The Vegas Golden Knights have a decent amount of talented forwards going into their inaugural season. James Neal is one of the top goal scorers in the NHL. David Perron has the ability to contribute important minutes, both on the power play and short-handed situations. Jonathan Marchessault is one of the league’s top up-and-comers. There’s a lot to look forward to up front.
But one player often forgotten about is Vadim Shipachyov, a Russian superstar the team signed back in May. Shipachyov, a 30-year-old native of Cherepovets, has become one of the top playmaking centers in Russia and figures to play an enormous role for the Golden Knights in his debut NHL season.
The 6-foot, 187-pound center has spent 12 years playing in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (formerly known as the Russian Superleague), commonly regarded as the second-best hockey league on the planet. Shipachyov began his KHL career with Severstal Cherepovets, where he registered 70 goals and 191 points in eight seasons. In 2013, however, Shipachyov joined SKA Saint Petersburg and took his play to a whole new level.
In just four seasons with SKA Saint Petersburg, he scored 67 goals and 222 points with an average of over a point per game.
Last season was especially impressive for Shipachyov, recording career-highs in goals (26) and assists (50), cementing himself as an elite playmaker.
While those numbers are certainly impressive, he now has to take on the difficult task of adjusting to the North American game. The NHL is a completely different monster. The ice is smaller, the players are better and the skill gap is narrowed significantly. Luckily, he’s shown all the tools that point to a prosperous NHL tenure.
What makes Shipachyov such an impactful player is his on-ice awareness. On this power-play opportunity, he finds a soft spot with an open lane to the puck carrier and rips a one-timer past the netminder. Shipachyov made this play look effortless, but having the patience and recognition to find that sweet spot can be a lot harder than it looks.
Despite his wicked shot, Shipachyov is a “pass-first” forward. This can be frustrating, but Shipachyov is very good at reading the play and has a terrific understanding of when to shoot or pass. Here, he picks up a primary assist in ravishing fashion. On the odd man rush, linemate Artemi Panarin finds Shipachyov in the slot for a terrific scoring chance. While most players would go for the shot, Shipachyov opts to dish the puck off to Evgeny Dadonov, who easily slams the puck past the helpless goaltender. Textbook.
Shipachyov is also extremely creative. Here, you’ll see him receive a pass and immediately backhand it to his linemate. With the goaltender focused on the puck carrier, he is able to continue his momentum into an unmanned part of the ice, receive a clean pass and easily tip the puck into a wide open net. Too easy.
The Golden Knights have Shipachyov locked up on a two-year contract with an average annual value of $4.5 million. Clearly, Vegas believes Shipachyov is an extremely talented player. It remains to be seen if his skills translate to the NHL, but it’s hard not to be at least a little excited about the skills he brings to the table.
Considering his patience, precision and veteran savvy, there’s no reason to believe Shipachyov won’t run away with the Golden Knights’ first-line center job. If this ends up being the case, Vegas could have a top line consisting of Shipachyov, James Neal and David Perron.