Sunday, August 16, 2009

Penalty Kill: Евгений Артюхин

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

On Thursday, the Ducks traded Drew Miller (525K) and a 3rd Round selection in the 2010 Entry Draft for Tampa Bay's Evgeny Artyukhin (950K). The 6'5" 270 lb winger is 2 Draft classes and one birth year older than Miller and has 81 more NHL games played than his Ducks counterpart.

Murray had sought to acquire Artyukhin as early as the 2009 trade deadline, but could not get a deal done then or at the Draft. The Ducks GM credits Rick Paterson, Anaheim's Head of Pro Scouting, with the decision to acquire the Russian grinder. Paterson worked for the Lightning when the organization drafted Artyukhin, and he has confidence in the player's potential.

On paper, this acquisition brings back much of the grit and grind that Anaheim unloaded in the past six months with the successive trades of Kunitz, Moen and Pronger. Artyukhin notched 249 hits this season (8th in the NHL) along with a two game suspension for a knee-on-knee hit on the Panthers' Ville Peltonen, which came on the heels of two clean but injurious hits on Alex Tanguay and Drew Doughty. Although he'd played only two seasons in the NHL, the suspension was not the Russian's first, as he was tossed for two games in 2006 for a scrum altercation in which he removed the helmet of Senators center Antoine Vermette and hit him with it.

Artyukhin plays like a XXL Mike Brown, with the same noteworthy speed and punishing checks delivered at twice the dosage. And despite knocks on his hockey IQ, Artyukhin finished as one of only 3 plus players who played a majority of the season on the Lightning club (the others are Malone and St. Louis). That statistic is even more impressive when you consider the Russian played in five different line combinations, even one with Lecavalier and Prospal, but logged 525 shifts with Jussi Jokinen and Mark Recchi, who finished minus-8 and minus-15 respectively.

Packing speed valuable on the forecheck, size valuable on the boards and grit valuable all over the ice, Artyukhin has the potential to contribute as an integral role player, though he may never sharpen his toolkit to the hopes of Paterson and Murray.

-Paterson Pick. Rick Paterson probably earned Bob Murray's respect as a teammate, but he's earned my respect as the Head of Pro Scouting. Burke and Murray made a number of moves within their network to varying success (Bertuzzi, Brown), but I credit most of the small but successful moves to Paterson (Brookbank, Montador). If Paterson thinks Artyukhin can fill a role on this team, I'm inclined to believe it.

-Speed and Smash. Speed on the forecheck is always valuable, even if its owner does nothing more than chase the puck. And Anaheim was in sore need of another checker, as no Duck made the Top 30 in hits this season (though former Duck Kunitz finished 16th).

-Turning a Corner. After only two years of NHL ice time in a system that didn't or couldn't use him to his full potential, there is a real chance that Artyukhin blossoms this season, even if only as an extremely effective third line player.

-Repute Offender. The Russian winger is sometimes called for penalties on clean hits, and was arguably suspended for infractions for which other offenders enjoyed impunity. He may bring enough orange armband heat to fill the void left by Pronger.

-One and Done. Sour negotiations kept Artyukhin out of the NHL for two years, and the chances of a long stay with the Ducks are uncertain. While there was a definite ceiling to Drew Miller's development and the 3rd Round pick may not come to much, the loss of both assets will be felt if Artyukhin can't see eye to eye with his new management.

-Dead Weight. Knocks on his hockey sense and stickhandling are not unfounded. On a team built for offense, struggling to backcheck, Artyukhin (or Brown) could become a superfluous energy player.

Breakdown of his Pre-Ducks Career
Artyukhin was scouted as an intriguing mixture of skating and hands uncommon in a big man. Tampa Bay took him 94th in the 3rd Round of the 2001 Entry Draft. It was the team's fourth pick in a class that only produced two NHL players for the Lightning (Svitov and Artyukhin), both of which have spent more time in Russia than Tampa since being drafted (though Svitov was traded before returning to the motherland).

Artyukhin spent a season in the Q after the Draft, an experience that allowed him to make a seamless transition to the minor leagues. Following an impressive 04-05 campaign with the Springfield Falcons, Artyukhin attended Tampa's training camp, where he was one of the last players cut before the season. But after only 4 games back in Springfield, the Lightning called his number.

That season was a successful one; the rookie even scored a playoff goal against the Senators as the Lightning fought, unsuccessfully, to stave off First Round elimination. Unfortunately, the contract negotiations at season's end went sour. Offers and counter offers were not disclosed, but among the possibly relevant factors are these: Artyukhin changed agents during the offseason, his qualifying offer was 662K, rookie standout Ryan Craig signed for his qualifying offer of 495K (only a 45K raise) and Artyukhin was extremely unhappy bouncing around the various minor league clubs before Tampa managed to negotiate an affiliation with a single team. In the end, Artyukhin signed with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the Russian Superleague, and the Tampa Tribune famously quoted Lightning GM Jay Feaster as saying, "We have sunk a lot of investments in this player, both financial and personal, and as far as I'm concerned he has spit in our face."

Artyukhin played 44 games with Lokomotiv and had twice as many PIM as any of his teammates, but his point production continued to underwhelm. Having availed himself of the benefits of the Tampa Bay development system, Artyukhin was still Lightning property in the 2007 offseason, and the club extended a one year 475K offer to him. The Russian declined, and according to Erik Erlendsson of the Bolts Report, Jay Feaster immediately insisted that, "we are not going to offer him another deal." This time, Artyukhin took up with the Superleague's Avangard Omsk before moving on to CSKA Moscow. In 23 regular season games with CSKA, his stats were respectable, but he turned a few heads when he managed to tie the team leader in goals in the playoffs.

In July of 2008, the Bolts began an offseason makeover that led to, amongst other things, the resignation of Jay Feaster and the re-signing of Artyukhin to a two-year contract worth 1.9M (paying him 1M in the second year). The Russian played well on a struggling Lightning team: leading the club in PIM, providing the requisite big hits and logging only 15 minus efforts in his 73 games played.

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