With the NHL entry draft just hours away, the biggest question is, will Russian Nail Yakupov be taken first overall? The real question is, how many Russian players will even be chosen. The rarely spoken about drought of Russian born players is not accidental. Many NHL teams simply don't want the headaches which often come with having Russian players on their team or in their system.
Each season roughly a thousand players dress for at least one NHL game. Last season 22 Russian skaters and 5 Russian goalies played regularly in the NHL (more than 10 NHL games). Even if you add all the former Russian satellite countries which are now independent (Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Latvia, Uzbekistan, Ukraine ) the number isn't much higher. Just 30 skaters and 5 goalies.
The old line thinking that Russian players just don't care enough is both untrue and unfair. There are just as many or more floaters from other countries. The KHL does however play a major part. If a player from Russia is not going to be a highly paid star here why would he stay? For example why would a player offered six hundred thousand dollars to play in the NHL stay when he can make two million tax free in the KHL. It means often their allegiance to their NHL team isn't as strong as their desire to make as much money as they can during the short working life of a pro hockey player.
For most North American born players, playing in the KHL is their last choice. For most Russian players its their 2nd choice and becomes their 1rst choice if they don't get the kind of money they want and/or a guarantee they will play in the NHL and not the AHL.
With this very real possibility of losing a drafted player to the KHL, many NHL teams are choosing to simply not draft many Russian players and avoid the possible soap opera.
Pro hockey is a business and what we here in North American simply can't get over is the thought that a player would choose money over a chance to have an NHL career. Many Russian players can't understand why anyone wouldn't go where the pay is the highest.
Its a difference in perspective which is not going to change and as long as the KHL exists, this situation won't change. That means we are likely to see fewer Russians in the NHL in the future and not more of them.
See you at the rink.