The Elite Ability of Muskegon Lumberjacks Egor Afanasyev

CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, PA - SEPTEMBER 30: Anthony DelGaizo #27 of the Muskegon Lumberjacks celebrates a goal with teammtes during the game against the Tri-City Storm on Day 3 of the USHL Fall Classic at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex on September 30, 2017 in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)

Egor Afanasyev has established himself as one of the top players in the USHL this year. The 18-year-old has taken over the top-line center role for the Muskegon Lumberjacks, a spot previously held by Buffalo Sabres prospect Matej Pekar. In that role, Afanasyev has netted 56 points in 54 games. This has been enough to top the Lumberjacks this season, as well as rank him 11 in the league.

Egor Afanasyev is a very unique player. Standing at 6’3″ and playing with an offence-first mindset has proven to be a dangerous combo, although in a bit of a surprising way. His dominance this season has been enough to make him a legitimate first-round candidate for the upcoming NHL Draft. The Central Scouting Services have him ranked 19 among North American skaters, although Bob Mckenzie ranks him a bit more modestly at 42 in that region. Future Considerations has also shined a positive light on Afanasyev, ranking him 11 among USA skaters and 53 in the world.

Diving Into the Skillset that has Made Egor Afanasyev a Top Prospect

Background

Egor Afanasyev played for Detroit’s Little Caeser’s Under-16 team in 2016-17. He scored eight points in 17 games that year. Which placed him sixth on a team that ended the year ranked 12 in the nation by My Hockey Rankings.

Of the players on that Little Caeser’s roster, Afanasyev is one of the few to have moved on to the USHL. He was drafted by the Lumberjacks following that season, although he might not have been if it wasn’t for a handful of international tournaments.

That same season, Afanasyev joined Russia’s Under-17 team. During the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, he scored five points in five games. He also notched a point in the only other game he played outside of this tournament.

This strong play was enough to push him into the eye of top leagues in both America and Canada. While he hadn’t shown much stardom in North American play up to that point, both the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL and the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL drafted Afanasyev in the late rounds of the 2017 Draft. He decided to stay in the United States and joined the Lumberjacks the following year. His rookie season didn’t amount to much, though, as he scored 14 points in 45 games.

Strengths

Confidence

The anticlimactic rookie season helps make Afanasyev’s play this year much more impressive, though. Of course, the biggest building block of any dominant season is the right mindset. While most players struggle to find confidence in their first couple years of juniors, Alfanasyev has clearly become perfectly comfortable in the league.

Out of everything he offers, confidence in his own game is the least of the worries. He doesn’t hesitate to skate into traffic or make precarious passes because he knows they’ll work out. While this could be a sign for worry, his great skill set makes this overconfidence viable.

Hands

The most prominent part of Egor Afanasyev’s skillset is his very impressive handwork. There’s almost a sense that his sole goal is to embarrass opposing defenders. While making a player fall to the group simply from a deke is a rare occurrence, Afanasyev finds a way to make it happen multiple times a game. Like most of his strengths, Afanasyev’s great handwork is compounded when his size is taken into account.

Watching a player as big as Afanasyev dance around opponents makes for genuinely enjoyable hockey any time he touches the puck. It’s also made him a bit of a shootout maestro, with two impressive goals so far this year.

Skating

Afanasyev’s skating is his most noteworthy trait. He is a truly elite skater when compared to the rest of the USHL. Great edgework and pivots are the mainstays of Afanasyev’s game as he takes full advantage of his elusive ability.

He’s become the headman of almost every offensive rush he’s involved in, as his great skating helps him split the defence and create great opportunities. For such a big player, Afanasyev’s skating is extremely smooth. This is incredibly unique, as most players of his size struggle considerably with their skating at Afanasyev’s age, making his great skating much more notable.

Weakness

While Afanasyev’s game is fairly sound offensively, his defence could be a bit of a concern as he heads into the draft. He has periods where he looks fairly awkward in the defensive zone, trying to mix a man-coverage style of play with all of the responsibilities a center has in their own zone. This play leads to a weird imbalance that, at times, can give the opposing team great scoring chances.

Other than his defence, there are a few other minor issues. There are times where his confidence gets the best of him and he decides to carry the puck instead of passing it. He also could afford to be a bit more physical considering his size. While fixing both of these issues could help his stock in the NHL, neither are notable downsides of his play.

Overall

Looking towards the 2019 NHL Draft, Afanasyev will likely be picked in the late first, or early second, round. His combination of size and agility could make him a very attractive player for many NHL teams. As the league moves towards a smaller-but-faster style of play, Afanasyev is a perfect parallel. With how dominant he’s been in the USHL this year, the future looks very bright for the offensively gifted power forward.

Egor Afanasyev is a very offensively-minded big man. He has an average of over one point, and almost four shots, each game; showing his undeniable prowess. There’s no doubt that he has a future in the NHL if he can stay on this path.

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