Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Cherepanov Baffles Scouts

Alexei Cherepanov

From today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Describing Russian hockey players as enigmatic has become a cliche and might say more about how little most North Americans understand them than it does about the Russians themselves.

But Alexei Cherepanov, by far the top European prospect in this weekend's NHL entry draft, really does seem to embody the concept.

Some scouts look at Cherepanov, a right winger, and see a good skater with a nice goal-scoring touch and the potential to be an impact player in the NHL. Others see an underachiever who is prone to losing his focus, has no interest in playing defense and suffers from something akin to an attitude pointer.

Both perspectives are rooted in reality.

Jarmo Kekalainen, director of amateur scouting for St. Louis, has watched Cherepanov play numerous times in a variety of settings and offers this assessment: "He's a very talented player, with a lot of skill and ability to put the puck in the net and create offense."

Goran Stubb, who heads NHL Central Scouting's operations in Europe, volunteered that "people say he has an attitude problem," and, even though he was noncommittal on that issue, agreed that Cherepanov has a tendency to lose interest if he's not impressed by the quality of the opposition.

"The funny thing about Cherepanov is that he always plays better when he's playing with older guys," Stubb said. "He had an excellent season in the Russian Super League, and at the [under-20] World Juniors, he played as a 17-year-old and had an absolutely fantastic tournament, except for the final game.

"Then again, when he plays with his own age group, he didn't do very well in a tournament in February, and he didn't do all that well at the under-18 World Juniors, either."

Phoenix general manager Don Maloney, whose team has the third choice in the opening round, made a similar observation.

"He actually played better in the Super League a lot of the time," Maloney said. "It's interesting.

"A young player like that who plays up with men and plays well, sometimes comes back to his own age group and, I don't want to say he's bored, but maybe he eases off on the gas pedal a little bit and looks a little bit nonchalant at times. But talent is talent, and he has an abundance of it."

Cherepanov proved that by putting up 18 goals and 11 assists in 46 games with Omsk in the Super League in the 2006-07 season; his 29 points as a rookie were more than Evgeni Malkin, Alexander Ovechkin or Ilya Kovalchuk got their first year there.

Cherepanov can work on upgrading his strength, and even can try to convince team executives that concerns about his attitude are unfounded, but one factor he can't control could have a major impact on when he is drafted: Russia's refusal to accept the transfer agreement negotiated by the NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation.

Atlanta general manager Don Waddell allowed that "it's on everybody's mind," but added that he isn't convinced it will hurt Cherepanov much.

"The way we look at it ... when we're getting ready to pick -- if it's 1A and 1B, we may go to 1B and stay away from a Russian prospect," Waddell said. "But if he's clearly the best player, we would take him and say, 'We have a few years to work this out.' "

UPDATE 6/20/07 - put up a good article today about Cherepanov, in which Cherepanov tells a bit about himself in his own words. Within the scouting reports in article's sidebar is a link to a 5 minute "scouting video" that appears to be a chunk of a game between Russia and Switzerland at the U-20 World Juniors, presented without play-by-play or commentary.