Arthur Kaliyev, Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL)
Position: Left Wing
Age on Draft Day: 18.00 Years Old
Height/Weight: 6’2, 190 pounds
2018-2019 Stats: 61 GP, 51 G, 51 A, 22 PIM
NHL Central Scouting (North America only): 7th
Craig Button: 9th
Elite Prospects: 11th
Bob McKenzie: 13th
Future Considerations: 28th
ISS Hockey: 28th
No player in the 2019 NHL Draft is more divisive than Arthur Kaliyev. Let’s explore why.
Kaliyev is one of the most offensively gifted players in not only this draft, but recent ones. His numbers are borderline gaudy. Here is how Kaliyev compares to draft-eligible forwards by goals-per-game in the previous 10 OHL seasons.
And here is a similar chart, only with the top players by points-per-game.
There are some serious names either within range or below Kaliyev. Jeff Skinner, Tyler Seguin, Taylor Hall, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, and so on.
As 51 goals in 67 games would suggest, Kaliyev is very proficient at putting pucks into the net. He has a wicked release. The time it takes for him to receive a pass and then take a shot is negligible. He generates a ton of velocity without really having to put too much of his own weight into the release. He’s a go-to triggerman for one-timer situations; particularly on the power. So many of his goals were scored around the circles, or even at a sharper angle.
That being said, he is not a one-trick pony. Kaliyev is versatile enough to score in different ways. He is not dependent on a supplier, as he is able to create his own shots. He is a crafty stickhandler who can create shooting lanes for himself and bait goaltenders off of their edges and angles. Toe drags, between-the-legs moves, inside-out dekes, and so on. Kaliyev is an inventive player who was born to be on highlight reels.
Kaliyev’s stickhandling and ingenuity manifest in other ways. He had just as many assists (51) as goals. For sure he is a shoot-first player, as he was second in the entire OHL in shots-per-game last season. But he is also a clever passer who can set up teammates for easy goals.
He is also able to stickhandle his way out of trouble. If he is in a tight spot with a body or two around him, he is able to maneuver the puck and find an outlet for that pressure.
Hughes and Kakko aside, Kaliyev ranks as high as anyone in this draft in terms of production. At 6’2 and 190 pounds, he’s not far off from ideal NHL size. And though he benefitted from quality linemates in Matt Strome and Jan Jenik, that relationship was largely symbiotic. From a bird’s-eye view, Kaliyev should not only be a surefire top-10 prospect in the 2019 Draft, but a serious contender for a top-10 pick as well.
Yet I rank him 12th, with the consensus coming in at a similar spot or even much later in the first round. What gives?
Indeed, the dreaded concerns about character come into play with Kaliyev. But let’s be clear about what these concerns actually entail. There are certain talented players who have seen their careers derailed due to some major, often unnavigable issues. Whether it be lifestyle concerns, an absolute refusal to listen to the coaches, glycerine-like effect on the locker room, etc.
I do not believe Kaliyev fits into this group. By all accounts, he seems to be a decent person who gets along with his teammates and stays out of trouble. And while he surely does draw the ire of his coaches sometimes, the staff in Hamilton have been very publicly supportive of Kaliyev. That has not always been true for real troublemakers like Tony DeAngelo, Ryan Merkley, Josh Ho-Sang, and so on.
The concern with Kaliyev is largely about on-ice effort and consistency. There are times where it seems like he is coasting through shifts. His skating stride is very laid-back. He doesn’t always engage physically when it looks like there is a battle to be had. There are times where he doesn’t seem particularly rushed to get to his defensive assignments.
I am not invalidating these issues, because I think they do exist. You can look at a play like this and envision an NHL head coach immediately stapling Kaliyev to the bench after a lazy, thoughtless turnover like this one.
My defense of Kaliyev is two-fold. First, though there are times when he doesn’t engage, there are also a lot of times where does. I’ve seen him backcheck hard. I’ve seen him create turnovers on the forecheck and pin bodies to the boards. As the season went on, Kaliyev became more consistent in his play away from the puck. In fact, Hamilton started using him on the penalty kill and on late-game shifts where they were trying to protect the lead.
At the end of the day he is still a 17-year-old. Kaliyev still isn’t a coach’s dream right now, but he has shown a willingness to commit and improve in that regard. Kaliyev needs a coaching staff that will periodically light a fire under his ass, but this is not a player who refuses to listen. He’s making improvements and there’s good reason to believe more will come in the next few years of his development.
There are also critiques of his skating. Again, not completely unjustified. He lacks separation speed. However, I do wonder if some of the criticism of Kaliyev, skating or otherwise, can be somewhat chalked up to deception. His body language kind of sucks, but so what? As long as he successfully gets from Point X to Point Y, does it really matter if his head is bobbing vigorously or his arms are flailing? The visceral insinuation of effort is not synonymous with effectiveness.
Kaliyev’s complications are legitimate but, in my opinion, manageable. Society is in love with the idea that hard work and passion overcomes talent. That is absolutely true, but only to a degree. Some of the hardest working athletes are guys who have to give their all just to scratch the surface of a pro career. Meanwhile, male tennis player Nick Kyrgios has ranked as high as 13th in the entire world while actively parading the fact that he doesn’t give a shit about the sport and has no particular desire to get better. That’s life. Sometimes talent and a satisfactory level of dedication is enough to elevate an athlete. Maybe not to his or her peak, but certainly high enough to be effective.
Kaliyev is hardly a walking red flag. He has some problems, but they are moderate in nature. Phil Kessel and Alex Kovalev are not particularly known for being the most industrious, hard-working players on the ice. That did not prevent them from having long NHL careers nor lifting the Stanley Cup.
But that does not mean that talent alone will elevate Kaliyev to a successful NHL career. That uncertainty is enough to scare off some NHL scouts. As one posed to me: “I’m using extremes but is he Ovechkin or Yakupov?”
That the question must be asked puts him out of the top-10 for me. There are enough players ahead of him who have high enough upside without the concerns. But it would be a major mistake if Kaliyev drops much lower. The upside he presents far outweighs any doubts he brings to the table. This is a player who has serious potential to not only make an NHL top-six but also feature in a few All-Star games.
Predictably, Kaliyev is a major contender to be a player that the Rangers trade up to grab. He’s a gamble who would be absolutely worth it in any scenario, but especially for a Rangers team that is stocked with prospects and draft picks and can afford to stick their necks out. In fact, he may very well be available to the Rangers when they’re on the clock at 20th overall.
What Others Have Said
“I coached Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat. In my opinion, Arthur is just as good a player as either of those two.”
- Hamilton Assistant Coach Vince Laise, via The Athletic.
“The way he can generate a play out of nothing amazes me.”
- Teammate Matt Strome, via NHL.com
“We’re trying to get him to play that 60-foot game in the neutral zone and that 60-foot game in the ‘D’ zone and he’s responding. And it’s not affecting his stats.”
- Hamilton Head Coach Dave Matsos, via The Hockey News