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Drafting Alexei Lipanov is a risk worth taking

The Tampa Bay Lightning are hoping to hit a home run by drafting Lipanov in the third round

2017 NHL Draft - Portraits Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

It’s no secret that Steve Yzerman and his Tampa Bay Lightning organization like to spend early round draft picks on players from the OHL. Over the previous six drafts, the Bolts spent 11 draft picks in the first three rounds on OHLers. Now you can add another to the list — even if it was in an unconventional way. Alexei Lipanov was selected 76th overall this past weekend and is the latest OHLer to join the Lightning prospect pool, even though he hasn't played a game in the league yet.

It was a big few days for the young Russian, who many believe could end up being a huge sleeper in the 2017 NHL draft class. Friday morning, the Barrie Colts announced that they had signed Lipanov and just over 24 hours later, the talented young center heard his name called in the NHL Entry Draft.

Though the timing is curious, signing before the NHL entry draft, Lipanov is now bound by the NHL/CHL transfer agreement and he won’t be eligible to play in the AHL until he is 20-years old, Barrie is a great place for Lipanov to play next season.

Along with Lipanov, Barrie will have Kirill Nizhnikov and Andrei Svechnikov (who is likely to go first overall in next year’s NHL draft) in their lineup next season. Having two Russian teammates around while he becomes accustomed to life in North America will be huge for Lipanov, who admitted at the draft combine that he is not yet comfortable speaking English.

While his new teammates will likely aid in his development off the ice, it’s his on-the-ice skill that Lightning fans should be excited about. Lipanov is a player that brings a skill set tailor made for the new NHL. He may not have the biggest frame, but he has the type of speed and high-end puck skills that you expect from an eventual top-six forward.

“Open up ice quickly’ type of speed that can break down defenders and leave them defenseless. Also has excellent agility and quickness that he uses in tight areas to be elusive. Very smart and he makes good plays everywhere in the game and he competes hard. Has an excellent shot and is a hungry, determined player. Very responsible center in the Russian mold of centers.” – Craig Button @ TSN.

Lipanov is an exciting offensive player, but there is a lot more to his game. He may not have the size that NHL coaches like to see from someone playing down the middle of the ice, but he definitely has the defensive responsibility to stick at center. “He’s an Igor Larionov type,” said one scout. “Playmaker, good on faceoffs and a good teammate – you see him give his guys taps with his stick out there.”

Larionov isn’t a bad comparison (others have mentioned David Krejci) but when you ask Lipanov who he likes to model his game after, he always responds with, Jonathan Toews. He wants to be a player that contributes in all three zones and a guy that is looked at as a leader on the ice. He seems to take being a good teammate very seriously and has already been named the captain for his Russian teams at both the U17 and U18 World Championships.

Lipanov is really young, one of the youngest players in this draft class, so he’s got a lot of room to grow. He won’t be 18 until after the rookie camp this summer, but despite his youth, there are those around the OHL that suspect he won’t be playing junior hockey for long. He has the talent and maturity to his game that should allow him to develop into a pro relatively quickly.

Not only did the Lightning get a very skilled player with a ton of upside in the third round, judging by the pre-draft rankings, it looks as though they got some pretty good value with the 76th overall pick.

Pre-Draft Rankings

35 by
35 by ISS Hockey
43 by Future Considerations
85 by McKeen's Hockey
13 by NHL Central Scouting (EU Skaters)
49 by TSN/McKenzie

Back in 2011, when the Bolts spent the 58th pick on an undersized, but extremely talented Russian that was set to come over and play in the CHL, it turned out pretty darn well. Steve Yzerman is now hoping that lightning strikes twice (pun most definitely intended) and if Alexei Lipanov turns into half the NHL player Nikita Kucherov is, spending a third round pick on him will be well worth the gamble.

Alexei Lipanov Career Statistics

Season Team League GP G A TP PIM
Season Team League GP G A TP PIM
2014-2015 Dynamo Moskva U16 Russia U16 33 21 28 49 12
Dynamo Moskva U16 Russia U16 Finals 6 3 6 9 2
Russia U16 (all) International-Jr 7 2 3 5 16
2015-2016 Dynamo Moskva U17 Russia U17 18 2 12 14 39
HK MVD Balashikha MHL 32 3 5 8 16
Russia U17 WHC-17 6 2 2 4 4
Russia U18 WJC-18 5 1 2 3 0
2016-2017 Russia U18 Hlinka Memorial 5 0 5 5 0
Dynamo Balashikha VHL 21 3 5 8 8
Russia U18 |WJAC-19| WJAC-19 4 4 4 8 0
HK MVD Balashikha MHL 11 0 3 3 6
Russia U18 WJC-18 7 0 3 3 0
2017-2018 Barrie Colts OHL - - - - -