June 23, 2024

How Buium and Levshunov compare against each other in the 2024 draft class

Teams in the market for a blueliner at the 2024 NHL Draft will have several curious options, including arguably the top two talents on defense in Zeev Buium and Artyom Levshunov — both coming from the college ranks.

And both are intriguing options.

The NCAA has been a valuable resource for the NHL when it comes to developing NHL talent but, outside of a few prospects each season, it’s rare to see a first-year draft eligible to absolutely dominate. It feels as though, over the last few years, that more and more talented players have been taking the NCAA route. The most notable in recent years was Jack Eichel. Then, it was the trio in Michigan — Matty Beniers, Kent Johnson, and Owen Power — who shined. This season, it was expected that Macklin Celebrini – another 2024 draft eligible – would light up the league. 

Though well-known in the draft world coming into the year, it is no mistake — Buium and Levshunov completely blew their expectations out of the water. Both defenders have all but solidified their status as top-10 selections this summer.

So, how have we gotten here?  

Buium vs. Levshunov: Offensive phenoms with eye-opening skill

Buium and Levshunov have made waves with their offensive performances this season. For Buium, that dominance culminated in a 50-point season (11 goals, 39 assists) across 42 games with the University of Denver. This followed a season where the 6-foot, 183-pound defender scored 40 points (five goals, 35 assists) in 63 total games with the US National Team Development Program (USNTDP). That total included 12 points (two goals, 10 assists) in 23 USHL contests. While this is solid production for a defender, especially one in their 16- and 17-year-old seasons, no one could have expected the boom in production at a higher level.

As for Levshunov, the Belarus-born defender is in just his second season across the pond in the US. He scored 35 points this year (nine goals, 26 assists) across 38 NCAA games with Michigan State University. In his first season in the US, Levshunov played for the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL, where he scored 42 points (13 goals, 29 assists) in 62 games. Despite the language barrier, smaller rinks, and unfamiliar territory, he has acclimated exceptionally well. For such a young man, this is a very under-appreciated aspect of his development, one that deserves heaps of praise.

Both defenders are excellent skaters

Starting with skating, neither defender truly stands out. Buium isn’t exceptionally fast. When skating in a straight line, he does not consistently pull away from NCAA forecheckers. However, this is not necessarily a disadvantage. He can create separation by utilizing excellent edges to evade pressure and escape tight areas. Additionally, his strides are smooth, allowing him to change directions seamlessly. This makes him a threat at the point, as he can navigate the blue line effectively to open up passing and shooting lanes.

The same can be said about Levshunov. While the 6-foot-2-inch, 209-pound defender is slower than Buium in a straight line, he also has great edges. With his bigger frame, he can handle himself better physically in tight spots while still displaying excellent escapability and an ability to evade pressure. Thanks to his edges, he can also change directions well and navigate the line effectively to create opportunities for offensive scoring chances.

Buium and Levshunov can threaten as shooters

Between the two defenders, it was Levshunov who shot more often than Buium. Buium, across three randomly tracked games this season, fired six shots towards the net. Of those six shots, two were on target, resulting in a 16.67% accuracy rate. One of the two shots on target came from a high-danger area—the home plate area in front of the net—resulting in a goal. The other shot was from a medium-danger area—the fringes of the home plate area—but was stopped by the opposing netminder.

The other four shots were attempted from low-danger areas, with all four being blocked. Though Buium did not shoot often, he can be tough to handle for goalies when given time and space, as he has a strong shot. However, he often struggled to get pucks through traffic, usually hitting the second line of defenders. But when he gets those shots through, he is likely to find the back of the net.

For Levshunov, the numbers were largely similar. Across his three randomly tracked games, he fired nine shot attempts. Of those, one shot was on target, resulting in an accuracy rate of 11.11%. None of his nine shot attempts came from high-danger areas, and only one came from a medium-danger area, which did not hit the net. Eight of his shots came from low-danger areas, with seven missing the net. He also had four of his shots blocked. Despite this, Levshunov packs a powerful shot.

