Every year, there seems to be an undersized, high-scoring defenceman who falls in the draft and then goes on to light up whatever league he plays in. Mikhail Gulyayev might be that player this year. As we continue our series on potential first-round draft profiles for the 2023 NHL draft, we’ll dig into why Gulyayev is already looking like he will be a steal for a lucky team in June.
2023 NHL Draft Update: Mikhail Gulyayev was selected 31st overall by the Colorado Avalanche.
Who is Mikhail Gulyayev?
Mikhail Gulyayev’s on ice production
Gulyayev has grown up playing in Russia in the Omsk hockey system. He played for the U15, U16, U17, and U18 teams with Omsk, before moving to the MHL last season in his D-1. Gulyayev has always been a high-scoring defenceman, scoring over a point-per-game in every league he played in up to and including the MHL, which is Russia’s top junior league.
This season, Gulyayev was rewarded for his exceptional play in the MHL with promotions to the VHL and KHL. While he spent most of the season in the MHL, he suited up for 12 games in the VHL and 13 in the KHL, a very impressive feat for an 18-year-old. Generally, the top Russian players in the draft might not even play VHL games at all, let alone KHL games.
Most of Gulyayev’s points come in the form of assists—he’s not a goal-scoring machine by any means. However, he is lauded for his passing skills and is phenomenal at creating using his feet. His production is definitely translatable.
What really stands out is Gulyayev’s ability to continue his high standard into the playoffs. His playoff scoring is certainly impressive and another feather in his cap.
This season, Gulyayev has put up 10 points in 17 games in the MHL. Leaguewide, Gulyayev ranks third overall in defenceman scoring in the playoffs, just one point back of Ilya Reingardt who is two years older than Gulyayev.
Mikhail Gulyayev’s strengths
The first thing scouts point out about Gulyayev’s game is his strong skating ability. He possesses strong speed, especially in straight lines, which makes him extremely dangerous on the breakout or on the rush when he has a few steps of space. Beyond speed, his skating is very smooth and deceptive; Gulyayev is a strong skater all around and can really move both up the ice and laterally to weave through traffic. A combination of high-end speed and agility is what makes Gulyayev such a strong offensive player.
He is often described as being a fourth forward on the ice and his stats back that up.
While he doesn’t shoot to score with as much regularity as some power play quarterbacks, Gulyayev has impressive passing skills and is very talented at finding his teammates in opportune location. He walks the blueline very well and finds lanes with consistency. He is also very good at transitioning the puck up the ice using his skating of course, but also quick and accurate passing.
Mikhail Gulyayev’sareas of improvement
As a smaller player, Gulyayev can struggle to stand up to larger, more imposing offenders. He can play bigger than his frame, but this season, especially in the higher leagues, it was noticeable that his size was a factor in his decision making and effectiveness. He did seem to get knocke down more easily than he should have at times. Gulyayev has lots of room to grow and can definitely increase his strength, but this is going to be a huge reason why he could fall in the draft.
A classic knock on high-end offensive defencemen, Gulyayev has work to do in his own zone. He has the speed to keep up with opposing rushes but is often seen joining the rush and naturally struggles to get back on time to defend in transition. His decision making can be honed as well; while he does read plays at a high level, his timing can be off and he will jump into passing lanes a bit too early which allows his opponents to adjust their rush accordingly. This is teachable for sure, but is an area of improvement for Gulyayev.
Mikhail Gulyayev’s comparable
Gulyayev isn’t quite on the level of a Quinn Hughes, though there are some similarities. When you consider the offensive creativity, strong skating, but hesitancy to rely on Gulyayev in his own zone protecting a one-goal lead, the best comparable might be Tyson Barrie. A very capable and high-end offensive NHL defenceman who can run a power play consistently, but better suited to a specialized offensive role. Every team would love to have a player like this.
Fit with the Flames
The only offensive defenceman the Flames have in their system right now is Jeremie Poirier. A great player no doubt, but beyond that the cupboards are bare. Adding a player like Gulyayev would be a massive improvement for the whole organizational depth.
This statement could be applied to every team though, as players with Gulyayev’s skill are not very plentiful. Look no further than a Lane Hutson in 2022 or Olen Zellweger in 2021 who are absolutely torching their leagues right now, have made improvements on their defence, and will without a doubt play NHL games.
Gulyayev’s contract in Russia ends after the 2024–25 season, which means he won’t be coming to North America for another two seasons at the very minimum. However, he likely needs that much time to grown and condition anyway, so it’s not a huge loss for the team who drafts him. As a player with high-end offensive skills and the ceiling to be a bona fide power play quarterback in the NHL, Gulyayev should be a no-doubt first-round pick this year. However, his size and the Russian factor could cause him to fall in the draft.
Projection: Top-four power play quarterback
All TWC 2023 NHL Draft Profiles
Check out more of our individual player profiles of selected 2023 NHL Draft prospects:
Connor Bedard | Matvei Michkov | Adam Fantilli | Leo Carlsson | Zach Benson | Andrew Cristall | Oliver Moore | Will Smith | Ryan Leonard | Eduard Sale | Colby Barlow | Axel Sandin Pellikka | Dalibor Dvorsky | Brayden Yager | David Reinbacher | Nate Danielson | Riley Heidt | Matthew Wood | Quentin Musty | Mikhail Gulyayev | Calum Ritchie | Gabe Perrault | Jayden Perron | Ethan Gauthier | Dmitri Simashev | Samuel Honzek | Lukas Dragicevic | William Whitelaw | Otto Stenberg | Gavin Brindley | Daniil But