New Jersey Devils: Would Shakir Mukhamudullin Be Better As A Forward?

Shakir Mukhamadullin #17 of Russia. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
Shakir Mukhamadullin #17 of Russia. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images) /

Few players in the NHL ever switch positions. Players and prospects play one position their entire career almost exclusively, so why would anyone switch? Among forwards, players have switched from center to the wing and vice versa. Sometimes to great effect. The most recent example of this is Buffalo Sabres superstar Tage Thompson, as he’s become one of the best centers in the league after a lackluster career as a winger. However, it is a bit of a taboo topic for defensemen in the league, but one player that might benefit substantially is New Jersey Devils 2020 1st-round pick Shakir Mukhamudullin.

Mukhamudullin plays for Ufa in the KHL and is having quite the year. In 61 regular season games, Mukhamudullin has five goals and 23 points. It is mostly powerplay production, but it is a noticeable uptick in offense from the seven points he had last year. So, why exactly would Mukhamudullin benefit from a position change if he is doing so well?

The issues with Mukhamudullin come defensively. While he is a fast and powerful skater, he lacks the upper body strength to win along the boards. He doesn’t use his skating to close down lanes or stick to defensive assignments.

He is also among the worst rush defenders in recent memory, constantly backing off and allowing clean entries. His in-zone defense is not proficient either, as he does not challenge or get sticks in lanes enough. His passes come off as lazy, and he misses assignments to teammates, which can ruin the entire defensive structure from time to time. So basically, he is not the greatest defender in the world, which is decently problematic as a defenseman.

Mukhamudullin is not without his strengths, however. As mentioned before, he is a phenomenal skater for his size and has good fluidity and mobility in his stride. He is especially nimble with his stick, as EP Rinkside had his deking metrics among the best in the league in his rookie year. His shot, notably on the powerplay, is lethal and at high velocity. If you can see a pattern, Mukhamudullin’s strengths are on offense, while his detriments are on defense. While maybe a novel idea, a position change might be what he needs to maximize what made him a 1st Rounder.

Switching to wing could improve Mukhamudullin’s impact on the ice. He could use his hands and skating to zip around the zone. While not the greatest passer, he could be above average and depending on his center, he could be asked just to be the finisher on his line. With his experience on defense, he could be a solid defensive winger and be trusted to track back and understand structure. With less responsibility on defense, a team could amplify what he brings to a team. While a novel idea, This could help Mukhamudullin’s transition to North American ice, where he will have even less time and space to make decisions, especially on the breakouts.

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One thing that has to be mentioned is the fact that he has improved immensely from his draft year, so that has to be taken into account. Perhaps he could take this improvement and become a serviceable Top-4 defender in the NHL. Mukhamudullin could offer a bit more as a winger.