Pavel Karnaukhov won’t have to travel far to carve out a career in the National Hockey League. He can drag his gear 30 feet down the hall, from the locker room of the Calgary Hitmen to that of the Calgary Flames.
The Flames made Karnaukhov, 18, their third pick (No. 136) in the 2015 NHL Draft.
“I like Calgary and I like Calgary’s people so much,” Karnaukhov told CalgaryFlames.com. “I like the city. It’s an amazing place. I would like to play for the Calgary Flames and the Calgary Hitmen is a good team too. It’s one system and it’s awesome.”
In 69 games as a rookie in the Western Hockey League in 2014-15, Karnaukhov — the 56th overall selection in the 2014 CHL Import Draft — recorded 20 goals and 22 assists. The Minsk, Belarus native was ranked 118th among North American skaters by Central Scouting heading into the draft.
After being a member of the Hitmen, Karnaukhov is now also property of the Flames.
“It’s always so good, it’s unbelievable,” he said.
“It’s a good feeling because I would like to stay in Calgary and play for the Calgary Hitmen and the Calgary Flames is probably the best for me.”
Karnaukhov’s game rounded out as his comfort level grew in Calgary.
By the time the Hitmen advanced to the WHL’s Eastern Conference Championship series versus the Brandon Wheat Kings, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound centre became a key cog for Calgary, blending two-way play with offence and grit.
“He’s a big kid,” Flames director of amateur scouting Tod Button said. “He can play left wing or centre. I’ve seen him play both. He’s a strong kid and he looks like he has a lot of room to grow. He scored 20 goals as an import coming in here this year which isn’t an easy adjustment. We really like Pavel and the way he progressed from the start of the year. We couldn’t find anything negative about him.”
Another endorsement from Hitmen president of hockey operations and alternate governor Kelly Kisio put Calgary over the top on Karnaukhov.
“The one thing that tipped it for us, tipped it in his favour was talking to Kelly Kisio and his Hitmen people,” Button said. “We have a high regard for Kelly and his staff and what they do there and Kelly said you get a chance to take this guy and you’re not going wrong. That was basically the final straw. We liked him anyway, but when you get an endorsement from a guy like Kelly Kisio, that carries a lot of weight.”
Karnaukhov didn’t disagree with the scouting report.
“I think I’m a super aggressive player,” said Karnaukhov, who had 11 points in 17 games for the Hitmen in the playoffs. “Usually, I am playing hard and I play like a playmaker.”
It’s a style he hopes he can one day bring to the Flames.
And on his draft day, Karnaukhov is excited by the thought.
“My feeling is good,” he said. “It’s probably the best for me playing for the Calgary Hitmen and now Calgary Flames is one city. I like Calgary’s people. Playing in one rink it’s probably the best. I like it.
“I would like to play for the Calgary Flames.”