Passed over twice, Ruslan Gazizov strengthens his NHL Draft stake at the Memorial Cup

Heading into the 2024 Memorial Cup, many were looking for NHL Draft-eligible prospects such as Saginaw Spirit defenseman Zayne Parekh, Sam Dickinson and Sam O’Reilly of the London Knights.

However, one player who isn’t that high on everyone’s draft board proves he has a lot to offer.

London Knights forward Ruslan Gazizov is currently listed as 192nd among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. The overager has been passed over twice, but he is back on the radar after the great season he has had with London.

The Memorial Cup was a great opportunity for Gazizov to play on a big stage, and he has wasted little time in making an impression. He scored twice, including the winning goal, in London’s 4-0 win against the QMJHL champion Drummondville Voltigeurs last Saturday, his best game of the tournament.

Gazizov also scored the Knights’ first goal against the Moose Jaw Warriors on Monday as part of a 5-4 victory. He was one of four players to score three goals during the round-robin.

The Russian winger admits that the environment and intensity of playing in the Memorial Cup has made it an enriching experience.

“Great atmosphere with the four best teams in junior hockey,” said Gazizov. “It’s really competitive, so it feels like every day is an opportunity to prove yourself.”

Gazizov came to London after being selected in the first round of the OHL Import Draft in 2021. Despite leaving his family, he admits London was the perfect place for him to settle down.

“(It was an) unforgettable experience,” Gazizov said. “I came here at the age of 17. Learned a new culture, a new language. I met my new teammates and it was excellent.”

Early in his OHL stint, the Omsk native’s production was fine, but nothing special, with 76 points to his name. Yet something changed for the twenty-year-old this season. His confidence has grown, especially while playing on a line with Philadelphia Flyers prospect Denver Barkey and Winnipeg Jets draft pick Jacob Julien. Gazizov scored 36 goals and 45 assists for 81 points, by far a career-best, and finished third on the Knights in scoring behind Barkey and Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Easton Cowan.

He admits he has had another rough start to the 2023-24 season, but the patience of coach Dale Hunter and his teammates has allowed him to flourish.

I just trusted my coaches and teammates and got better as the year went on,” Gazizov said. “(Hunter) taught me the defensive side of the game. My defensive game has improved enormously in the three years I have worked in London. He helps guys transition from junior to pro.”

Gazizov believes some aspects of his skills will translate to the next level.

“I am a key player. I can help my team win games. “I want to bring a winning mentality to the rink every day and be an asset to every team,” he said. “I believe in my hockey IQ and my passing skills. My vision is one of my strongest points, and it would work in the pros.”

With his finishing touch, Gazizov’s shot has been on display all year. It’s a shot that Knights netminder Michael Simpson has seen quite a few times in practice.

“He’s been a big player for us during the playoffs and the regular season,” Simpson said. “He has a good shot and likes to score. So if you hold him back (in practice), you like to let him know about it a little.”

While he may not have been as efficient in the playoffs, Gazizov still scored seven goals and 14 points in 15 appearances, helping the Knights capture their first OHL championship since 2016. He scored four goals and six points in the final series against the Oshawa Generals. .

With a season-long coming-out party, Gazizov hopes the dominoes fall into place and he’s taken by a team in next month’s NHL Draft.

“I just hope for the best. I feel like I have done everything I can to help my team win games. Now we just wait and see.”

The Knights will face the Saginaw Spirit in the championship game on Sunday night at 7:00 PM ET, another chance for Gazizov to make another lasting memory.

“It is a dream of every kid playing junior hockey in Canada to play in this tournament. Not everyone gets the chance to be here and to be in the final tomorrow is special. I can not wait.”