In the two years since he was drafted out of the never-heard-of-dem hills of Togliatti, Russia, we have learned one thing beyond dispute about Anton Klementyev: He is not the key to getting Kirill Petrov out of his KHL contract.
The rest is up for debate. But this is an interesting year for the 21-year-old defenseman. The Islanders signed him to a contract quickly, bringing him from the Lokomotiv junior program over to AHL Bridgeport and moving him along in baby steps (just 28 games his first year with the Sound Tigers).
That first year included a very brief cameo with the Islanders during an injury pinch that meant nothing, really. But last year was much better. Reports out of Bridgeport were of major strides. Considering his young age, all he's been through, and the steps he took to pursue North American hockey, can you count him out of the future? Our "Top 25 under 25" panel did not.
For this first edition of Islanders Top 25 Under 25, I polled Keith, WebBard, mikb, myself, and two particularly prospect-focused LHH regulars, CanadianIslesLifer and MatthewM11. We wanted enough to get a decent number of voters but not so much that we make the first run unwieldy.
The truth is, if Klementyev makes the NHL for a sustained period, it will not be as an offensive defenseman and it will not be as an intimidator. Rather, it will be in that somewhat anonymous but reliable role as a guy who skates well, makes the steady first pass, is not intimidated physically (and can deliver the big hit when needed), and dutifully subs out to wait the next turn.
Throw Mark Eaton and any number of Eastern bloc former NHL defensemen into that category, but ultimately that's not a bad job nor a bad role. And that's why he comes in at #25 in our Top 25 Islanders under 25.
|Top 25 Poll
That's how we voted. Yesterday we listed the ones who just missed the cut, and as you can see, you could make the top 25 even if two didn't have you on the ballot and two others had you in the very last rung.
Adding to the intrigue with Klementyev -- and heartbreak, considering his entire old KHL team perished in a plane crash -- is his still-murky grasp of English. But here he was at the end of last season as recorded by Michael Fornabaio:
"This year, my second year, I’m so happy for the coaches giving me more time on ice. I was working hard."
How’d he get better? "More workouts. After every practice, I stayed and worked. Skills, skate, blocking shots. It was good."
Is Klementyev really at a level where today or later he'll be more valuable than a Justin DiBenedetto or a Tyler McNeely? I don't know. But he's intriguing enough to keep an eye on. Those steady guys can be useful.