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The Waterloo Black Hawks took a flyer on Vladislav Firstov in the 2018 USHL Draft, drafting him in the 17th round, 276th overall. The move paid off as the Blackhawks were able to convince the young Russian winger to cross the pond and play in the USHL this past season. Firstov did enough to be named to the USHL All-Rookie team. He scored 26 goals and 32 assists for 58 points in 62 USHL games. He was second amongst all USHL rookies, just one point behind Shane Pinto. Firstov added two assists in four playoff games. He also played in the USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.
In 2017-18 Firstov played in the Russian Under-17 league, appearing in 24 games for Lokomotiv-2004 Yaroslavl and putting up 10 goals and 15 assists for 25 points. He also played 21 games in the NMHL putting up four goals and nine points. Next season, Firstov is committed to playing NCAA hockey for the University of Connecticut Huskies.
Vladislav Firstov Scouting Report
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born June 19th, 2001 — Yaroslavl, Russia
Height 6’1″ — Weight 181 lbs [185 cm/82 kg]
Firstov is a good but not a great skater. His top-end speed allows him to keep up with the play. However, he is not a real threat to create breakaways or to pull away from defenders over a long distance. Firstov has a great first few steps. This helps him to pounce on loose pucks or win other short races with an opponent. Firstov also has very good edgework and agility. He can avoid defenders both with and without the puck. He also has the ability to make subtle changes in position to open up shooting and passing lanes, especially when working the half-boards on the power play. Firstov shows good balance and strength in his stride at the USHL level, but his core strength can be improved. This would make him better at protecting the puck as he moves up against stronger opponents.
Firstov has an excellent shooting arsenal. His wrist shot and snapshot both feature lightning-quick releases. He has the ability to change the angle on his release point which makes things difficult for goaltenders. He also has a lot of power on his shot and so it beats goaltenders and when it doesn’t can be tough to control for rebounds. The accuracy is the most impressive thing about Firstov’s shooting skills though. He puts the puck into corners of the net and can find very small openings. Firstov also has an excellent one-timer. He uses his hockey IQ to find open spaces and set himself up to take a pass from a teammate and fire it on the net.
Firstov is also a very good passer. He sees the ice well and makes smart decisions with the puck. Firstov works on the half-boards on the power play and quarterbacks things from there. He sets up teammates with smart passes through the seams. Firstov has the hands and stickhandling ability to control the puck and extend plays. He combines this with his skating ability to slow the game down and speed it up when necessary. Firstov keeps possession and extends plays for teammates to get open.
One area where he can improve is his ability to battle for loose pucks along the boards and in front of the net. Adding strength to his frame would certainly help. It works at the junior level, but he needs to continue his growth as he moves up to college hockey and eventually the pros.
Firstov competes hard in all three zones. He is willing to help support his defence down low and work to control the cycle game. However, this is another area where he needs to bulk up going forward. He uses positioning more than physicality to play in his end. Firstov cuts down passing lanes well. He uses a quick stick to intercept passes as well as to steal the puck from opponents. He is smart positionally and does a good job of keeping himself between his man and the net.
Projection and Comparison
Firstov has real talent but is a bit of a long-term project. Expect him to spend several years at the University of Connecticut. The lighter NCAA schedule can really help him as it will give him time to head to the weight room and try to improve his strength in all areas. The offensive talent suggests that Firstov could become a top-six winger at the NHL level. With his work ethic and defensive ability, he could make the NHL, even if his scoring does not translate into big numbers in the NHL. Over the years there have been plenty of stereotypes applied to Russian prospects. Firstov is yet another player who proves that those stereotypes are not always true. His game is reminiscent of a poor man’s Nikita Kucherov. However, this is a stylistic comparison only and is not based on talent or ability.
The following is a compilation of some of the highlight packages and features of Vladislav Firstov that are available on youtube.
Check back tomorrow for the next prospect in our NHL Draft series.
Main Photo via USHL.com