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M&G's Top 25 Under 25: #23 - Pavel Karnaukhov

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The Flames didn't look far for their fifth round selection, a stocky Belarusian who is looking to grow and improve in North America.

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Despite sharing a building and owning the team for about 20 years now, the Flames have only looked to their WHL counterparts in the Calgary Hitmen for draft prospects three times. Two of them came in the 2000 draft, one being ninth overall goalie Brent Krahn, and the other being fifth round pick Wade Davis. Combined, they played a total of all of one (1) NHL game.

They'll certainly look to improve that record with Pavel Karnaukhov, their fifth round pick in the most recent draft. The 6'3, 194 lb. Belarusian import - one of the two on the Hitmen, the other being Russian Philadelphia Flyers prospect Radel Fazleev - didn't fare too well in his first North American season, but has shown signs of incredible promise heading forwards. He's young yet, and progressed as he adapted to the North American game and ice surface, well into the Hitmen's playoff run.

Rank Player DOB Draft 2014-15 team Vote total
23 Pavel Karnaukhov
03/15/97 136th overall, 2015 Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
16

History

There's not a lot to write here for the young player from Belarus, because that's pretty much his life story. A product of CSKA Moscow's youth system, the Red Army winger put up enough production in the MHL (kind of like a hybrid AHL-CHL type deal: feeder teams for the KHL, but only for U20 players) to get attention in the CHL import draft, where the Hitmen selected him 56th overall. It may have been due to his then-6'1", 196 lbs frame, which scouts felt would translate well to the North American game.

Karnaukhov had an up-and-down season in his first year, brought to you by the number five. He lit the red light often in the opening stages of the season, scoring five goals in as many games, but then went on a drought that lasted two weeks. November and December were bad for him, only being able to produce that same figure in a span of 53 days; three of those goals came in a hat-trick performance against Lethbridge. His final five spanned the final three months of the regular season.

His drought ended in the playoffs, where he scored six goals and five assists in 17 games. Despite the positive PPG totals, he again struggled to string performances together. He was held pointless in eight of his games, and half of his goal total came from the powerplay.

Stats

Strengths and weaknesses

We turned to our call-in WHL expert and fan sdh0809, who has written many excellent insights into Flames WHL prospects (Kanzig, Carroll, Elson), for her opinion on Karnaukhov.

Karnaukhov is big and has potential, but he is inconsistent. He only has one season in the WHL, and the problem with that is he’s got two settings: he’s either a force, or he’s invisible. He’s a centre and he’s able to play physical, but like a lot of imports, that part of his game is missing. All that’s sitting there right now is potential.

If the Hitmen can bring out a sense of meanness in him he has a chance to excel in the pros. He's only had one fight, but he was pretty dominant in it. If that aggressiveness can be channelled into his play on a consistent basis, he’ll be an excellent selection for where he was taken in the draft.

Karnaukhov has a lot of pieces - size, strength, speed - but he’s been unable to put them together night after night. I like his size and his strength. I also like the net front presence he exhibits. He seems to have a good sense of when to put his ass in front of the net, but he doesn’t have enough grit to stay there all the time.

He’s got decent ability to put up points. He's really doing badly considering most imports face a steep learning curve. I would expect to see improvement again this year. I also like his ability to play: he played 69 games in his rookie season, which is pretty impressive.

Consistency is the watchword for Karnaukhov. Like many draftees, I feel he has the parts to become a strong AHL player and gritty bottom six guy for the Flames. If he can’t get the parts working together, he’s going to end up going back to Europe.

I completely agree with her. If you want a comparable, think Hunter Smith drafted in a more digestible position. Not only did they put up similar metrics in their draft year (Smith's 0.625 vs. Karnaukhov 0.608), they both play a similar type of power forward game. The major difference is that Karnaukhov has a higher ceiling than Smith, owing to the fact that Pavel's draft year stats are clouded by the Europe-to-North America transition.

Future with the Flames

He's certainly far away from joining the team, but it will very interesting to see how he develops. As sdh suggests, his mostly likely role is a bottom six power forward type role, sort of like a Micheal Ferland with more scoring acumen. It's tough to project what the roster will look like four or five years from now, but Karnaukhov seems like someone who could transition into a bottom six role easily.

Expectations for 2015-16

The Hitmen are going to lose Adam Tambellini, Connor Rankin, and Kenton Helgesen this upcoming year, and might also lose Travis Sanheim and Jake Virtanen. This leaves the team without three of their top seven scorers, and potential five. Karnaukhov was number eight on that list. He'll have an elevated role next year, and more chances to prove his worth.

As Flames fans, we can only view this with optimism. If he starts to succeed and produce in the face of the WHL's best, we have a draft hero in the waiting. If he doesn't, well, it was just a fifth round pick. All my money is on the former though.

Earlier on the list

#25 - Ryan Culkin // #24 - Hunter Smith