After six consecutive NHL entry drafts without selecting a Russian, the Detroit Red Wings have finally returned to the land that delivered them Pavel Datsyuk.
The Red Wings selected defenseman Alexey Marchenko from CSKA Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League with their final pick of the 2011 draft, 205th overall in the seventh round, in St. Paul, Minn., on Saturday.
The 6-foot-2, 183-pound defenseman is the Red Wings’ first Russian draft choice since Gennady Stolyarov in 2004, but the so-called “Russian factor” — the lure of staying home to play in the KHL — doesn’t appear to be an issue here, although Marchenko has two years left on his contract with CSKA.
“He’ll play two more years with them and then he wants to come to North America,” said Red Wings Russian scout Nikolai Vakourov.
Already 19, Marchenko was actually eligible for the 2010 draft — ranked 12th among Europeans by Central Scouting — but wasn’t picked. He had health complications late in the 2009-10 season and needed to have his spleen removed. There was grave concern he might not be able to continue his hockey career.
“That’s why nobody took him — it was difficult to predict what would happen to him,” Vakourov said. “In the worst case, he would quit playing hockey, but he recovered.”
Marchenko became a regular with CSKA Moscow and finished the season ranked 25th among Europeans by Central Scouting. Averaging more than 13 minutes a night as a teenager, Marchenko played 23 games in the KHL, registering two assists and a minus-2. He also played in Russia’s junior league, the Minor Hockey League, piling up five goals and 33 assists for 38 points in 36 games.
Described as skinny and not overly physical, Marchenko is more than capable of playing a simple, stay-at-home game. But Vakourov said there’s more upside than just that.
“He’s not very offensive but he’s smart moving the puck,” Vakourov said. “I would say he’s a puck-moving defenseman. He can play the power play and in general he has good tools to play in the NHL one day.”
It doesn’t hurt that he’s a right-shooting blueliner, something the Red Wings need more of.
Vakourov rated Marchenko as the best 1992-born defenseman in Russia and said he has a “very good chance” of being a top-pairing blueliner and a captain for his country at the IIHF world junior championship in December.
Defenseman Dmitri Bykov (258th overall in 2001) is the Red Wings’ only Russian draft pick to have panned out as an NHL player since Datsyuk (171st overall in 1998), but if Marchenko can add strength to his slender frame, he has a decent chance.
“I think for the seventh round he’s a great pick,” Vakourov said.