Our Top 25 Under 25 series continues with the first Russian drafted by the Avalanche since 2004, Moscow-born Andrei Mironov. Mironov was selected 101st overall, and at the time the Avalanche drafted him, he was considered a surprisingly off-board pick. Most top ranking services didn't even rank Mironov come draft day, so Avs fans were left scratching their heads. Who was this guy and why did the team go out of their way to secure him with such an early pick, or at least an early pick for an unranked player?
Over time, we've learned the answers to these questions as we've watched him in the KHL, where he currently plays for Dynamo Moskva (Moscow).
Who is Andrei Mironov?
Highly regarded as an up-and-comer in the KHL, Mironov is a defensively-minded defenseman, though he has better puck handling skills than the "stay at home" moniker usually warrants. He uses his big 6'2", 190-lb frame to his advantage. While he isn't a speedy defenseman in the Erik Karlsson style of the word, he's capable of bursts of speed up the wing and follows the play well. He's a Gagarin Cup winner and KHL All-Star, having captured the KHL championship with Dynamo in 2012-13. Impressively, he contributed in 18 of the team's 20 playoff games despite his youth and was praised for the maturity of his game. Dynamo signed him to a two-year extension in April 2015.
While Mironov failed to make the KHL All-Star team in 2015-16, he still had a decent season by all accounts.
What is the future for Andrei Mironov?
Four years into his KHL career, Mironov has made comments that allude to playing in North America, but the biggest concern for the Avalanche is whether he crosses the Atlantic. He plays a hard, punishing game in the KHL and his style of play appears to be rewarding him well. Mironov is considered more advanced than many players his age. Is it possible that he decides to simply stay put in Russia and enjoy the fruits of his labors?
Yes, it's possible, but that doesn't mean it's likely. Within the last two years, much has been made about the financial difficulties some KHL teams are facing, with rumors of unpaid salaries for staff and players alike. The league itself suffered due to unstable oil prices and its dependency on the Ruble, enough that it garnered international attention outside the world of sports media.
All the rumors and speculation about the KHL aside, there's a good chance Mironov comes to play in North America for reasons that aren't all financially motivated. Mironov specifically mentioned the NHL as a destination. He told ThinkRussia:
"There is always a place to grow, and NHL is one of the possible future options. Hockey is very different over there partly due to the fact that the rinks are noticeably smaller in size. That results in more physical play. The tactics are quite different and that is what’s interesting for sure. However, I feel like I need to grow strong first to rival existing players of the NHL so I’ll be sticking with Dynamo for now."
While those words are by no means definitive, it's a mindset common among Russian players whose ultimate goal is to elevate their game to the highest level possible. Doing so often results in playing in North America regardless of how satisfied they might be playing in the KHL.
The Russian league isn't a mere stepping stone to North American leagues and it would be a mistake for the Avalanche to assume Mironov will treat it that way. I imagine the team can court him over to North America, and if they do, he'll immediately leap up the list of most intriguing prospects in the Avalanche toolbox.