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Top 25U25 #17: Ruslan Iskhakov brings the skill, not the size, to UConn

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Hands, vision, could make him special, or he could still miss.

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Yale v Quinnipiac
An NCAA rink.
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

In the fine tradition of Joshua Ho-Sang, Kirill Kabanov and Rob Schremp, the Islanders took a chance on a super-talented but incomplete Ruslan Iskhakov this summer, selecting the NCAA-bound Russian in the second round of the 2018 draft.

Unlike Kabanov (discipline questions), Schremp (awareness of the back half of the ice questions) or even Ho-Sang (parts of both), Iskhakov’s weakness is at once not character/commitment-related, and yet also not something that can be “coached up.”

Because, you see, he’s listed at only 5’8”.

That’s not a deal breaker in the modern NHL, but it is a significant rarity.

So to succeed Iskhakov will need to continue his playmaking skill and finesse, and do so at a high speed against increasing levels of competition. Joining the University of Connecticut this fall should put that to the test and give us North Americans a much closer look at what the Isles have.

Adding complexity, there is disagreement among prospect watchers whether Iskhakov is truly skilled enough to make it even if he does master the art of playing against a rink full of larger bodies.

But those who like him, reaaaally like him.

Such as Corey Pronman of The Athletic, who called him a stealon Day 2 of the draft:

...his puck skills are fantastic. He can maneuver with the puck as well as most players in his age group. His brain is also high end, if not elite. He sees plays developing so well and can outsmart defenders with his hands and vision.

Here is how our voters ranked him, and what a few said. The LHH reader vote put him at 19, not far off from where us “experts” did:

Travis Flynn:

There was still quality left on the draft board-- including Jonny Tychonick, Akil Thomas, Calen Addison, and Filip Hallander-- when the Islanders opted for Iskhakov 43rd overall this past draft. The 5’8” forward will join UConn this season, which is only a 90-minute drive from NYI’s AHL affiliate in Bridgeport.

Les (HockeyGoalieEh):

He wasn’t as good last season, but he posted some absolutely absurd offensive numbers the year prior with the Slovakian under 18 league. If he continues to develop, he could be that Frans Nielsen replacement many have been waiting for.

Mike B:

The reports are that Iskhakov has a great hockey IQ and makes high-end plays with the puck. The question, as always, is whether those skills will scale up as the competition gets faster and opponents can keep up with him better. He’s very small, and will only get as far as his skating can take him.

CanadianIslesLifer:

I had never heard of Iskhakov prior to the draft, let alone seen him play. I do believe he would have been on the board later in the draft, and I would have taken one of the centres still on the board (specifically Akil Thomas). That said, I’m trusting the scouts with this ranking. I’ve read his hockey IQ is high, play making skills off the charts. But I’ve also read conflicting reports on his skating. One thing I know for sure is this is a small player, and small players have to rely on speed to make it in the NHL.

How we voted, from the writers to the reader community.

It’ll be interesting to watch this kid transition to the NCAA.

Previously