What a wild couple of days it’s been for the Blue Jackets.
Buying at the trade deadline sandwiched between two wins. I want to turn your attention away from that for just a second and focus on something that just wrapped up: the Olympics. The Blue Jackets had one prospect at the event, defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov, who suited up for Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR).
The men’s hockey wasn’t the same without NHL players. However, it did present a unique opportunity to get a look at a player like Gavrikov. Playing in the KHL his entire career to this point, he’s a player not many people have seen, and has been a bit of an unknown in the Blue Jackets system.
Gavrikov is billed as a big shutdown defenseman, and after watching him, that’s an accurate description. He’s listed at 6-foot-3, 214 lbs., has good strength and uses his size advantage well along the boards and in front of the net. He hardly if ever lost a board battle. If he was able to tie the player up, OAR more often than not was getting the puck. Gavrikov combines this size with top-end skating ability. You can see it full force on the goal he scored in the semifinal round against the Czech Republic.
Gavrikov flies up the ice and turns this simple one-on-one rush into an odd-man rush, and a high danger goal. This goal is the epitome of Gavrikov’s puck skills. He hardly ever has the puck on his stick. Whenever he got the puck it was a quick pass up to a forward, or a quick pass to his defense partner. Gavrikov played alongside Slava Voynov on OAR’s top pair. He relied on Voynov a ton to break the puck out whether that be a pass or carry-out.
Gavrikov in six games had a total of 28 exit attempts. He had 12 successful exits, the majority of which were those quick passes up to the forwards. None of these exits came with pressure as Gavrikov gets rid of the puck so quick. I think he’s aware of what he can and can’t do on the ice so he didn’t try to do too much and dangle through an oncoming fore checker. When there was pressure, Gavrikov struggled; he tried for the quick pass and that lead to turnovers and also had seven failed exits. If there wasn’t a passing lane, Gavrikov opted for the safe play, chipping it off the glass or lobbing it out of the zone. He had nine uncontrolled exits in the tournament.
Offensively, Gavirikov played the same way. If he got the puck in the neutral zone, which was rare, he went for the dump-in. He had just two controlled entries compared to five dump-ins. Again, he's aware of his limitations and didn’t try too much, with the exception being the game against Slovenia. OAR dominated Slovenia winning 8-2. Knowing they had a big lead Gavrikov tried to carry the puck more and be more offensive. Unfortunately it didn’t work out. Three of Gavrikov’s four failed entries came in that game.
Off the puck, Gavrikov was good. He has a long stick and big wingspan which helps him breakup oncoming rushes. He’s not afraid to be physical and take the body. He was targeted 39 times on entries; he broke up six right away at the blue line. His good skating helps him keep up with speedy forwards and is a real asset when retrieving dump-ins. Gavrikov was targeted 19 times with dump-ins as teams tried to beat him with speed. They didn’t have very much success. Where teams had success was when they got Gavrikov moving side to side. He has great north-south speed but he doesn’t have great agility and starting and stopping on a dime can be an issue. Teams were able to get the puck successfully into the zone 14 times when targeting Gavrikov.
When you put everything together Gavrikov came out as a positive for OAR. He was on the ice for 86 shot attempts for and just 60 against at 5 on 5, giving him a very good 58.9% Corsi. OAR as a team in the final five games (I unfortunately was unable to go back and track team stats for their first game), was at 51.6%. Score effects played a big part in why OAR’s numbers are a little lower than expected but even then it’s impressive for Gavrikov to be positive player relative to the team.
Overall I felt Gavrikov held his own on team OAR. On a team full of former NHL players, I don’t know if you can ask for much more. Gavrikov does some things very well, particularly his skating that make him a real NHL prospect, but I feel his lack of puck skills are going to really hold him back when he makes the jump to North America. The bigger ice surface gives him more time to make those quick passes. On the smaller ice, players will be on him quicker and could force him into some bad decisions.
He reminds me a lot of Gabriel Carlsson, big physical defensive defenseman who can skate. Carlsson had a nice run with the team at the end of the 2016-17 season, but a lack of puck skills caught up to him and he hasn’t been able to hold a spot in the NHL. Gavrikov is definitely a player to keep an eye on, but temper expectations on him being an impact NHL player.