A skilled and sizeable Russian prospect cracks the list this year at #21 for the Penguins in the Pensburgh list of the Top 25 players under the age of 25 this year.
#21: Kirill Tankov, Forward
2021 Ranking: #20
Age: 20 (March 26, 2002)
Height/Weight: 6’ 2”, 190 pounds
Acquired Via: 2021 NHL Draft (Seventh Round — #218 overall)
Despite being known for skilled players and having a European flair, the Penguins haven’t emphasized going to Russia to find players in the recent past. That seems like it shouldn’t be the case with Evgeni Malkin being a franchise centerpiece for going on two decades, but Geno has very much been the outlier for the Pens drafting players from Russia in the last 15-20 years. The franchise once known for investing high picks on players like Aleksey Morozov and Konstantin Koltsov and trading or signing players like Alexei Kovalev and Sergei Gonchar have barely done so in the recent past.
That has changed in the Ron Hextall era, with the Pens hiring former NHL player Alexander Khavanov as a Russia area scout. They’ve gone with Russians twice in the last two years in the draft, selecting goalie Sergei Murashov in the fourth round in 2022, and also center/winger Kirill Tankov in the seventh round in 2021.
A lot of what Chris Pryor (perhaps the most important front office member not necessarily on the tip of the tongue of Penguin fans) said here about Tankov last year after he was drafted still applies for how the organization feels currently about the prospect.
Pittsburgh Penguins Director of Player Personnel Chris Pryor on Kirill Tankov selected in the 7th round, 218th overall in the 2021 NHL Draft. -DP (Video courtesy @penguins.) pic.twitter.com/TDvE1ANyHg— AT&T SportsNet™ PIT (@ATTSportsNetPIT) July 26, 2021
Every team is looking for diamond in the roughs and potential high ceiling players late in the draft, and Pittsburgh dipping into Russia for Tankov fits that profile.
At 6’2 and 190 pounds, Tankov has a great size and frame with Pryor pointing out Tankov’s “long and lean” stature. He also is working his way up the ranks, having spent 2021-22 in the VHL (Russia’s tier two of hockey, the VHL is comparable to the AHL, with the KHL being that country’s version of the NHL). Tankov had previously been in the SKA-St. Petersburg system in the MHL (a step down in the junior hockey system in Russia).
A lot of Tankov’s skill was on display in the step up, he produced 21 points (10G+11A) in 38 games in the VHL last season, ranking tied-7th on his team in goals, and 12th in points.
The season was capped with SKA winning the Kharlamov Cup championship. An injury prevented Tankov from finishing it out, though he did score five points (1G+4A) in 17 playoff games.
Kirill Tankov (PIT) needed some help because of his arm injury pic.twitter.com/GazZ7a7BPV— Dylan Griffing (@GriffingDylan) April 26, 2022
While he was healthy, Tankov displayed some of the puck skills and talent that put him on the NHL radar. His ability to hold onto the puck in the offensive zone and then have the vision and ability to make passes to setup scoring chances. (Tankov wearing No. 26 in the clips below)
Maxim Groshev (#28 in white) roofs one home from a wide angle for his 1st goal of the Sochi Hockey Open! Kirill Tankov (PIT) and Dmitri Buchelnikov (DET) pick up the assists.— Future Bolts (@LightningProsp1) August 7, 2022
Maxim Groshev (#28 in blue) picks up the secondary assist on this goal. He makes the drop pass to Kirill Tankov (PIT), who then finds Alexei Ozhgikhin (‘98) for the goal. pic.twitter.com/QbNPDhQpJw— Future Bolts (@LightningProsp1) August 4, 2022
Tankov isn’t playing against extremely tough competition, but plays like the above stand out. He has really good hands and is a creative offensive player that is capable of setting up easy goals for teammates, and also has a decent shot himself to generate offense. Those types of skills and ability stand out big time compared with the current crop of Penguin forward prospects, many of whom aren’t as skilled or offensively gifted.
Before the WJC was cancelled, Tankov (again #26) recorded one point in two games, an assist coming off this initial shot against Sweden.
#WJC: Russia gets on the board after C Fyodor Svechkov (NAS 1st/2021) pops in a rebound right after Helge Grans clipped Nikita Chibrikov's face with a high stick. No call on the play but Russians have life heading into the third period. pic.twitter.com/TAqy5jY7Xh— Steve Kournianos (@TheDraftAnalyst) December 26, 2021
Tankov’s size and reach is on display in this highlight goal to collect the puck and race up the ice on a 2-on-1 where he calls his own number and finishes with the shot for a goal.
Танков убежал в контратаку и расстрелял Доненко!— СКА-Нева (@SKA_Neva) January 29, 2022
Tankov also showed off his powerful wrist shot, scoring from distance on the power play here by firing the puck through traffic and for a goal.
As Pryor said in the clip above, the Pens have the benefit of time with a young player like Tankov, who would still be deep in his NCAA career if he went that route. In 2022-23, Tankov will still be (mostly) in his age-20 season, and likely in-line to grow into one of the better players in the VHL next season.
Tankov has some really good puck skills and offensive ability that make him an intriguing prospect to have in the organization. As Pryor also said, it’s also going to require some patience and waiting to see just what Tankov’s final form may be.
Pittsburgh has the benefit of waiting on a seventh round pick, especially when they don’t have a lot of players with the type of skill and size profiles that Tankov possesses as a prospect to keep an eye on with his development.