The issue, however, is that he tends to shoot to score. While this may sound counterintuitive, it becomes a problem when he does not get closer to the net, making it harder to aim for the corners. This also leads to fewer opportunities for tips or rebounds. Despite this, he showed improvement as the season progressed, keeping his shots lower, though he also struggled to get pucks through traffic.

If you notice someone was left open, it’s too late… 

The real threat to look out for with these two blue-liners is their playmaking. If you’re defending with them on the ice and notice one of their teammates open, it’s already too late. They see them, too. Ultimately, Buium recorded 21 offensive zone pass attempts. Of those 21 attempts, 19 were completed to their intended targets, resulting in a 90.48% pass accuracy rate. He also set up seven shot assists—the pass that led to a shot on net—with two of them generating scoring chances. Buium attempted four high-danger passes—cross-ice passes or passes aimed at the home plate area—completing two of them. Another five of his passes were aimed at medium-danger areas. None of his incomplete passes were intercepted by the opposition. Buium consistently pushed the pace as a passer and constantly threatened the opposition without making many mistakes.

As for Levshunov, he had 17 offensive zone pass attempts, completing 14 of them for an 82.35% pass accuracy rate. Of those completed passes, three were shot assists, though none led to scoring chances. Levshunov attempted three high-danger passes, completing one. He also attempted just one pass into a medium-danger area, which was completed. Similar to Buium, none of his incomplete passes were intercepted. While Levshunov didn’t attack the high-danger areas as often, he was more selective with his decisions. When there was a lane, he attacked it without hesitation. He clearly has excellent playmaking vision and can make teams pay if they don’t cover their men.

Wrapping up the numbers into a big bow

Buium is such a dynamic presence in the offensive zone. Much of his game is predicated on calculated risk, with a significant part of his offensive presence being aggressive with the puck. It shows in his passing stats, but also in other areas as well. He recorded four keep-ins—moments where he pinched in at the blue line and successfully kept pucks in—and forced two turnovers off the forecheck. Yes, Buium found himself forcing turnovers in the offensive zone at times—he just loves being around the puck. Meanwhile, as mentioned, none of his passes were intercepted.

However, he did end up recording three giveaways in the offensive zone. Those giveaways were moments where he was knocked off the puck. That’s because he often jumped deep into the play and bit off a bit more than he could chew, placing himself in some difficult spots. But the pros of his fast-paced game far outweigh the negatives.

The same thing could be said about Levshunov. He is arguably far more aggressive than Buium, which is tough to do. But it’s true, as he recorded eight keep-ins and one forced turnover off the forecheck. While Buium loved being around the puck, he wasn’t often seen deep in the offensive zone if the puck wasn’t on his side. Levshunov, on the other hand, constantly snuck in deep even if the puck was on his far side. When he got the puck, he too would drive in deep. But this is where his power and size were an advantage, as he had just one offensive zone giveaway. However, his aggressiveness was costly more often than Buium’s. That’s due to the fact that he stepped in deep regardless of where the puck was, while Buium was a bit more calculated.

Offensive game summation

Between the two players, it is clear that both Buium and Levshunov demand the puck when they are on the ice in the offensive end. If they don’t have it, they position themselves to get it. In Buium’s case, he takes calculated risks by stepping up into the play when the puck is on his side to hold the blue line. He also walks the blue line and opens up shooting and passing lanes. He will step down from the point and take chances closer to the net for better angles and opportunities. However, he also has a general understanding of his responsibilities to prevent detrimental mistakes going the other way.

Levshunov, on the other hand, constantly steps deep into the play looking for the puck. He holds the blue line every time the opponents try to break out on his half of the ice. He will sneak down low to the mid-slot area as a passing option in high-danger areas. It is a constant game of risks for Levshunov, risks that can break open a game for his team or cost them a scoring chance going the other way.

