The legal wrangling involving forward Alexander Radulov over the last year has not necessarily discouraged the Nashville Predators from pursuing Russian prospects.
However, the fact that Nashville has not drafted a Russian player since 2004 — when Radulov was the 15th overall selection — is directly related to the Radulov situation.
The NHL has no transfer agreement in place for players in the Russian system, which is why the Predators ultimately had no recourse when Radulov signed to play in the Continental Hockey League (KHL) last summer despite the fact that he still had two years remaining on his original contract with Nashville.
It is also why relatively few Russian-based players will be selected in this weekend’s NHL draft.
“That’s a problem for us and for everyone else,” Nashville general manager David Poile said. “ … Virtually, if you speak about the Russians, their contracts are set up as such that whenever you enter into a contract as a 16 or 17-year-old it’s written that they have your rights until you’re 28.”
The circumstances with Russian-based players has placed Sweden front and center in terms of European prospects for this year’s draft, which takes place Friday and Saturday in Montreal.
The top eight European prospects — and 17 of the top 30 — among international skaters are Swedes, according to the NHL’s Central Scouting Service.
The Predators picked 12 players out of Russia in their seven drafts. Radulov was the only first-rounder, but five others including Denis Arkhipov (the second selection in franchise history) were taken in the second or third round.
In the four drafts since, 10 of their 28 choices have come out of Europe but none from Russia. Only two of those 10, however, have come within the first three rounds.
Finnish defenseman Teemu Laakso was a third-round pick in 2005 and Swiss defenseman Roman Jossi was a second-round selection last year.
Laakso signed a two-year deal with Nashville prior to last season and played 42 games for Milwaukee in 2008-09. Jossi has indicated he plans to play out his current contract in Switzerland and then make himself available to Nashville in 2010.
As for Radulov, the Predators still have no idea what to expect. His contract with Nashville remains suspended, which means he still owes the team two years if, or when, he decides to return to the NHL.
“We still have some hope he’s going to come back here this year… (but) he walked from our contract and it seems a lot harder to walk from a Russian contract,” Poile said. “…By July 1, if he has not said he’s coming over here or he has not done what he needs to do to get out of his (KHL) contract, we will definitely making plans without him.”
Of course, those plans likely won’t include drafting another young Russian to take his place.