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Anton Silayev : In-Depth Scouting Report

Anton Silayev is a prospect who has been very polarizing this season. However, this is not because of his game offer inconsistencies, but rather because of philosophical divergence regarding what different people may look for in a player. We often hear about ‘profiles‘ in demand among NHL executives and how Silayev adheres to this archetype. Honestly, I find this reductive for the NHL GM and Scouts, but even more so for the player, who has a lot to offer.  A 6’7 left-handed defender, Silayev has everything to establish himself as an elite talent suppressor; however, many criticize him for his lack of offensive attributes. Despite being 17 years old, he spent the entire season in the KHL, even enjoying good minutes in the top 4 of Torpedo.

To characterize his play on the ice, I would use the word ‘Aggressive’. This is related to 3 very distinct constants. This comes with some good sides and some not so good sides.

First of all, Silayev never misses any opportunity to join the attack and jump into the play. We regularly see him advancing as deep as between the two faceoff circles, and sometimes even finishing his actions at the net. When such a physical specimen heads straight towards the goalie, it will consequently push back opposing defenders, creating all the space necessary to allow his teammate to work as he sees fit with the puck. What I like is that we can tangibly see a 17-year-old trying by all means, with each shift, to have an impact on the ice. He wants to be more than a passenger.

Secondly, Silayev’s aggressive side causes him to make his share of mistakes on the ice. The big Russian defender was often guilty (especially at the start of the season) of errors that I call ‘Overcommitment’. That is to say, he compromises himself on the ice by leaving his assigned position to nullify a play in an area that should not be under his supervision. These errors manifested themselves under three categories;

The first would be on the technical level. Silayev’s approaches on the disc carrier are too aggressive and this appears as a bad angle with his skates.

We have an example here, the forward opens his hips slightly, meaning (presumably), that his next direction will be to take the center, yet, Silayev rushes at him with his skates, his hips and his shoulders oriented towards the boards.

Another example here. As a defenseman, you always want to have eye contact with your opponent’s chest/shoulders. This is how you will be better equipped to defend against unpredictability in changes of direction.  In this sequence, Silayev’s body is oriented towards the corner of the rink. The forward will have been able to perform a ‘Cut-Back’ and get closer to the slot to take his shot.

Over the last few years, Lian Bichsel is quite possibly the defenseman who best masters his angles of approach towards the puck carrier in similar situations.

Still in the ‘Overcommitment’, several errors resulted from poor decision-making. Here we see a banal counterattack, Silayev is on the right at the bottom of the screen.

For no reason, he will leave his position to pokecheck the puck, completely abandoning the player he was responsible for covering.

To finish with this chaotic aspect of Silayev’s game, some of his errors are not simply decision-making in relation to his position, but also in relation to the context of the game.

Here, there is a 2-on-2 battle, nothing threatening behind the net. Silayev protects the front of the net.

He decides to leave his position to help his teammates, but the puck ends up in front of his goalie and he is no longer there to protect him.

The most problematic thing about this sequence is that the score was 4-2 in favor of his team, and there were only four minutes left in the game. It would have been better if he kept a conservative approach in such a situation and stayed with his goalie.

On the other hand, I will partly excuse the gigantic Russian defender. When talking about offensive players, it can be difficult to differentiate between a player who is confident in his abilities and trying to make the difference versus a player who is skilled but has limited intelligence and holds onto the puck too much simply, because he is not able to see the more viable options. I believe it is the same in the case of Silayev, but in a defensive context. He is aware of the elite attributes he has (the ice he can cover, his long reach) so he sometimes overdoes it, and it backfires on him.

Furthermore, these errors disappeared from his lexicon during the season, which reassured me that it was not his hockey intelligence and his reads of the game that were lacking, but rather a certain lack of maturity and his aggressive approach towards the puck-carrier who had to be tamed.

Finally, to return to his aggressive identity, Silayev offers a phenomenal physical game. The resounding impact of the hits he’s dished out this season will make you think twice about whether it’s a good idea to venture over to his side. What I like most about his hitting is that he targets players who are coming at full speed, and he evens out that speed in the opposite direction. He doesn’t just seek to slow down an opponent’s race, he seeks to completely annihilate him. The most frightening thing is that Silayev still has a lot of crusts to eat in order to hope to “fill up” his frame. For the moment, he is not going to overpower his opponents by force in confrontations in front of the net or in other places, which we have the right to expect considering that he is only 17 years old and played in one of the three best leagues in the world (he’s only 207 lbs at 6’7). But after a few summers of training, he will be even more of a dominant presence in his territory, it will be even more difficult to win a battle for a loose puck against him.

