Artyom Levshunov’s journey to NHL draft has him projected as a top-five pick

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Artyom Levshunov hoped to play juniors in the Canadian Hockey League, knowing it could lead to his dreams of becoming a professional hockey player.

However, because of CHL rules restricting Belarussians and Russians from competing because of the war in Ukraine, he had no other choice but to go the USHL and U.S. college route, if he wanted to develop his game in North America.

All leagues aside, Levshunov’s Plan B proved a success. The 18-year-old Michigan State defenseman enters the NHL draft on Friday projected to be a top-five pick, with the chance to be taken as early as second overall by the Chicago Blackhawks.

“I think we’ll see,” Levshunov said when asked where he might be selected. “I mean, I think, for me, actually, just to be drafted in the NHL would be really like pretty cool for me. Yeah. Any team will be good for me.”

At 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, the smooth-skating, playmaking defenseman has the chance of becoming the fourth player from Belarus chosen in the first round, and first since Montreal selected forward Andrei Kostitsyn 10th in 2003. No player from Belarus has been selected higher than defenseman Ruslan Salei, who went ninth to Anaheim in 1996.

Levshunov is ranked second among North American skaters by the NHL Central Scouting bureau, and made his mark in his North American debut with USHL Green Bay in 2022-23 by finishing eighth among league rookies with 42 points (13 goals, 29 assists) in 62 games.

At Michigan State, he’s coming off a freshman season in which he scored nine goals, and finished second on the Spartans with 26 assists and 35 points. He finished tied for ninth among NCAA defensemen in points while also being selected as the Big Ten Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.

He helped the Spartans win Big Ten regular-season and postseason titles.

“I came here to the U.S. because, yeah, it’s just my dream to be in NHL,” Levshunov said. “I spent one season there (in the USHL) and went to college and I think, yeah, it worked for me.”

The dual threat of swift skating and high-end puck skills combine nicely with his size and strength, all of which have many believing he is ready to make an immediate jump into the NHL.

He wasn’t ready to commit to the NHL this season, or being definitive about returning to college, as he said, “I think first I should be drafted. Then we’ll see.” He also acknowledged it may take time to prepare for the NHL and he won’t know until he speaks to his camp.

“Of course, I would like to be there as soon as possible, as soon as I’m ready,” said Levshunov, who was selected to the USHL All-Rookie team in 2022-23. “Because, yeah, it’s dream. It’s a dream to be there, to play there.”

Levshunov, who has proven he brings efficiency in the defensive zone with an excellent grasp of positioning and coverage, attributes his aggressiveness as someone who won’t hesitate to jump into plays or challenge forwards with a steady backward stride to defend against rushes to his dedication in the gym.

Whether it’s conditioning, stretching, mobility, weightlifting, or speed workouts, Levshunov is a self-proclaimed gym rat.

“I like to work out,” he said. “I like to be in the gym, because hockey is a tough sport and I gotta stay strong on the ice. I love to be in the gym.”

And the first player he would like to “stuff one-on-one” by putting his toughness to the test during his debut season?

“I think you know the answer,” he said. “Yeah, I think is the best forward in the league, at this point right now, is Connor McDavid. There’s a lot of good players in the NHL.”

And Levshunov’s journey to becoming one of them continues Friday night at the Sphere, which will host its first sports-related event since its opening.

“It feels more real now, it feels more like a dream,” he said. “I saw the videos how (the Sphere is) gonna look like inside and outside. My face will be around Las Vegas.”



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