Silayev, Levshunov lead loaded 2024 defensive NHL Draft class
Seven defencemen make up TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s top 12 for the 2024 NHL Draft and for good reason.
Button projects all seven defencemen to have top pairing potential at the NHL level. Three of those seven, Sam Dickinson, Zayne Parekh and Carter Yakemchuk, recently put their talents on display at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Moncton, N.B., on Jan. 24.
However, four of those seven are plying their trade elsewhere in the hockey world, including the top two defencemen on his January list in Anton Silayev (No. 3) and Artyom Levshunov (No. 4), who are playing in the KHL and NCAA respectively this season.
Silayev has been skating in a regular role for Torpedo this season in the KHL under Hockey Hall of Famer Igor Larionov. The 17-year-old is 6-foot-7 and 211 pounds and was ranked No. 2 on TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie’s mid-season draft ranking.
While it would be easy to draw a comparison between Silayev and former Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara (6-foot-9) because of the height, Button sees another Norris Trophy winner as a comparable for the young Russian.
“I see a lot of similarities with the skating, the range of play, the way he defends and the way he handles things from an overall point of view to Victor Hedman,” said Button. “Silayev’s skating is outstanding.
“Silayev, like Hedman, is not worried about impressing anybody. He’s just going to play; he’s not worried about showing himself off. He’s just a really good hockey player and at 17 years of age, I can’t imagine where he’ll be at 20.”
Levshunov is the third-youngest player in college hockey this season and has continued to impress with Michigan State, racking up seven goals and 26 points in 26 games this season as a freshman. Button notes some scouts believe the Zhoblin, Belarus native might be the most NHL-ready player in the draft.
The 18-year-old spent last season with the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League, where Button first saw Levshunov turn in a standout performance against the USNTDP.
“I’m watching the first period of the game in Plymouth and I’m thinking to myself, ‘this guy plays like he’s 22-years-old at this level,’” Button remembers. “So mature, by the end of the second period I was filled with notes on the subtleties in his game and the nuances. By the end of the game, I’m walking out of there and I can’t wait to come and watch him the next night.
“His abilities playing the game, passing the puck, closing, jumping up and getting the shot off at the right time. I call them subtleties and nuances but it’s also why he can play such big minutes. There’s almost no wasted energy. Everything is purposeful and efficient.
“There’s such a precision in his game. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t make mistakes. But he’s going to get that puck and he wants to make sure that puck is [in a] great position for the guy he wants getting it, he wants to make sure that shot gets through and onto the net where the goaltender has a challenge.”
With the IIHF upholding their ban of Russia and Belarus due to the invasion of Ukraine, neither Silayev nor Levshunov skated at the World Juniors and will not appear at the U18s in the spring.
Despite the lack of viewings on big stages against their peers, Button has seen enough to have them as his top two defencemen in the 2024 draft.
“Their potential certainly gives you the confidence to say No. 1 defenceman is possible,” said Button of the duo’s respective ceilings.
At No. 9 on Button’s list is Adam Jiricek, who is out for the remainder of the season after suffering a knee injury in Czechia’s first game at the World Juniors. He is the younger brother of Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman David Jiricek, who was selected sixth overall in 2022.
Before his injury, Jiricek was skating in the Czech Extraliga this season with HC Plzen and he already has extensive international experience, skating at the U17s, U18s and World Juniors.
Button doesn’t believe Jiricek will be an elite offensive producing defenceman at the next level but one that will find ways to contribute.
“I think Adam is just such a good, well-rounded player, somebody that regardless, you know is going to go out on the ice, find a way to contribute and make a difference in the game,” said Button. “He can play big minutes, he can play against really good, hard opponents, and he's up to the challenges.
“I really believe that Adam can be that defenceman that you're not going to spend a lot of time in your own zone. The puck is coming out. Forwards are going to love playing with him because the puck is on their stick. He’s going to be able to play in the offensive zone and contribute offensively.”
Of this group of defencemen, Zeev Buium (No. 11) is one that has taken full advantage of every opportunity he has had this season. At Denver, Buium leads all defencemen in scoring in the NCAA this season as a freshman with seven goals and 33 points in 24 games.
At the World Juniors, he had three goals and five points in seven games as he helped the United States win the gold medal as the lone draft-eligible player on the roster.
“I think Zeev has a game eerily similar to Miro Heiskanen,” said Button. “And Zeev can dance on the blades. He can dance defensively, offensively, in transition. Excellent skater [with] his ability, the footwork, agility, leverage, speed, quickness, and the quick turns.”