For the first time in its Road To The Young series KHL.RU takes a closer look at a player who hasn’t a single Kontinental Hockey League game under his belt. Omskie Yastreby forward Artyom Manukyan enjoyed over a 100 points in Junior Hockey League and set a new single-season scoring record. How did he do that?
Previously, we told you about Avangard’s Ilya Dervuk and CSKA’s Danila Kvartalnov. The latter went to the 2017 World Junior Championship with Team Russia, winning bronze.
18-year-old Artyom Manukyan hasn’t played a single game in the Kontinental Hockey League yet. The pinnacle of his career so far is JHL where he’s played for Omskie Yastreby for three years. This regular season he scored 105 points (39 goals, 66 assists)! This is a fantastic result and a Junior Hockey League record. However, Omskie Yastreby missed the playoffs.
Мanukyan is a product of Omsk junior hockey school. His father moved to Siberia from Armenia and brought Artyom and his brother Tigran to a famous Topoliny Ice Palace in Omsk. As Artyom said himself, his father bought a single set of equipment at first and it was Tigran who got it. His brother, who would go on to set a JHL record, didn’t do so well in the beginning. Nevertheless, his father went on to buy another set of equipment and the brothers hit the ice together. Artyom Manukyan was first assigned to an older group but then joined his peers. For him the most important tournament of those years was Gazprom Neft Cup.
- You played at Gazprom Neft Cup when you were 10 years old. What do you remember about the tournament?
- We didn’t play in Omsk, as we do now, but in Salekhard and it was still a great tournament! We even came in second. Obviously, we were very happy because we understood it was a serious tournament. Winning was exciting but so was just playing there. Certainly, everything keeps getting better but I’m sure the kids still enjoy competing for the cup.
- Would you say that tournament was the gateway to professional hockey for you?
- I think it’s fair to say that. It was my first tournament with so many fans in the stands. That’s what gets you going and makes it exciting. You also learn how to play under pressure, pull yourself together and it helps you a lot down the road. Obviously, we were kids back then and didn’t take it that seriously. But looking back now, I understand that the tournament gave us a lot.
- Do you follow the tournament now?
- I do. A couple of teammates and I even go to the games and cheer for our guys if we have time. I really like it that the kids do their best even though they can’t do much due to their young age. But they give it a 100%, they battle and they play to win – it’s great to see that!
- When you were a kid, what world star did you look up to?
- I’ve always liked Alexander Ovechkin, Sergei Mozyakin and Alexander Radulov. Sure, they are all very different players but they all have their signature traits. For example, you can learn to be calm like Mozyakin. He does everything with a lot of confidence.
In the 2014-15 season Manukyan made his debut in the Junior Hockey League. Avangard coaching staff dressed the 16-year-old forward for 43 games where he scored 11 goals and 12 assists for 23 points. On September 3rd, 2014 Manukyan played his first JHL game against Ladiya and scored his very first JHL goal. Next season he played 42 games, scoring 11 goals and 17 assists for 28 points. And then the unthinkable happened! He scored 105 (!) points in 60 regular season games this year.
Manukyan didn’t make Team Russia roster for the 2017 World Junior Championship. However, he still has a shot of making Valery Bragin’s team. Manukyan was born in 1998 and thus he is eligible for the 2018 World Juniors.
- What memories do you have from playing for U17 Team Russia?
- The tournament was in Minsk. It was my first tournament for Team Russia. I was given a lot of ice-time. I also have good memories from the Youth Olympics but I didn’t play much there.
- Do hold any grudges against Valery Bragin for not inviting you to the World Juniors camp?
- To be honest with you, I expected to be invited. I was told that professional hockey experience is very important for him. I don’t have that experience so there’s nothing to be surprised about. My goal next season is to get a regular spot on the big club and make it to the World Juniors.
Manukyan right now
No played had scored more than 92 in a single Junior Hockey League season. Manukyan scored points in 46 games. His personal high was five points in a game and he achieved it three times – in home games against Kuznetskie Medvedi, Mamonty Yugry and Tyumensky Legion.
In October 2016 he managed to score 28 points in 14 games. It was the most productive month for Manukyan. There is no Junior Hockey League team Manukyan didn’t score at least a point against this season. And yet his team still missed the playoffs due to defensive problems. Omskie Yastreby allowed 182 goals. The teams that made the post-season did much better defensively.
- What’s your take on the season? Omskie Yasterby missed the playoffs but you set JHL scoring record.
- It was a bad season. I’m not happy with it. We had to do better. Individual achievements are great but the team is more important. We have a young group of players. Sometimes we weren’t at our best and sometimes we were just unlucky. On top of that we had huge defensive problems. We have young defensemen on Omskie Yastreby – that played its role, too. I think they’re going to get better once they’ve gained experience.
- What does setting JHL scoring record mean to you?
- I haven’t really thought about it. Lately I wasn’t even checking the statistics. I just went out on the ice, played hockey and did it well. It’s hard to say why everything seemed to go my way… I had a good pre-season. Perhaps, that was the reason. And, obviously, luck. You won’t go far without it.
- Do you see yourself as the leader of the team?
- I’ve been on this team for three years. I have a bigger responsibility now. I always help young players. I always have to step up and find the right words at the bench during the game and in the dressing-room in the intermission. That’s just the way it is.
- Your upsides as a hockey player are plain to see. What shortcomings do you feel you need to get rid off and what should you improve?
- I have to get stronger and bigger. Other than that – I have to work on everything equally.
- What are your expectations for next season? What goals do you set for yourself?
- I want to try myself in professional hockey because so far I haven’t played a game in either KHL or VHL. Right now I don’t know where I’m going to play next year. I have always dreamt of playing for Avangard. It’s my hometown team. Although, I want to play professional hockey – anywhere I can.
- Why didn’t Avangard coaching staff call you up this season?
- I haven’t even practiced with Avangard. Why? That’s a question for the coaching staff. They didn’t like something about me. I’m always ready to play for the big club.
“[Manukyan’s] biggest asset is his skill,” says Artyom Batrak, Kharlamov Cup champion and KHL-TV commentator. “It’s plain to see if you just follow Junior Hockey League on Twitter. Almost every week they tweet Manukyan’s masterpieces. I’ve seen a lot of his goals. I’ve seen him undressed have of the team to score a goal. He also has a great hockey IQ but you have to keep in mind that he plays in the Junior Hockey League. It’s one thing to deliver in JHL and it gets much harder in the KHL. However, Artyom has a head on his shoulders – he understands how to play the puck under pressure. As for his shot, it’s very good by JHL standards. Artyom scored a lot of goals because he knows how to shoot the puck.
“Why didn’t Valery Bragin invite Manukyan for the World Juniors camp? In recent years only players with professional hockey experience get a place on his team – at the very least, you need to have VHL experience. Manukyan didn’t have that experience. He played this season only for Omskie Yastreby, which isn’t enough for Bragin. It’s hard to say why Avangard coaching staff didn’t call him up for the final games of the regular season. Manukyan lacks size, he has a very mediocre frame. Although, a lot of people with his size do well on both sides of the pond. Besides, he’s in the system of one of the top KHL teams. Avangard have a great team and it’s difficult to crack the roster.
“I think, Manukyan is ready to play in a professional league next season. He’s too good for the JHL. His numbers in the JHL are fantastic. But unless Artyom will improve physically, it’s not likely we’re going to see him in KHL next season. Perhaps, he will train with Avangard in the pre-season and then go on to play in the VHL.”