Buium dominates on entries where Levshunov struggles

When it comes to transitioning the puck up ice and into the offensive zone, some separation between the two begins to emerge. For Buium, he was directly involved in 32 zone entry attempts across the same three tracked games. Of those attempts, 21 were successful in gaining the zone with possession, resulting in a 65.63% zone entry success rate. Another five entry attempts were dumped into the zone by Buium, with one being retrieved by a teammate. Thus, 22 attempts were able to set up an offensive zone possession, which is a 68.75% rate. Another six entry attempts failed to gain entry into the zone at all, resulting in a failure rate of 18.75%. When considering the dump-ins that were not retrieved, 10 attempts did not generate an offensive zone possession, resulting in a failure rate of 31.25%.

As for Levshunov, he was directly involved in 20 zone entry attempts in his three tracked games. Of those 20, only seven gained the offensive zone successfully with possession, resulting in a 35% success rate. Another eight attempts were dump-ins by Levshunov, with only one being retrieved. Thus, eight of his attempts led to an offensive zone possession, resulting in a 40% rate. Five attempts failed to gain the zone at all, resulting in a failure rate of 25%. When you add in the seven dump-ins that were not retrieved, 12 of his attempts failed to set up an offensive zone possession, resulting in a failure rate of 60%.

Exiting the defensive zone was a closer competition

When it came to exiting the defensive zone, the volume and efficiency of these two defenders were much closer. Starting with Buium, he was directly involved in 22 exit attempts, with 13 successfully exiting the zone with possession. This results in a zone exit success rate of 59.09%. Another four exits were clears, where Buium got the puck out without himself or a teammate having possession of the puck directly following the clearance in the neutral zone. In total, 17 of the 22 attempts cleared the zone, yielding a clearance rate of 77.27%. This leaves four zone exit failures and one icing for Buium, resulting in a failure rate of 22.73%.

For Levshunov, he was directly involved in 26 exit attempts, with 12 successfully exiting the zone with possession, resulting in a success rate of 46.15%. Another six were clears, meaning 18 attempts cleared the defensive zone. This leads to a 69.23% clearance rate for Levshunov. He had no icings, but he failed to exit the zone eight times, resulting in a failure rate of 30.77%.

Calculated aggression versus complete aggression in defensive zone play

When in the defensive end, Buium and Levshunov both play very aggressively on pucks. They demand the puck on their sticks and aim to transition up ice to attack. Buium was noticeably less aggressive than Levshunov, which was reflected in his overall involvement in his own end. He registered 30 defensive zone puck touches in those three tracked games, averaging 10 defensive zone puck touches per game. Buium managed to force 10 takeaways—situations where he was the leading cause for a turnover—including one intercepted pass that ended an attack. However, he also recorded three defensive zone giveaways, resulting in a 10% defensive turnover rate.

Meanwhile, Levshunov’s aggressiveness led to a higher involvement rate—and more mistakes. He recorded 54 defensive zone puck touches in the same number of games, averaging 18 defensive zone puck touches per game. However, he forced only nine takeaways, including one pass interception. He also had 12 defensive zone turnovers—the most tracked among 30 defenders in 39 games—resulting in a turnover rate of 22.22%, significantly higher than Buium’s.

Two different styles, two nearly identical results

Again, Buium is the less aggressive player in this aspect. However, this time, it did not help him much when defending the rush. In total, he directly faced 53 rushes on his side of the ice, allowing entries on 21 of them. That was an entry allowed rate of 39.62%—nearly 40% of the rushes that attacked his half of the ice were able to gain entry. Meanwhile, he prevented 14 rushes from gaining entry by denying them at the blue line, resulting in an entry prevention rate of 26.42%.

As for Levshunov, he directly faced 54 rushes on his side of the ice, allowing entries on 18 of them. This led to an entry allowed rate of 33.33%. He prevented entries on 13 of the rushes he faced, resulting in an entry prevention rate of 24.07%.

How Buium defended – and his efficiency – explained

Buium, as has been alluded to multiple times, is the less aggressive of the two. However, he still plays tight to the puck carrier when the attack is on his side of the ice. Specifically against the rush, Buium typically stays true to his intention of keeping himself positioned where the puck carrier cannot clearly attack through the middle. This can lead to easier entries for his opponents. However, generally, those entries do not lead directly to rush chances, as Buium has a strong understanding of angling and can lead the puck carrier down the wall, forcing plays behind the net.

