When the New Jersey Devils selected Shakir Mukhamadullin with the 20th-overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, the choice was widely panned. There were a lot of really good players still on the board, but the Devils chose to take a player most analysts had in the 50s. Tom Fitzgerald did not have a pick in the 2nd round, so he made the best of the situation. Mukhamadullin has to be compared to Braden Schneider. He was picked 19th overall by the Devils rival, the New York Rangers.
Mukhamadullin’s career has been an interesting one so far. His overall game at the 2020 World Junior Championship looked really good, but he had some very big mistakes as Russia tried to make it work with a shorthanded team. Overall, people remembered his mistakes more than anything. Maybe it wasn’t fair, but this is how things work in professional sports.
Mukhamadullin is once again in the spotlight as Russia was in the U20 4 Nations finale against the Czech Republic. It’s not necessarily a tourament of the best like the World Juniors, but it does show the growth of Mukhamadullin overall. Let’s take a look at two plays specifically.
This assist by Mukhamadullin shows how he thinks quickly with the puck on his stick. Great defensemen know how to use the fake shot as the ultimate weapon. It doesn’t need to be a full windup fake like P.K. Subban, but just a quick lift of the stick will do. He then moves just about a foot or two to his left and puts the puck on net. His right wing then buries the rebound to give Russia a 1-0 lead.
This one feels more like a Subban-type of fake shot. He really winds up there, but he either sees Pavel Tyutnev at the last second, or he always planned to fake the shot and find a better pass. And boy was that pass a beauty. The entire play caused the Czech player to take a quarter step towards the net, and that gave Tyutnev just enough space to find the back of the net on the one timer.
These are the types of big plays that people wanted from Mukhamadullin. This is his upside. If he lives up to his 1st-round moniker, then he will be a big play machine on the blue line.
Obviously, this is still against players who are his size and his level of development. The biggest issue with Mukhamadullin is how big he is compared to who he actually plays against. That’s why his season against KHL opponents is so important. If he’s grown as much as this appears, then he should be doing this in the pro league he’ll play in soon.
The Devils made it clear they expect Mukhamadullin to come to North America next year. It’s a big deal that he looks a lot better against his peers, and Devils fans should rejoice that they have another prospect to get excited about.