As I mentioned, the errors made by number 21 of Torpedo in his reads did not bother me as much as other observers for the reasons I provided earlier. What worried me the most was Silayev’s mixed success rate in his breakout passes. His first-pass was often imprecise; in the skates of his teammates, out of their reach, etc. It was therefore with particular attention that I scrutinized this aspect of his game in my subsequent viewings in the season and my doubts were dissipated.

Defensively, he projects as an ELITE defensive defenseman. One of the greatest strengths a defenseman can have in their arsenal is the amount of territory they can cover. And when you combine skating as good as Silayev’s with a ridiculously long reach, you end up with a defenseman with immeasurable impact in his zone. He can easily push a forward who appears to be in a dangerous position towards the boards before the latter even realizes it. He makes excellent use of his range and prevents a multitude of zone-entries with it. He doesn’t get bypassed thanks to the quality of his backward skating and his pivots (more on that in a few moments), but IF it happens that he gets beaten, the opposing forward will need to create separation quickly, because Silayev literally has a pole as a stick and he will be able to pokecheck the puck at his opponent, even if he seemed beaten at first. He defends zone-entries very well, but I also like how he plays proactively and rushes into the offensive zone while his reach gives him the chance to avoid a zone exit without him having to compromise himself too much.

Silayev also shows great dedication to his team as he does not hesitate to block shots.

While many people like to diminish his attributes, they will have no choice but to face the facts and admit that he is a fantastic skater. Often, we hear that a player is a good skater ‘for his size’. In the case of Silayev, he is simply an excellent skater, no matter his size.

He is fluid on skates, demonstrating very good mechanics as he maximizes the extension of each of his joints. He can even create openings with his hips while he is in possession of the puck.

Even though he is still far from full physical maturity, his strides are powerful. I’ve seen him regularly catch experienced KHL forwards in just a few strides.

The most impressive thing in his case is the quality of his pivots when he transitions from skating backwards to skating forwards. Everything comes together without him losing even a minimum of speed. This is one of the reasons why, for me, Silayev is one of the best skaters in this draft.

Besides, his backward skating is one of the best I have ever seen. The fluidity, the cadence of the feet, how he manages to match the forward skating of the other team’s forward. Frankly remarkable.

On the offensive level, although the Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo color carrier does not present a great offensive production, I still consider that there is room for appreciation.

His shot is not very violent, however, he directs a lot of pucks to the net. At one point in the season, he was even at the top among defensemen in shots on goal.

Something worth noting is how quickly Silayev showed improvement in finding the shooting lanes. In his very first games, his windup was predictable and several of his pucks aimed at the net were blocked before reaching their target. In the space of a few games, there have been undeniable improvements in his ability to move the defensive coverage before taking his shots.

What I also like is his honesty about the lack of force behind his shot. He knows that he will not beat the goalkeepers outright so he prefers to keep his shots low to the ice, in order to create rebounds for his teammates.

And quite frankly, I observe a certain hypocrisy towards the criticisms addressed to him regarding his shooting. In previous drafts, when it came to small defensemen with a not very threatening shot (Denton Mateychuk, Lane Hutson, Mikhail Gulyalyev, etc.) they were quickly excused. Well, to be fair, we’re not talking about the same level of offensive prowess as Silayev, but I still believe that this exposes a certain unfavorable bias on the public web towards more defensive players.

As for his puck distribution in the offensive zone, I think more praise should be given to him. His decisions are made quickly, already knowing where he is going to send the disc before even receiving possession. He also demonstrates good vision, spotting passes with a high coefficient of difficulty.

Where I find people are wrong is when defenders like this lose a lot ranks on their list due to lack of offensive potential. For me, defensemen with the potential to play on the first power play unit in the NHL are EXTREMELY rare. I rarely count more than 3 in a draft.

To add to this, fewer and fewer places are reserved for defensemen in these situations. Every season I dedicate myself to the exercise of looking at the 32 team alignments, including the special teams. Almost all teams employ a forward at the point, sometimes even on both waves! Furthermore, it is wrong to believe that the two units share the powerplay time equally. Generally, the first unit will spend almost 1min30, leaving mere seconds for the second wave. Which means that unless they’re simply terrific offensively and project as a potential quarterback, I don’t value defensemen’s offense as much as other public observers. For me, Silayev can play on a second PP wave as much as other defensemen more inclined to the offensive (but who are not elite) so in these scenarios, it is the defensive game that is the deciding factor for me. And in this department, Silayev projects himself to be unique.

I see him as a first pair ‘Shutdown’ defender who could take up a lot of minutes in the playoffs.

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