February 28, 2024

Ivan Demidov is the 2024 NHL Draft’s most electrifying prospect

Ivan Demidov is looking to join the list of elite level Russian forwards to play in the NHL.

While the complicated nature that is the Russian relationship to the current sports landscape has led to murkier and murkier waters, there is still a ton of hype in the potential superstar. For good reason, too.

But what places Demidov, potentially on the list of the next great Russian NHLers?

Let’s examine.

Ivan Demidov is 2024’s most electrifying prospect

Demidov, born on December 10th, 2005 in Sergiyev Posad, is an 18-year-old forward who has largely played on the right wing, though he did open the season playing on the left side. He has games in all three Russian leagues this season — the KHL, VHL, and MHL — with the majority of his time spent in the Russian junior league. Demidov, playing with SKA-1946 in the MHL, he has produced 60 points (23 goals, 37 assists) in 30 games but has averaged just 7:31 ice time per game in the KHL and has failed to register a single point in limited action.

The 18-year-old slots in at No. 2 in FCHockey’s Midterm ranking for the 2024 draft released in early February, and slots third amongst European skaters by NHL Central Scouting.

Demidov’s skating isn’t crazy dynamic, but it is key to playing his style

Demidov is not a burner. He isn’t the type of forward who will take the puck and fly up the ice effortlessly, beat a defender wide, drive the net, and get a scoring chance. Not with any consistency, at least. But despite that, his shiftiness is pretty strong. His edges serve as his main skating strength, and it allows him to play such a beautiful and fun style. The way Demidov is able to snake his way through traffic with his hands and vision would not be possible without his outstanding edgework. 

It all starts with his hips, as he is able to open up and pull a quick turn out of nowhere to give himself a new angle to attack with his stickhandling skills. This is highlighted best when entering the offensive zone while facing both back-pressure behind him and a defenseman in front of him. He’ll push the puck out towards the blueliner, use his edges to swing his lower body out to block the backchecker, and then execute a dazzling move to sweep past the defender.

It isn’t about speed for Demidov. It’s utilizing his feet alongside his hands to make people miss.

And he does it as well as any prospect in the world.

The dynamism that is Demidov’s offensive game

The dictionary only contains so many words to describe how Demidov’s game works but, out of all the words, ‘dynamic’ feels like the best fit. He can do anything, and do it very well.

If you want him to be a scorer, he has a lethal shot. That shot contains a swift release backed by a very technical weight transfer. This allows him to generate tons of power while simultaneously throwing off a goalie’s timing. That power would be nothing without accuracy — and he’s got that too. 

Do you want Demidov to be a playmaker? Good, because that is his bread and butter. He can really thread the needle at times, finding teammates in spots that many would miss watching the game on a computer screen. Demidov can do it all, even attempting Michigans from time-to-time to highlight his confidence with the puck. 

The numbers behind the Russian Wunderkind (in the KHL)

As mentioned, Demidov split games primarily between the KHL and MHL. To that point, let’s review two samples from each league.

Let’s start with his KHL even-strength stats across two randomly sampled games — one against Dynamo Moskva on September 2, 2023 and Lokomotiv Yaroslavl on September 8, 2023. As a shooter, Demidov had just two shot attempts, with neither hitting the net. Both came from medium-danger range. One of those attempts was blocked, and the other missed but did not lead to a turnover. He attempted 13 passes, completing nine (69.23%). Of those 13, two were deemed high-danger with one successfully completed. He also had one shot assist, though it did not lead to a quality scoring chance.

Of the passes that were not completed, one was intercepted, and three were inaccurate but did not lead to a turnover. Additional stats include three giveaways, forcing two turnovers off the forecheck, and holding the blue line on one occasion.

In all at the KHL level, Demidov maintained his team’s offensive possession three times while turning the puck over four times, not counting the blocked shot. 

The numbers display a whole new level of dominance (in the MHL)

As for the even-strength numbers in the MHL, Demidov is so far beyond anyone else on the ice with him in the two sampled games — versus Loko Yaroslavl on December 24, 2023 and against Almaz Cherepovets on December 29, 2023. 

