About the League
The story of the youngest 2021/2022 Gagarin Cup winner.
18-year-old defenseman Vladimir Grudinin did not manage to win the Kharlamov Cup with Krasnaya Armiya, but won the Gagarin Cup with CSKA. The Moscow team defeated Metallurg Magnitogorsk in Game 7, and Grudinin got his first trophy at the senior level.
The young player first came into the spotlight during the 2021 Karjala Cup. The defenseman was 17 when he appeared in Finnish stage of the Euro Hockey Tour. SKA-1946 forward Matvei Michkov was the most noticeable player at the tournament, he scored a lacrosse-style goal, but Vladimir also played well.
Grudinin was born in Angarsk. Their local team Yermak has long been one of the most well attended teams in the Supreme Hockey League. The club is also known for its alumni: Alexander Popov (after winning the KHL playoffs, Grudinin took some pictures with the famous fellow countryman and the Gagarin Cup), Sergei Krivokrasov and Dmitry Voronkov.
“I cannot say that the conditions were poor. We practiced a lot on the ice, which is the most important thing. Yermak plays in the Siberia - Far East region. The number one difficulty is long and tiresome trips. The shortest trip was to Krasnoyarsk – 16 hours by train. We were travelling by train a lot. On the other hand, the good thing was that we were able to travel a great deal.” the defenseman said about his first team in an interview with Sport24.
CSKA scouts noticed Grudinin when he played in the final of the Championship of Russia among athletes born in 2003. They invited the 14-year-old defenseman to Moscow. As Vladimir once said, going to Moscow by himself at the age of 14 was not scary, especially since his friend Nichukhrin Daniil (currently playing for Mikhailov Academy) was also invited.
The first major tournament the defenseman participated in was the 2021 U18 World Championship. A great generation of players went to Texas to represent Russia: Matvei Michkov, Ivan Miroshnichenko, Danila Yurov, Fyodor Svechkov, Nikita Chibrikov. Grudinin scored five points, and was the top point producing defenseman of the national team. He scored a goal assisted by Michkov in the finals, but it did not help the national team - Canada won the tournament.
The defenseman believed that his team did not deserve to lose. In an interview with Izvestiya, he said: “I think we played a good game against Canada, we narrowly failed to win. We allowed some unlucky goals that we could have avoided. However, they scored in the second period. As for me, we were stronger and we should have won that final."
In the 2021/2022 season, Grudinin became a talent moving around three leagues and three teams. After 46 games played in his debut season, Grudinin appeared in just 36 games in the 2021/2022 season, even though he played for CSKA, Zvezda, and Krasnaya Armiya.
After the 2021 U18 World Championship, Grudinin made his debut for the senior team (Karjala Cup in November) sooner than for the junior team (in December). Being one year younger than the majority of the Russian national team’s players born in 2002, Grudinin was still one of the leading defensemen at the World Championship in Red Deer, the remainder of which was cancelled. In recent years, the Russian team doesn’t aim at being comprised of players of the maximum age.
Having played for the national team, Grudinin attracted the attention of foreign journalists and scouts. Here is, for example, how DobberProspects scout Zack Szweras characterizes the player: “Vladimir Grudinin is an example of the high-flying modern-day defenseman. He shows patience with the puck and the passing awareness to find teammates in all areas on the ice. In the game against Switzerland at the WJC he was being pressured in his own end and was able to chip the puck to center ice past three opposing players to his teammate. In the JHL and KHL, Grudinin has shied away from getting involved down low offensively, potentially due to the style of play requested by CSKA. At the national team level, he used his high-end mobility and puck skills to advance the play in the offensive end. Grudinin is able to use his mobility to join his teammate for a two-on-two.”, the scout stated.
In the JHL playoffs (in games against SKA-1946, for instance), Grudinin could often been seen advancing the play in the offensive end. The coaches let him play in 4-on-4 format. With some space created, the defenseman can cut off the opposing players with great panache to make an offensive zone entry.
With that said, Grudinin is still a defenseman. His size (177cm/72kg) speaks to the fact that he is an offensive-minded player, but he would hardly rank high if he did not have defensive skills. It would be difficult for him to play based on strength and physical game, but with a good hockey sense, the main thing is to read plays. Grudinin himself admitted that he was trying to model himself after former CSKA player Mat Robinson, an undersized player who managed to grow from an attacking player into a well-rounded defenseman who played for Team Canada at the 2022 Olympics.
Journalists point out the desire of the hockey player to defend not only by being physical. “Grudinin is excellent in his own zone. When defending against the rush, he is efficient at preventative defensive measures. He deploys great tight gap control along the half-wall boards and stays well-aligned with the puck carrying attacker. His active stick has also allowed him to knock players off of the puck when they are both going for a loose puck. In situations where Grudinin didn’t have the speed to get to the puck, his active stick has proven to be a good plan B to cause disruption.” writes Josh Tessler, Smaht Scouting author.
In the 2021/2022 season, Vladimir won the Gagarin Cup. Even though Grudinin wasn’t getting a lot of ice time in games against Metallurg and played mainly the last minutes when the game was already decided, the very fact that the young defenseman out-competed all other junior team players and got a spot in the main team’s lineup is really cool.
In the 2022/2023 season, KHL teams will most likely be getting younger, and KHL Junior Hockey Development Vice-President Alexander Guskov listed Grudinin as one of the young players to get a chance to play, as well as Viktor Neuchev from Avto and Nikita Grebyonkin from Stalnye Lisy: “These guys got a chance to play and next season the management will have them in mind. It is not always possible to become a full-time player at once, we do understand it, but they have already deserved call-ups, which means they proved themselves worthy.”