Photo Credit: HC Avangard
Mikhail Gulyayev is a 2023 NHL Draft eligible prospect, who hails from Novosibirsk, Russia and plays in the Avangard Omsk system. Gulyayev’s father, Alexander played hockey in Russia in the early 1990’s and has coached Mikhail during his time with the Avangard youth teams.
This season, Gulyayev has played in the MHL (Russian junior hockey), VHL (Russian minor hockey) and the KHL. As you would expect, he put up quite a bit of production in junior play but played more conservatively when called up to the VHL and KHL levels. But, Gulyayev has shined in the VHL and KHL levels in his own zone. His defensive pressure has stayed consistent no matter the level.
D.O.B – April 26, 2005
Nationality – Russian
Draft Eligibility – 2023
Weight –170 lbs
Position – Defense
Handedness – Left
Gulyayev’s Style of Play
When Gulyayev has the puck in his zone, he can be very conservative with his play and generally stays at the point. It doesn’t seem to matter what level Gulyayev is at. If he has open space in front of him that he can use to get around pressure (from a distance), he still won’t budge. Instead of pinching up to get himself closer to the perimeter, he is resorting to taking shot after shot from the blue line. Gulyayev doesn’t have as much control of his shot from the point and thus you’ll see him struggle with getting shots on net. Quite a few of his shots end up going wide. While he does take a good volume of shots from the blue line, he does a good job with toeing the line using his crossovers. By toeing the line, he shifts laterally along the blue line to get himself in a centered position with enough separation for him to take a shot towards net front. With all of that said, most of Gulyayev’s 5v5 points are primary assists on re-directed goals.
While he doesn’t usually pinch up when he has the puck, if he doesn’t have the puck and the loose puck is rolling up towards the blue line, he does a good job of pinching up to the puck to keep the puck in the zone. If its a tight battle to get his mitts on the puck, he looks to push the puck towards the corner.
When Gulyayev is shooting off the rush, he struggles with scanning and fails to identify shooting lanes with enough of a gap for him to get the puck through. That leads to quite a few shots getting blocked. I would like to see Gulyayev change his approach when pressure closes in on him. He has the mobility to shift around pressure, but he isn’t using it. Honestly, I don’t care if Gulyayev gives up the puck every now and then when shifting around the attacker covering him. I want him to take a stab at using his mobility to net separation. Once he has the separation, he’s proven that he has the speed to peel away.
Gulyayev is quite good with his distribution. He has excellent power in his cross ice passes and gets the puck to his target rather quickly. He’ll look to complete cross ice feeds to teammates in a backdoor position. But, most of his distribution is coming from the point and not pinching up. There are a few shifts in every game where he is less conservative and pinches up to make a pass to the slot, but it’s not as consistent as you’d like it to be.
If he does intend to be more of a conservative defenseman when it comes to pinching, I would like to see Gulyayev work on manipulating his opponents by drawing attackers who are puck watching to one side. After he pulls the attackers to one side, he can then create a passing lane to utilize. For instance, in the clip below, you will watch him settle for a low danger shot on net. But, I’d like to see him try to fake the shot, shift left, pull the attack and complete a cross ice pass to #28 in white.
Gulyayev is very good defensively and has excellent gap control. He stays well-aligned to puck movement in low danger. No matter what league he is in (KHL, VHL and MHL), he’s quick to adjust to puck movement and maintains his positioning nicely in the corners. While he is mobile, shifty and always on guard, he isn’t shutting down play. He isn’t using his physicality to truly trap attackers. Instead, he looks to apply enough pressure to keep the opponent skating around in low danger, but doesn’t completely trap the attacker.
His positioning is quite good. For instance, when his defensive partner deviates and attends to puck movement in the opposite corner, Gulyayev quickly shifts to cover the slot. But, should he find himself out of position, he has the foot speed to get himself back into position to defend against puck movement.
Gulyayev does have an active stick and extends his stick out to trap attackers along the boards and when they are approaching the perimeter. He will push his stick blade out towards the attacker who has possession of the puck to keep the attacker further back. It doesn’t matter what league he is in, Gulyayev is quite assertive with his active stick deployment and he uses it quite nicely to instill traps.
Not only does Gulyayev have a great active stick, but he tracks pucks well and has great reaction timing. He does a good job of identifying the precise moment to extend out his stick an intercept passes.
In a 2 on 2 situation, where the oppositional puck carrier is skating through the face-off circle in low danger (Gulyayev’s teammate is covering the puck carrier) and a teammate of the attacker provides a passing option in medium danger, Gulyayev will extend his stick blade out to eliminate the attacker as a passing option for the oppositional puck carrier. Gulyayev will do a good job of maintaining presence and knows that he can deploy his stick in the other direction to shut down the oppositional puck carrier should the carrier move into the slot.
