Thanks to a deal that sent Kasperi Kapanen to Pittsburgh, the Leafs are once again set to pick in the first round of the NHL draft after being on the sidelines for the opening round of the 2019 draft. Toronto surrendered a strong transitional player in Kapanen but selecting Rodion Amirov in the draft would add a player to their system who can do a lot of what Kapanen does, and a lot that Kapanen doesn’t.
Amirov spent most of the 2019-2020 season between the MHL and KHL, suiting up in 21 games for Salavat Yulaev Ufa in Russia’s top professional league. Like so many other draft eligible players playing in their respective countries’ top leagues, Amirov’s raw point production isn’t indicative of his talent level. He recorded just two assists in 21 KHL games but tallied 10 goals and 12 assists for 22 points in 17 games for Tolpar Ufa in the MHL, where he was playing against players his age.
Amirov’s best attributes are his feet and his brain. He’s a strong skater, and while he may not have the top gear that Kapanen does, he’s very agile with good edges that allow him to change direction quickly. Look at how he picks up the puck in the neutral zone and takes it wide before cutting up ice, keeping his head up as he stick handles into the zone and explodes back into the middle of the ice for a shot on goal:
Rodion Amirov might not be a flashy stick-handler, but when you watch him glide the puck with his non-dominant hand around two forwards in the neutral zone as he creates a zone entry, you quickly realize how special he is. Great pair of hands.— Josh Tessler (@JoshTessler_) July 8, 2020
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Amirov is elusive with the puck on his stick, able to shake checks and weave through the neutral zone to create clean entries and establish offensive possession for his team. He has good puck protection ability and can shield off defenders while beating them wide with his fluid skating stride as he does in the clip below, but he also does a good job of establishing body position to win battles for loose pucks despite his slight frame. The skating and puck handling are immediately evident but Amirov is really good at hunting for open space in the offensive zone and putting himself in position to score. Watch how he tracks back to the front of the net at the end of this clip, and gets himself turned around and into a shooting position on the far post:
Nice sequence on the power play from Rodion Amirov (#27).— Mathis Desjardins (@m_desjardins00) April 24, 2020
He shows off his shiftiness with a quick change of direction to lose an opponent, then enters the Ozone with control and banks a pass to Alexander Pashin who finds an open Danil Alalykin in the slot.#2020NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/8UHOX1cxrG
He doesn’t always have to do it himself, as he uses his teammates well to breakout as a unit and transport the puck up ice. He is a very intelligent player who is always looking for his teammates in open space or hunting for it himself and he supports the puck well all over the ice. When he has the puck on his stick, he has the hands to beat defenders one on one and the vision to find the open man:
The young Russian is also a responsible defensive player who executes his assignments well and has an active stick breaking up passing lanes. At 6’0″ and around 170 pounds, Amirov will have to add strength to his frame as he matures but his skating ability and hockey sense pretty safely project to the NHL.
Everybody knows that the Leafs roster is top heavy, especially up front, and they’re going to need cheap and effective forwards in the near future. Rodion Amirov is a well rounded player who can do a lot of different things well. He’s very good in transition, uses his teammates efficiently, and has impressive puck handling skills. His floor is that of a third liner but he has the raw tools and potential to be a defensively responsible, scoring forward at the NHL level and is more than worthy of consideration if his name is still on the board when the Maple Leafs are on the clock with the 15th overall pick.
(Statistics from eliteprospects.com)