Demidov fired off seven shots with five hitting the net (71.43%). Amongst those seven, a whopping six shots were high-danger attempts — below the dots and inside the hashmarks. Four of those hit the net, including two that bulged the twine. Of the shots not on net, one was blocked and one was errant but did not lead to a turnover the other way.

As a passer, he attempted 26 offensive zone passes and completed 15 (57.69%). Eight of the 26 were deemed high-danger, and four were completed (50%). Of the incomplete passes, seven were intercepted and four were inaccurate but did not lead to a turnover. While his passing stats may leave a lot to be desired on the surface, there is more than meets the eye. Demidov actually generated five shot assists, with two registering as scoring chances.

Power-play dominance

Demidov only played on the power play at the MHL level, with no sniff of special-teams responsibilities in the KHL.

In those moments, he would shoot the puck three times across the two aforementioned games. One hit the net. That on-net shot was from medium-danger, while the shots that missed the net came from high-danger and medium-danger range. One of the shots that didn’t hit the net was blocked, while the other was inaccurate and led to a change in possession.

Demidov attempted eight passes and completed five (62.5%). Of those passes, four were deemed high-danger and completed two (50%). Of the incomplete passes, one was intercepted and two were inaccurate but did not lead to a turnover. He had just one shot assist, which led to a scoring chance. 

Offensive game summation

First off, Demidov is truly a dual threat. He does not, however, use his shot often enough.

He too often looks for that extra pass, even when it is totally unnecessary. Demidov had what appeared to be a glorious opportunity at a goal on three occasions throughout his two MHL games but instead opted to squeeze an extra pass that was unlikely to be completed with the traffic in the area. However, the sheer creativity of his game and the volume at which he is tasked with running the play makes him susceptible to mistakes. His game is predicated on attacking the high-danger areas as a passer. His stickhandling is superb and allows him to work his way into the slot time and time again, but if there are any true gripes with his game it is this: there are times where his hands are too high on his stick, which puts the puck too far out from his body.

Additionally, he has far less strength on his stick and he loses leverage to put weight down if he were to be stick-checked. Oftentimes he’ll lose possession for that reason alone, letting the puck out too far from his body. Plus, those extra passes.

He overcomplicates and overthinks some situations, when a shot — especially one as good as his — would suffice. 

Demidov is the go-to transitional player at the MHL level

Demidov, at even-strength in the two MHL games tracked, was involved in 28 zone entry attempts directly. Of those, 19 attempts gained the zone with possession (67.86%). Of the 19 successful entries, 13 of them were carried in by Demidov himself. The other attempts consisted of four dump-ins, with two retrieved, and five fails. Seven of his attempts in the MHL did not lead to some form of possession in the offensive zone. 

As for his KHL sample, Demidov was involved directly in nine entry attempts and gained the zone with possession on six (66.67%). Of the six possession entries, four were carried in by Demidov himself. Additional attempts were two dump-ins, with one retrieved and one failed. Combined, only nine of his 37 total entry attempts across four games did not lead to offensive zone time. 

What the numbers tell us about Demidov

These numbers are simply impressive. It’s clear that Demidov is the centerpiece of the MHL attack and did exceptionally well in that role. Then, at the KHL level, he did as well as anyone could have possibly hoped for in a limited role against much stiffer competition.

His hands and vision with the puck on his stick are phenomenal, and those skills together allow him to be a threat through the neutral zone. But, while he is always looking to take the puck in himself, Demidov isn’t often caught forcing entries when the lanes aren’t there. If he knows he has pressure, and thus having lower odds of gaining the zone, he will look for a teammate or dump the puck in. In tough spots, he can escape with his hands most of the time. 

But the most important thing is the KHL numbers — efficient, while still maintaining the same style he possessed in the MHL. Usually younger players grip their sticks a lot tighter when promoted up the ranks. That jump can lead to a more meek, timid approach with the player trying to get the puck off their stick quickly by oversimplifying their game. Demidov, particularly in the neutral zone, did not change the way he played at all. He wasn’t the centerpiece, but he still looked to pick his spots every chance he got. It suggests, more than anything, that Demidov will be a very good transitional player and a play-driving machine.  

