Names To Know: Ivan Demidov Brings Elite Playmaking, Creativity, But Comes With Some Risk

By Dan Dukart on May 27, 2024 at 10:15 am
Ivan Demidov skates at practice for SKA

Welcome to the eighth installment of our "Names To Know," 2024 edition, a look-ahead at prospects who the Columbus Blue Jackets could select in the upcoming NHL Draft.

Today, we're looking at Ivan Demidov, a 5'11" winger who plays in Russia's vaunted SKA St. Petersburg system. To say that Demidov has lit up the Russian junior circuit over the past two years would be an undersell. In 71 regular season games over the past two MHL seasons, he's tallied a ridiculous 42-80-122, then led the MHL in playoff scoring with 11-17-28 in just 17 games this spring. He finished second in the league in regular-season points (the leader had 64 points, he had 60) despite playing 24 fewer games. He won virtually every award one can win in the MHL: MVP, a league championship, and was named the player of the month on three separate occasions, to name a few.

Working against Demidov are a few notable elements. Most notably, Russia has been banished on the world stage from international competition. As such, it's been years since he's played in an apples-to-apples tournament against other draft-eligible players. Second, for as talented as he is, he's failed to make the jump to the KHL. Some of that has to do with the program in which he plays - SKA is arguably the deepest organization in the KHL. Still, teams may be reluctant to draft a player who, talented as he may be, has played in just six KHL games (and has failed to register a point).

Next, he's a smallish winger, and teams are historically reluctant to take a 1) small 2) winger at the tippy top of the draft. Of course, there are exceptions (Patrick Kane comes to mind, both as an example and as a player-style comp), but the point remains. Finally, he's under contract with SKA St. Petersburg through the 2024-25 season, meaning he's not coming to North America for another year - at least. 

Still, with all of that said, Demidov is largely considered the second-best forward in the draft after Macklin Celebrini., who mock drafted Demidov to the Blue Jackets, said he is "one of the most naturally skilled players in the 2024 draft class" who "has a high hockey IQ and adapts well in stride." 

He loves to skate with the 10-and-2/mohawk skating technique that fellow Russian Kirill Kaprizov has popularized. I think there are some rhymes in their respective games, though he's not a center and isn't quite as sturdy. His superpower is his ability to blend his powerful skating and fluid stickhandling with supreme creativity and a fearlessness to attack. There simply aren't many players who can make it all look so easy. His willingness to attack the middle of the ice is worth reiterating. He has the skill/bravery to go to the hard/dangerous areas of the ice, but I can't help but wonder if he will get away with more now than he will at a higher level of hockey.

Here's The Athletic's Corey Pronman on the winger, who he projects as a "
Bubble NHL All-Star and top-of-the-lineup player" with "high-end" NHL puck skills:

Demidov has been the best player in Russia's junior league over the last two seasons. He has game-breaking skill and is extremely creative in making plays with the puck. He has a strong motor and competes hard to win pucks. Demidov isn't that big, but he gets to the hard areas of the ice to create chances. While he can run a power play and create when the game slows down, he makes a lot of plays on the move. He's a powerful but awkward-looking skater and he's not the biggest winger so there is some question about how his game will translate to higher levels. I see a potential top-line winger who will score a lot, but who may never be the best forward on an NHL team.

Part of the dream in drafting Demidov is that other dynamic Russian wingers - Artemi Panarin, Nikita Kucherov, etc. - were missed during the draft process. In a theoretical re-draft, it's obvious that either would be a top pick. Is he the next great Russian forward? Or is he merely far superior to his current inferior competition, and a rude awakening exists as he moves up the professional ranks? That's the question NHL teams are asking, without the benefit of many live viewings.

Mock Draft Results
ESPN 3rd
My NHL Draft 2nd
Tankathon 2nd 4th, 5th
The Athletic 5th
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