays like a slightly shorter Panarin, was quickly groomed and put into place. Once again, heavy minutes, weaker competition, great chemistry, lots of points.
This year’s World Championships line? You guessed it; Panarin-Shipachyov-Dadonov.
Again, none of this is to say that Shipachyov is a bad player. There’s no doubt that he’s a high-quality player, but he’s one that’s high quality on a line built just for him on the league’s richest team. He’s also 29 and has never left home. To bet that he could pack it up, fly across the ocean, and do it without his friends or a feel for the North American age? It’s a huge risk. To invest in a multi-year, decently paying contract? That seems like an insane idea for the Leafs to attempt. Especially when the upside is getting a centre who might be slightly better than William Nylander and Nazem Kadri in the short term if almost everything goes well.
If I’m the Leafs and feeling like taking a risk, the local, perennial superstar makes a lot more sense. Escaping the poll options but staying in Russia, I’d probably sooner make a similar offer (with some hesitance) to Alexander Radulov, who produces just as well, does so with anyone he plays with, is annoying as hell to play against, and has shown that his skills translate to the NHL before.
Maybe Shipachyov is a fit in the NHL somewhere, especially if a package deal can be manoeuvred that involves the signing team taking in Dadonov as well. I don’t think it’s Toronto, though. There’s huge room for downside and the upside likely isn’t good enough for a team that has recently built themselves up at centre. Maybe he should try the Habs instead; they have a great history with Russian talent.