Demidov’s game isn’t complete, but he certainly isn’t a defensive liability

Russian prospects, generally, have typically universally been painted with the brush of lacking defensive efficiency. Demidov, however, doesn’t quite fit that stereotype. Make no mistake. He’s not going to be a defensive dynamo and his offensive game trumps all else when it comes to evaluating how he plays, and Demidov certainly is aware of this. But where he does excel on the other side of the puck is when it comes to exiting the defensive zone before getting up ice.

Demidov, at the MHL level, was involved in 17 total zone exit attempts directly and cleared the zone with possession on 14 (82.35%). Meanwhile, at the KHL level, he was directly involved in 16 exit attempts, clearing with possession on six of them (37.5%). While the efficiency levels in possession exits differ greatly, he actually doesn’t lack in overall effectiveness. That’s because he failed to exit the zone altogether three times in the KHL and just twice in the MHL. The biggest difference between the two leagues is that Demidov chipped the puck off the glass and out five times in the KHL compared to just once in the MHL. Essentially, he was far more conservative and careful with the puck at the KHL level.

That’s to be expected, as young players can be benched for bad defensive zone plays mixed with a lack of trust. 

In-zone defensive ability

While his zone exit stats display a more conservative approach in the KHL versus a more aggressive one in the MHL, Demidov is still very meticulous with the puck in his own end at both levels. Across two MHL games, Demidov had 20 defensive zone touches — each time he had clear puck possession in the defensive zone — and turned the puck over just twice (10%). In the KHL, he had 16 defensive touches and three turnovers (18.75%). Demidov forced seven turnovers and blocked two shots in the MHL. He forced five turnovers, including two interceptions, in the KHL sample.

Alongside his sound zone exit ability and how generally responsible he is with defensive zone touches, how does he actually play?

Well, for one, he has a strong motor. It’s not often Demidov stops moving, even if he isn’t moving fast. He reads the play exceedingly well, which allows him to force as many turnovers as he did at both levels across four games. The flaws that exist are that of many young and offensively inclined players — he cheats up ice early anticipating an opportunity off the rush. However, he recovers well when those opportunities do not work out.

Ultimately, he is a decent presence in his own end, but not a difference-maker.

Demidov’s game and potential summarized

Demidov is an astoundingly talented player. The raw skill that he possesses is simply ridiculous and his ceiling is incredibly high.

He projects as an elite-level player. The skill, creativity, and genuine efficiency is all wrapped up together well. The main red flag at this time is the fact that he does, at times, tend to force extra passes that are not necessary and lead to turnovers. But the pros well outweigh the cons by a very large margin and, if his defensive side can continue to maintain a level of being involved without being a liability, then he does more good than bad to his projectability. 

Demidov, as it stands, is signed until the end of next season in Russia. While there have been instances of players facing some issues coming to North America, there are other instances of players coming across the pond with little issue. Time will tell whether Demidov will come overseas but, similar to fellow Russian prospect Matvei Michkov, that NHL debut will come quickly and with a ton of anticipation.

Whatever team takes the risk on him will likely wind up very happy with the potential he possesses.

What we’re saying about Demidov

“Demidov is a maestro with the puck, constantly directing the flow of play and manipulating defenses which leads to high-danger opportunities for both himself and his teammates. His skating is incredibly fluid and his four-way mobility is very advanced. Add a detailed eye for playmaking and some of the best puck skills in this class and you get a dangerous offensive play driver. What makes Demidov so slippery with the puck is his anticipation of contact and his ability to use his entire body as a deceptive tool.” — FCHockey crossover scout Jake Janso

“Demidov made his season debut in the KHL, showcasing his talents in Russia’s top league. The first word that comes to mind when watching him play is ‘slippery.’ Despite his smaller frame competing against much bigger KHL competition, they can’t seem to pin him down. His puck-handling abilities are among the best I’ve ever seen at this age. He pulls off some of the most complex moves against KHL veterans, both in open ice and along the boards, and makes it look simple.” — FCHockey regional scout Ty Brooks

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