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Next on our countdown for this year's Top 25 Under 25 series is the Russian goalie Artur Akhtyamov.
|Age as of July 1||21.67|
Goalies are always treated weird in this series, including by myself. People have a hard enough time conceptualizing goalies and the value they bring (or don't bring) in the NHL, let alone prospects who are still young and developing, let alone projecting their future potential as they come from several different leagues and countries.
Again, I'm going to raise my hand and include myself in that group. The one thing I can say is that I've picked up some trends for what countries or leagues seem to be better at churning out NHL goalies than others. The CHL? Extremely overrated the past several years, as an example. Russia, on the other hand, has a much better track record over that same period of time. Vasilevskiy, Shesterkin, Sorokin, Samsonov, Georgiev, Bobrovsky, Varlamov, Khudobin, Kochetkov and one of the top goalie prospects not yet in the NHL – Askarov. They're all from a newer wave (though some are older) of goalies that came from Russia.
Of course, it sounds great to only look at the successes. There are many other goalies who have been drafted from Russia in the same timeframe who never made the NHL at all. Especially for goalies who are average size or smaller – for goalies, that is – and who are drafted in later rounds and don't have a lot of hype or pedigree.
All of which apply to Akhtyamov. So let's talk about him, and why he still doesn't get a lot of love from the T25U25 voters even in a very weak year for all the eligible players.
Akhtyamov was drafted 106th overall in the 4th round back in 2020, and he had really good numbers that year. With a .931 sv% in 46 games in Russia's junior MHL league, he was tied for 8th in the whole league among goalies that had more than 10 games in the league.
That sounds great, but Akhtyamov was also one of the older prospects and only 6'0" at the time. It's an average height for regular players, but for goalies is below average. And as being 8th in the league may show, it's also not among the most elite for that league where most really elite goalies from Russia usually are getting at least some time in the VHL or KHL pro leagues.
Akhtyamov, to this day, has only played in 4 KHL games in the three seasons since then. That's a bit worrying considering how those good Russian goalies at the same age Artur is now were either in the KHL full time and putting up great numbers, or already in the AHL or even NHL. I even wrote about this last year!
You can argue that it is only because his KHL team has had two pretty good (but not great) goalies who have been very healthy in this time, so any chance Akhtyamov has had to show what he can do in the KHL have been blocked. But until this past season, he didn't have a level of performance in the VHL that screamed "I deserve KHL time" either.
In Akhtyamov's D+1 season, shortened from the pandemic, he had a .904 sv% in three KHL games, a .927 in 14 VHL games and .935 in 9 MHL games. It was his first taste of pro hockey, so not that unusual to not get a lot of KHL time. The next year, his D+2 year, he had a step back with a .912 sv% in 38 VHL games. Okay, but not great and certainly not enough to get any real call up to the KHL outside of one game.
This past season was where his breakout in the VHL came, as he was loaned to a different team: Neftyanik Almetievsk. He finished tied for the best save percentage in the league, regardless of age, with .943.
Akhtyamov, now listed as 6'1" and turning 22 this fall, has signed his ELC after that strong season. But he's going to be loaned back to his Russian club for this season, but will come to North America once the season is done. Whether he gets any KHL time this year is a big question I have, because at this point it's the only real way we'll get a real idea of how legit he is as a prospect.
At this point, that mystery is why Akhtyamov still ranks pretty low even in a pretty weak year of eligible players. Here's the breakdown of his votes:
Personally, I had him ranked with three other goalies all at the end of my list. I have them all about the same as "I dunno, maybe?" after I ran out of skaters that I had any sort of hope for. I want to see him have a good year mostly in the KHL or AHL before I upgrade any ranking of him.
The other voters had some thoughts on this player:
dhammm: He played the whole year in the VHL and looked quite good doing it. Does that make him a hidden jewel? Of course not, he's in his D+3 and still not playing in the KHL, but goalie development timelines are very long, and he could still be anything.
Zone Entry: My ranking system was kind to all the goalies since I gave them good or max points for Collectability; i.e. it’s hard to find good goalies and you want to hold those lottery tickets a while longer than others. But then they would mostly suffer on the Projectability score (goalies are voodoo). I think Artur’s situation is such (see Brian’s comment) that it’s hard to get a really accurate read on him; I hope that changes somehow so the picture becomes clearer for everyone.
The Bag: Why did I rank Akhtyamov so high? A couple of reasons: first, this is not a deep prospect pool, and placing someone outside the top 10 means I am skeptical they’ll have a meaningful NHL career; second, because Akhtyamov seems like he should be good enough for the KHL, and is only in the VHL (where he was arguably the best goalie in the league) because Ak Bars Kazan has two very strong (and older) goalies already in the KHL. I ended up here: given his situation, I don’t think I could have expected much more. He’s 21 and needs a real shot in a top league, but he hasn’t shown anything to suggest he can’t succeed there (at least not yet).
Hardev: My experience with goalies around the league who make it mostly fall into two categories. Those who skyrocket (at various speeds) through leagues and get NHL games relatively soon, and those who gradually improve in leagues and move on based on their development curve. Those who make it quickly are mostly successful at staying in the league (Alex Nedeljkovic and Pyotr Kochetkov are two examples of those who have since struggled after gaining a name). And those who work slowly up to the NHL often plateau somewhere. However, if you plateau in the AHL, there’s often still a chance to catch a break and become something. I don’t know where Akhtyamov will end up, but I’m in the nervous spot where I’m not sure whether he’s been stuck in one place too long (a VHL that’s definitely not as strong of a league as it was five years ago) or I’m being impatient with a prospect I’ve known about for a few years (ala Liljegren). I would’ve ranked him somewhere at the bottom, mostly because I don’t see much to be excited about yet, but even that’s not much praise. In short, I think he should either be in the KHL or AHL by now. Maybe gets there this year, in which case I’ll re-evaluate then.
So that's where we stand on Akhtyamov, how about you all in the community here? How does he stack up against the other goalie prospects, or even the other skaters towards the end of your rankings?
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