The Tampa Bay Lightning added another goaltender to their prospect pipeline at the 2020 NHL Draft in the form of overager Amir Miftakhov. The Ak Bar Kazan prospect played for Team Russia in each of the last two World Junior Championships, putting himself on the radar after starting for his country (over first round pick Yaroslav Askarov) and taking home a silver medal. The Lightning took him with a sixth round pick and so far this season he’s looked good.
Miftakhov is in the Ak Bars system alongside another 2020 Draft prospect in net, namely Toronto’s Artur Akhtyamov. Miftakhov was slated to be in the VHL this season (Russian AHL), with Akhtyamov in the MHL (Russian Jr), but with COVID-19 propagating throughout the league all season, they’ve both gotten a fair number of call-ups.
Miftakhov has started seven games for the KHL team, and based on the box scores of each game, he bombed on two of them. He was subjected to a 7-1 loss against Amur, and then got pulled after three goals on 10 shots in an eventual comeback win against Sibir. Beyond those two games, he’s played great, keeping his save percentage high and keeping the goals against at or under two. Zooming out, it looks like he was the starter for two weeks to end October, clearly to stand in place while the two regular starters quarantined.
Not to mention, in his first game, he posted a shutout!
So far, so good.
Going back to the Lightning picking him this year, I think it was good timing since the organization is pretty bereft of goalie talent past Andrei Vasilevskiy (can you believe he’s already 26?) and a prospect who’s actually younger than Miftakhov in 19-year-old Hugo Alnefelt. Getting an overager who is already 20 fills out the age curve in the pipeline a little more and gives the team more rounds in the chamber to mix analogies.
Alnefelt will show up later in our prospect ranking due to his age, performances, and draft position. The voters were a lot more consistent in their appeal of Alnefelt than Miftakhov. The Readers didn’t rank Miftakhov in their top 25 and neither did four of the nine writers who submitted a ballot. A solid 5/5 split. Those of us that did rank Miftakhov put him either 20th or 21st, with Igor taking a flyer on him at 15th.
The Next Anton Khudobin?
In terms of Miftakhov’s play on the ice, he’s a very mobile goalie in the net. A lot of it is likely due to him not being big (6’0”). Smaller goalies need to move more in order to cover parts of the ice. In some areas, that’s a negative because less of the net is covered, but in other ways it can be a plus. For example, being quicker allows a goalie to square each shot better and give themselves a better chance to stop it. Andrei Vasilevskiy is a freak because he is both big and insanely mobile.
Anton Khudobin is one such goalie that moves around in his net a lot, working to close down angles, get square to shots with pre-shot movement, and looking for lanes to see and follow the puck. Some people have pointed out that Miftakhov works in the same way. He moves around in his net a lot in order to follow the play closely. Sometimes it’s to his advantage as he makes some great saves, but in other situations he can get carried out too far and find himself out of the net. Not unlike Khudobin.
An advantage of this style in Russia is that throughout the development leagues, there’s not much emphasis towards creating pre-shot movement. Players tend to come in, shoot, and see what happens, rather than concoct a play and execute it. They just let them play up to the MHL. In the VHL there’s a mix of both, and in the KHL goalies are going up against men who are clever and patient. If Miftakhov can find the poise and consistency to play there, he’ll be on track to have a go in North America.
Miftakhov played for Russia’s U20 team so he was in a lot of North American tournaments last season. As a result, I found lots of video of him at 19 playing against his peers. On Russia’s team he was often given the reins as the more experienced goalie, with the team knowing Askarov’s time as a cornerstone of their program would come. Miftakhov definitely made the most of his opportunity as his WJC performance seemed to get him drafted.
Here are some videos from his performance in the Gold Medal Game against Canada in the 2020 WJC. Russia lost this game 4-3 in the dying seconds when Akil Thomas scored the golden goal, but Miftakhov had his moments.
He also played in the Canada-Russia series against the CHL.
Team Russia's Amir Miftakhov uses his stick to rob Team OHL's Connor McMichael from in close in the CIBC Canada/Russia Series pic.twitter.com/466L7eIgg0— Main Team (@MainTeamSports) November 12, 2019
And some more U20 tournaments. I think the second one is from earlier in the World Juniors.
And for this season, Future Bolts made a thread of Miftakhov’s saves in a 3-2 win over Neftekhimik (he made 30 saves in this one). This thread is worth checking out.
Igor has written two articles about Miftakhov; an update on prospects playing in Europe, and Miftakhov’s Draft Profile.
Here is what Igor had to say after Miftakhov’s first weekend in the KHL. [Raw Charge]
“Just a week later after making his first appearance of the season in the KHL, Miftakhov had been named one of the top players of the week in the KHL after a shutout, an overall 121 minutes without allowing a goal and .979 save percentage. A week after was rough for a Lightning prospect though: he allowed six goals against HC Amur Khabarovsk, starting the game after replacing his teammate Artur Akhtyamov, who was pulled off just five minute into the game. However, Miftakhov was able to recover after such a big loss and recorded his third win of the season just two days later, making 23 saves on 24 shots.”
There are a lot of good scouting reports in the Draft Profile Igor put together, plus video I don’t have in this piece. [Raw Charge]
“The Russian goalies mostly prefer to take some time before arriving to North America and stay for several seasons in Russia. Miftakhov is currently under contract till the end of the 2020-21 season, but it doesn’t mean that he comes to Syracuse immediately. I’d expect him to sign another contract in Kazan next spring for 2-4 years, establish a bigger role in the KHL and may be come to North America before he’s 25 year-old. A young Russian goaltender has already expressed a desire of going overseas before.”