The KHL, the muscular version of the old Russian Superleague, was formed in 2008. But even before the advent of the big-money league, the NHL's ardor for young Russian talent was already abating. Since the '04--05 lockout, NHL teams have drafted just 59 players from former Soviet republics, 10 fewer than in '01 and '02 combined. The dearth of recent draftees is beginning to be reflected in the gloss of a silver trophy: The last two Stanley Cup winners—Chicago in '10 and Boston in '11—did not ice a Russian, something that had occurred only twice since 1994.
So what should a team think about Nail Yakupov heading into the draft? Some hockey executives are lukewarm. The Oilers might be inclined to select a defenseman, while the Blue Jackets, at No. 2, have had two high draft picks from the former Soviet Union—Nikolai Zherdev, a Ukrainian, in 2003 and Nikita Filatov in '08—wash out. "Still, the Russians have a skill element that all teams need," says one team executive. "You draft Yakupov and put him in the NHL next year, he could get 25 or 30 goals."
The Predators opted for skill, which seemed like a reasonable choice until the eve of a playoff game when Radulov and Kostitsyn went off the reservation. Or at least out of Glendale. A late night is hardly groundbreaking in hockey annals, but a playoff run can be as fragile as the players are sturdy. A team needs luck, health, goaltending and commitment. Sometimes the smallest thing—one blown defensive-zone read, a curfew blown by 60 minutes—can be an impediment.
"I think what you're seeing is that most Russians here now are high-profile players," Detroit G.M. Ken Holland says. "Ovechkin, Radulov, the goalie in Philly"—the Flyers' Ilya Bryzgalov, who signed a nine-year, $51 million contract last summer—"[would] pretty much be under the microscope anyway. But really, can anyone make a case that Radulov's situation has anything to do with Ovechkin's ice time?"
Not logically. But some are still more than ready to give it a try.