TLN’s 17th-ranked prospect, Russian defenseman Rinat Valiev, was a bit of a surprise pick when the Leafs took him in the 3rd round of the 2014 NHL Draft. He was an overager – he had been passed over in the draft once before already – and most people just hadn’t heard of the guy. But he backed the pick up, totaling 46 points in 52 games in the WHL this past season.
In this article we’ll be taking a look at how he plays the game, what sort of numbers he has, and a look ahead to what figures to be an important 2015-2016 season for Valiev as he looks to make the jump to the pro game. Without further ado, let’s get started.
Here’s Kootenay Ice coach Ryan McGill on Valiev’s game:
“The biggest thing about Rinat is he can play any type of game he wants
to play. He’s going to be a physical defenceman, but at
the same time, his skill level with the puck is tremendous. The one
thing that is really going to set him apart from other guys is his
ability to see the ice.”
There’s a real lack of stuff out there on Valiev that isn’t outdated, so I’m gonna string my own scouting report of him together as well since I’ve seen him play:
Valiev’s biggest strength is his versatility. He played important minutes for Kootenay this season in all situations, including the #1 powerplay unit, and is steady in all three zones. He generally has a good understanding of his defensive assignments and can use both his stick and his body when defending. He sees the ice well and makes a good outlet pass. He also has solid offensive zone instincts.
Among his weaknesses is a lack of a ‘wow’ factor. Valiev does a lot of things at a ‘B level’ but doesn’t have a lot of standout ability. He can pass well, skate well, and defend well – he just doesn’t do any of those things at a high level. His puckhandling and offensive zone play could also stand to be more dynamic.
Basically, Valiev is a versatile player and is one of those “does lots of things good but nothing great” players, in a somewhat similar mold to fellow Leafs prospects Stuart Percy and Matt Finn.
But despite being a versatile player, he’s still not as well-rounded or polished as someone like Stuart Percy. There’s still enough to be desired when you watch him play – whether it’s his skating, puckhandling, or generally passive style of play – that leaves many at TLN doubting that Valiev can become a bonafide NHLer.
Here’s how Valiev’s numbers compare to every other WHL defenseman from this past season:
Needless to stay Valiev stacks up pretty well, especially when it comes to his primary assist totals as well as his point production rates.
Valiev’s PCS% (historic % chance of reaching 200 NHL games played based on league, age, size, and production) is 20.0, which is pretty good. It may not seem like a lot, but a 1 in 5 chance of becoming an NHL regular is better than some other Leaf prospects such as Frederik Gauthier, Carter Verhaeghe, and Zach Hyman.
The bottom line on Valiev is that while his scouting report comes in at average at best, his numbers come in above average and back up the notion that Valiev could be much better than some, including us here at TLN, are giving him credit for.
It could be a year of major transition for Valiev, who is now eligible to make the jump to the pro game. But Valiev could find it a serious challenge to make the AHL given names like Harrington, Brenann, Percy, Granberg, Loov, Nilsson, Finn, and Campbell might already be there.
A more likely route may be the ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears. It’s typically not a good thing when a player has to go down to the ECHL, especially if you’re a forward or a defenseman, but the Leafs have hinted at making the Solar Bear’s more involved in the Leafs’ development system this season. If it’s any consolation, Matt Finn played 8 games in the ECHL last season (although he also slid from being our #2 prospect to our #20 prospect). But hey, the Marlies figure to be really deep this year, so it shouldn’t be considered as big of an insult as usual.
Of course, Valiev could also end up back in the WHL. It’s unlikely, but he is eligible to be returned to the Kootenay Ice as an overager if the Leafs feel that’s what’s best for him this season.
All things considered, Valiev has turned out alright for a former 3rd-rounder and figures to be on schedule as far as his development goes. He’s got a versatile game and good numbers to back it up.
Of course, he’s got some kinks to work out as well. But what young player doesn’t? Hopefully he’s had a good summer of training (cue the collective groans) and has a productive season in whichever league he plays in next year.