Our annual Top 25 Under 25 countdown has begun! The rankings were determined by a combination of reader voting and our staff’s own voting. We then combined the reader rankings (50%) and the staff rankings (50%) to determine the top 25. To be eligible for the countdown, a player must be 24 or younger on October 5, 2017, when the 2017-18 NHL season begins.
We’re taking a look at the best and the brightest in the Los Angeles Kings organization in our fifth annual Top 25 Under 25 countdown. Moving on, at #23: center/right winger Alexander Dergachyov.
2016-17 Team: SKA St. Petersburg (KHL)
2016-17 Statistics: 39 GP, 0 G, 3 A, 3 P
Current NHL Projection (via NHLe): 82 GP, 0 G, 5 A, 5 P
Jewels Reader Ranking: 17
Jewels Staff Ranking: 27
Ah, yes, the age-old question when it comes to developing a young player. What will do them more good: playing a lot against inferior competition, or playing a little against superior competition? Alexander Dergachyov has taken the latter path, and we won’t know for another couple years whether that has paid off for him.
While most 20-year-olds in the Kings’ system are either taking advantage of being big dogs in the Canadian junior leagues or coming into their own at the NCAA level, Dergachyov is entering his third season in the KHL. We wrote a little bit about the KHL-to-NHL transition earlier this summer, but in short: the Kontinental Hockey League is the second-best hockey league in the world, and it isn’t particularly close. Dergacyhov’s squad, SKA St. Petersburg, is the best team in that league, and that actually isn’t particularly close either. Though they lost the 2016-17 regular season title on a tiebreaker, their goal differential of +135 (in just 60 games) was nearly double the second-best team’s, and they went 16-2 in the postseason en route to a league title. Dergachyov was, to put it lightly, not a key factor in SKA’s dominance; he appeared in 39 of the team’s 60 regular season games and 9 of the team’s 18 playoff games, picking up three assists.
From a raw perspective, Dergachyov is still a very appealing prospect. He’s 6’5”, and has shown a knack for puck protection and retention, which has always been a useful factor in the Kings’ possession equation. The 2015 third-rounder gets fewer chances to show off his skill (and even fewer that I can find on video) but his release and vision are both solid and he’s managed to set up some goals when given larger doses of responsibility, such as at the World Junior Championships and this month’s Sochi Hockey Open. He even scored a goal in the finals at the latter; it was apparently a softie, but who’s keeping track? The physical play certainly outweighs the scoring at this point, though.
At this point, though, his pedigree offers more hope than the on-ice product has thus far.
Dergachyov is still one of only three under-21 players on his team, and after appearing in two of the team’s first four games this season, it appears he might be in for a similarly slimmed-down schedule this year. He’s also almost certainly going to be a fourth-liner; even after the departure of top center Vadim Shipyachov, he’s remained under ten minutes per game. (Though he got a postgame interview recently!) Is that the best thing for his development? Judging by last season’s output, it’s difficult to say yes. There are comparisons to a player like Adrian Kempe, who seemed to benefit from a couple seasons in the Swedish Elite League at 18 and 19, but he was playing every night by his final season. Dergachyov’s not... at least, not right now. Having said that, though, his KHL contract is up after this season. If he isn’t able to earn a larger piece of the SKA pie by season’s end, he’ll have all the more reason to come to North America and see how things go.