When it comes to puck retrievals, he needs to be faster to the puck. It’s not that he doesn’t have the speed to get to the loose puck, it’s the opposite. He has the speed, but he is slowing down and coasting before capturing the puck. Since he is slowing down, the attacker who is also vying for the puck can close in and force Gulyayev to quickly pass the puck after retrieval. With that said, when an attacker is behind him and Gulyayev is now vulnerable, he is forced to pass the puck along the boards towards the red line. I’ll discuss this a bit more in the skating section.
Gulyayev utilizes the boards quite regularly when he looks to pass and there is an attacker who is standing in front of him to separate Gulyayev from his teammate further down in the Avangard defensive zone. But, should Gulyayev be at more of a centered position on the rush (not along the half-wall boards) and pressure intensifies, he’ll complete saucer passes to get the puck through tight gaps. He is a solid stretch passer as well and can complete long range passes with ease.
In his KHL sample, I’ve found him to be very conservative and timid with his zone exit methods. Even when he has space to activate and quickly get into stride, he doesn’t and opts to immediately pass. For instance, look at how much space he has here and still looks to pass.
As mentioned a few times throughout the scouting report, he does a great job of staying well aligned to puck carriers no matter the zone or level. It’s no different in the neutral zone. He will deploy quality edges and crossovers to keep pace. If he isn’t in the same lane as the puck carrier when the carrier enters into the neutral zone and is in more of a centered position at open ice, he will use his crossovers to move himself laterally.
Should he be a bit further away by the time the attacker gets in range, Gulyayev will use an active stick in a last ditch effort. He’ll extend his stick out to slow down the rush.
In tight loose puck battles at open ice in the neutral zone, you will see Gulyayev widen his stance when he has the upper hand on the puck to ensure that he can capture the puck cleanly.
At times, Gulyayev decides to intensify his pressure when in the neutral zone and looks to pounce on a puck carrier immediately after they cross the blue line. You don’t usually see a defenseman be that assertive and it’s interesting to see Gulyayev want to be assertive with taking away space when on the flip side when he has the puck and open space in front of him he tends to be less assertive.
I’ll talk about this a bit next in the skating section, but when Gulyayev has the puck on his stick in the neutral zone, he has the skating speed to get around pressure and drive up into the offensive zone. But, more regularly than not, you will see Gulyayev complete a zone exit pass in his own zone instead of driving the rush through the neutral zone.
Gulyayev manufactures excellent speed with his crossovers and lengthy stride extensions. When under pressure, he leverages both his crossovers and straight line extensions to net the speed that he needs to blast by the attacker.
As I mentioned in the defensive section, there are plenty of instances in which Gulyayev is chasing after loose pucks, but stops short. When stopping short, he ends up coasting towards the puck and that allows the attacker also vying for the puck to sneak up on Gulyayev to give him no room once Gulyayev captures the puck. I’d like to see Gulyayev work on keeping his feet moving towards the puck instead of slowing down. If he does, he will win loose pucks, escape and drive up the ice with the puck.
His activation off of pivots allows him to keep strong pressure when facing a puck carrier who is trying to pivot out of pressure. His activation allows him to stay toe to toe with the opponent. In scenarios in which Gulyayev slightly out of position or when there is a drastic change in puck movement, he will activate his speed nicely off of the hop.
Gulyayev has the mobility and the speed to be productive off of the rush, but isn’t really using his mobility to generate open ice for himself. With that said, he really needs to get out of his comfort zone and stop settling for low danger shots. I do believe that the mobility is there and he just needs to deploy it. But, every other facet of his game is well-rounded.
Even if he doesn’t use his mobility more and plays more of a conservative game at the NHL level, he will still earn plenty of minutes because of his defensive pressure, but he won’t have as big of a role. I do see Gulyayev playing in a top four defensive role, but if he doesn’t end up using his mobility more and more, he will likely end moving up and down in the lineup. But, at the same point, Gulyayev has been trained to play more conservatively like quite a few Russian defensemen and there are NHL teams that are looking for more conservative defensemen. Some teams will want Gulyayev to use his mobility and some might ask him to stay put along the blue line in the offensive zone.
He can be an asset on the power play at the NHL level with how well he toes the line to open up space for himself when an attacker is present, but he still needs the mobility to pinch up and drive play into / towards the slot.
May 11, 2023
stats from InStat and EliteProspects
Prospect report written by Josh Tessler. If you would like to follow Josh on Twitter, his handle is @JoshTessler_.
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