The Montreal Canadiens seem to have had an inside track that the 31 other clubs didn’t have during the 2023 NHL Draft, and only now is it coming to light. In the fourth round of the draft, Kent Hughes selected Russian defenseman Bogdan Konyushkov.
As a 20-year-old, he was passed over because of his age and smaller frame, but that won’t discourage the Canadiens, as we know Cole Caufield and Lane Hutson aren’t big players.
Essentially, what the tweet says is that when Nicholas Cloutier of TVA Sports interviewed Konyushkov’s head coach in the Kontinental Hockey League, he sang praises about the young right-shot defender. The intriguing part of it is the fact that the head coach of Torpedo Novgorod Nizhny, Konyushkov’s club, is none other than a Hockey Hall of Famer, and a member of the triple gold club (Stanley Cup champion, Olympic Gold Medalist & World Championship Gold Medalist), Igor Larionov. Larionov said that his young defenseman would already be a key piece for the Montreal Canadiens if he were to join the club today.
Another great thing to hear is Larionov’s refreshing take on coaching Konyushkov, which is right on par with Martin St. Louis’s approach. Let the player play to their strengths, and coach them on how to position themselves better, and in Konyushkov’s case, how to be more effective defensively. Larionov doesn’t want to discourage the player, in fact, he stated that he loves the way he plays so he is okay with him making mistakes, so long as it can be used as a coachable moment.
The interview also delves into Konyushkov’s goals for the future, and although he is signed for three years in the KHL, he has been open about his wishes to play in the NHL in the future. Certainly, this is great news for the Habs, because it was likely when he was drafted 110th overall, that he wasn’t expected to explode on the scene like he did, nor emerge as one of the premiere defenders in the pipeline. He played his rookie season last year, and his stat line was pretty impressive; as he scored 25 points (two goals & 23 assists) in 64 games.
During the Canadiens draft video, it can be heard by Nick Bobrov, that he felt Konyushkov would be a steal in the fourth round because he felt that the player was a second-round talent. So while the selection seemingly came out of nowhere, much like his brilliant play to start the 2024 season, he was already highly-touted by the Canadiens scouts. Moreover, his strong play has earned him coach Larionov’s trust, which has resulted in him averaging over 24 minutes of ice time each night, which leads all KHL defensemen, as a 20-year-old.
His rapid start has earned him KHL defenseman of the month honours for the month of September. Through eleven games, the Penza, Russia native has collected seven points (one goal & six assists. It is a small sample size, and it’s easy to overhype a prospect, but when one of the best Russian players to ever lace up a pair of skates praises a player, he is at least worth keeping an eye on.
It is now a thing of the past, as mentioned in a recent article I wrote, that the Canadiens had a weakness on the right side of the defence. Now with Logan Mailloux and David Reinbacher on their way and Justin Barron primed for a big year, the group looks to be a strength, and Konyushkov adds a fourth player with promise. It shouldn’t be viewed as overcrowded, however, because right-defenders that have NHL potential are a rare commodity, so he could be a nice gem for the team in the future, regardless of where he ends up playing.
In the interest of tempering expectations, we can look back on Alex Romanov who had developed in the KHL before coming to North America. He then dominated during the World Junior’s and was given defenseman of the tournament honours. But, he ended up being seen as expandable, and ultimately traded, but the point is, he was viewed by many as a top pair defender, which isn’t the case, at this point anyways.
Konyushkov has been a steady presence, who seems to keep elevating his play and developing wonderfully overseas. So long as he continues his strong play, and logs big minutes he could end up being viewed as the steal of the 2023 draft, following the 2022 draft steal, Lane Hutson. But hey, he still has time to grow, and nothing is sure, but the fact that he is blossoming under the tutelage of an NHL legend is very promising for his future.
He is a strong passer, whose able to send strong first passes for zone exits regularly. Anticipation is also a large part of his game, as it allows him to intercept passes, and turn the puck back the other for a transition. The ability to thread passes, helps him create sustained zone time and create plays where he burns defenders with strong passes. Below is an example of him being used on the powerplay, and creating a little bit of magic.
It’s been a great start for the Habs’ hopeful, and should he continue his strong play, he could very well find himself atop the prospect pool’s best, alongside Reinbacher and Mailloux.
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