Once in the zone, Buium plays physically against his opponents. He does not shy away from board battles or net-front battles and holds his own quite well in those situations. The biggest issue with Buium is that he can bite off more than he can chew with the puck on his stick. This has been mentioned in regard to his offensive game, but he can also be guilty of forcing passes up ice and attempting the more difficult play over the smarter one.

How Levshunov defended and his efficiency explained

Levshunov’s aggressiveness with pinches extended to his rush defending. If pucks were cleared from the offensive end on his side, odds are he would step up and pinch in against the rush at the red line. While he often found success with his pinches, usually due to his understanding of how to use his long reach and bigger frame, it also led to costly errors. When he pinched and failed to prevent an entry, it often resulted in odd-man rushes against.

Levshunov is a high-risk player on the ice. That’s his style. When it works, he can break open games, but when it doesn’t, it can be costly. Once in the defensive zone, he does a good job of marking his man and sticking with him. As the year went on, he showed noticeable improvement in his defensive involvement, making smarter reads and being a more consistent presence. However, he can sometimes be oblivious to forecheckers, which led to his high volume of giveaways in his own end. If he can clean up that area while continuing to quickly improve his defensive decision-making, he could be an incredibly valuable player to have on a roster.

Projection: Where will they go and what role will they play?

Buium is the higher-ranked player in FCHockey’s final ranking, with Buium is just one spot ahead. However, when draft day arrives, the consensus is that Levshunov will be chosen first. His size advantage, high involvement in all three zones, and the fact that he has quickly adjusted to North American ice since arriving from Belarus contribute to his very high ceiling. Additionally, having played only two seasons at a comparatively high level of hockey with significant success, Levshunov’s skill is still raw. His potential could be truly immeasurable.

That said, Buium will likely wind up as a top-four defender, with the potential to be a top-pair, two-way defender with offensive upside. Meanwhile, Levshunov could become a dominant number-one defender on his team with game-breaking talent. However, there is also the possibility that his defensive game does not improve enough or become consistent enough for coaches to trust him in high-leverage moments. This could result in him ultimately becoming a role defender who is deployed as more of an offense-only defender, quarterbacking the power play. Ultimately, both defenders are likely to see NHL time down the road, sooner rather than later.

What we’re saying: Zeev Buium

“Buium’s passing skills are elite as well. I maybe saw one missed pass the entire game, otherwise, he is tape-to-tape, puts the puck exactly where it needs to be, and can set up teammates for one-timers with ease. Buium’s hockey IQ is off the charts, especially in the offensive zone. His ability to play off of his teammates is uncanny, as he reads the high-to-low scissor cycle to create space in a quiet area for himself. He can make quick decisions with and without the puck, making him even more dangerous.” FCHockey regional scout Chad Carlson

What others are saying: Artyom Levshunov

“He does everything he can to keep plays alive in the offensive zone, sometimes to his detriment, but has a great success rate at keeping pucks in — even in situations I question why he’s pinching at all. Levshunov, a right shot, comfortable on both sides of the ice and has good stickhandling ability in tight areas. He’s adept at buying time for himself atop the offensive zone with some quick footwork, and up top isn’t shy to punch a puck on net.

He has a very whippy shot and he gets it on target with great effectiveness. Levshunov generates almost no backswing at all but is still able to get good velocity on his shot. He knows how to utilize the screen in front, and his low, hard shot is pretty much ideal for teammates in front looking for a deflection. His passing is crisp, though oftentimes inaccurate.” FCHockey scout Aaron Vickers

Buium’s tracked games: Jan. 27th, 2024 vs. North Dakota, Feb. 24th, 2024 vs. Miami (Ohio), Mar. 30th, 2024 vs. Cornell
Levshunov’s tracked games: Jan. 26th, 2024 vs. Minnesota, Feb. 9th, 2024 vs. Michigan, Mar. 29th, 2024 vs. Western Michigan

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