The top scorer among all draft eligible players at this year’s World U18 Tournament, Nikita Chibrikov has quickly made himself a household name among scouts. While some scouts and draft rankings have him as high as 11th and others as low as the tail end of the second round, most have him going somewhere around the middle of the first round. In TWC’s consolidated draft rankings, he slots in at 27th overall. Could he be a fit with the Flames? Let’s break it all down.
Who is Nikita Chibrikov?
Born in February, 2003, Chibrikov is around the middle of the draft class—not the oldest but not the youngest. However, he is on the smaller side of this year’s class, standing 5’10” and weighing in around 172 pounds. However, what he lacks in size, he makes up for in skill and determination. Chibrikov is a direct north-south player, someone who drives offence and can create chances out of seemingly nothing. You simply cannot sleep on him.
Nikita Chibrikov’s on-ice production
Like most Russian first-round picks, Chibrikov has bounced between the KHL, VHL, and MHL this season. For more on each of these hockey leagues, check out our guide here.
|2018–19||D-2||Russia U16||Dynamo Moskva U16||21||24||30||54|
|2018–19||D-2||Russia U18||Dynamo Moskva U18||7||8||7||15|
|2020–21||D+0||MHL||SKA-1946 St. Petersburg||11||3||6||9|
|2020–21||D+0||VHL||SKA- Neva St. Petersburg||20||3||5||8|
|2020–21||D+0||KHL||SKA St. Petersburg||16||1||1||2|
Like most prospects in the first round, Chibrikov was clearly too good when he was playing in U16/U18 hockey. However, he sustained a high level of production when he made the jump to junior hockey in the MHL. Among U17 skaters in his first year, Chibrikov finished tied for second with 16 points, a good sign for a rookie.
This season, he just continued to elevate his game, getting opportunities to play in Russia’s highest league, the KHL. He actually led all U18 skaters in the KHL with two points in 16 games, and was one of just two players in his age range to play more than a couple games in this league.
It is easy to dismiss these point totals as low, but to have a team feel that a 17-year-old deserves not just a handful, but sixteen total games in the KHL is very high praise for his game. On top of that, SKA is an excellent club, finishing second in their division this season. They are not short on talent, which just adds to how well-regarded Chibrikov is.
Chibrikov then captained Team Russia at the World U18s, and was a key part of Russia’s silver medal winning squad. He finished second on the team in scoring and fourth in the tournament. While it is a small sample size, playing against the rest of his draft class, Chibrikov looked like he was on the leading edge of the group.
Nikita Chibrikov’s strengths
Chibrikov is an offensively gifted player, and has no qualms about generating chances. He has a lethal shot from in tight, shooting hard and fast with his wrist shot and his snap shot. While he does need to build up more upper body strength to get his shot to where it needs to be for the NHL, Chibrikov has the poise and accuracy to be a difference maker at the NHL level.
What is especially impressive is his ability to toe drag around a defender to open space for a shot. Check out this play from the Worlds:
What is especially impressive is his ability to keep his feet moving through the offensive zone. Watch that clip again and follow his movement through that play, always in position to support his teammate and stay open for when the puck comes to him. He’s a very cerebral player to say it succinctly.
You can see when you watch him just how smooth of a skater he is, and this is an area scouts have raved about him. He moves his feet so well, and when he gets up to full speed, he can absolutely fly. On top of that, he uses his stick so well while moving that he can evade defenders and generate chances off the rush. Check out this play where he goes end to end, and wins it for Team Russia:
All this ability is only compounded by his impressive playmaking skills. While Chibrikov can shoot and loves to shoot, he has impressive vision, that allows him to create chances that others may not see. While he is incredibly smart as a player, it is his athleticism that helps him make such great passes. Check out this beautiful back pass he makes for Team Russia:
Nikita Chibrikov’s areas of improvement
The one area that particularly worries scouts about Chibrikov is his defensive play. Similar to a number of other young forwards, Chibrikov has a tendency to wait for the play to come to him on defence as opposed to covering his man quickly. He also likes to be the first man out of the zone and jump ahead for a breakout pass, which sometimes works but more often leaves his team shorthanded in the breakout. Scouts think that with some coaching, Chibrikov can break out of this.
Scouts also worry about whether he will reach his ceiling as a top-six winger and how long it may take. Chibrikov is under contract with SKA for the next two seasons until the end of the 2022-23 season. While this is great for his development, getting a chance to play against men in the KHL, he will then need a subsequent season of development in the AHL before he could potentially be NHL ready. That’s a long time to wait for a first-round pick, and at this pace, he will probably be one of the last in his first-round class to make the NHL if he does go that early. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily, but it does mean that for a team in their window now, Chibrikov may not be the right pick.
Fit with the Flames
It has been beaten to death just how badly the Flames need to increase their offense and their speed, and Chibrikov brings both in spades. Although he is a left shot, you can never have too many gifted top-six skaters, and while he is going to take some time to develop, he could become a key part of the Flames in a few years if he hits his ceiling.
The defensive awareness is going to be an issue for the Flames. This team has valued two-way play in their first-round picks over the last couple of years, and this year doesn’t feel like an exception. With the 12th pick in a very open draft, the Flames have many options to choose from this year, but no matter what way you play with it Chibrikov just doesn’t seem like the pick. He is likely a bit too much of a reach for the Flames, with better offensive and two-way talents available earlier this year.
While the Flames do need scoring, Chibrikov just doesn’t move the needle enough to justify being the pick. That being said, he has incredible offensive skill that could make him an elite winger in this league in a few years. Someone to keep an eye on for whoever drafts him to see whether he can reach his potential.
Projection: Top-six scoring forward
Previously: William Eklund, Dylan Guenther, Cole Sillinger, Jesper Wallstedt, Kent Johnson, Simon Robertsson, Fabian Lysell, Aatu Räty, Carson Lambos, Simon Edvinsson, Chaz Lucius, Mason McTavish, Brennan Othmann, Corson Ceulemans, Francesco Pinelli, Oskar Olausson, Xavier Bourgault, Zachary L’Heureux, Matthew Coronato, Zachary Bolduc, Logan Stankoven, Sebastian Cossa
Featured image created with Venngage.