Islanders Ruslan Iskhakov and why he decided to go pro now

New York Islanders prospect Ruslan Iskhakov is set to begin his professional career in Finland, here’s what he had to say about the decision.

They call him the Moscow Wizard or Mr. Magic, or the Magic man. New York Islanders 2018 second-round pick Ruslan Iskhakov has only been with Finnish side TPS for a few weeks but already the team is loving the Isles prospect.

And how could they not? As teams in Finland ramp up their preparations for the regular season, TPS is part of not only a 3v3 tournament with five other Finnish sides, but they’ve begun full team preseason games.

In seven games so far in that 3v3 tournament, Ruslan Iskhakov has eight points (two goals and six helpers). He and Oilers Jesse Puljujarvi are tied as the tournament’s top scorer.

In eight preseason games outside of the 3v3 tournament, Iskhakov has added another seven points with two goals and five helpers.

Again, how could TPS not love their new forward? I caught up with Iskhakov to ask him about his new stint in Europe.

First Call

Over the summer, rather than return to UConn for his sophomore year, Iskhakov decided to go pro and signed a one year deal with Liiga side TPS. The Isles second-round pick from 2018 was frank as to why he chose TPS:

TPS was the first (to show interest in me). I didn’t want to miss the opportunity and I signed a contract pretty quickly. Obvisouly I was thinking about the Swedish league and the KHL but one of my goals is to get to the NHL as soon as possible and the Liiga is the best option for me to get to the NHL. It’s one of the best leagues in Europe it’s a great chance to show my best this year.

It was a surprise that Iskhakov decided to go pro so soon. After two years at UConn, the Russian forward had become a top player for the Huskies with 42 points in 64 games. Everyone thought he’d return for his third year and then go pro.

With the college season ended early due to the COVID-19 pandemic and with the 2020-21 season delayed till potentially December or even January, Iskhakov decided going pro made sense now:

We didn’t know exactly when the season was going to start, we were thinking about January or December. In college you only play 36 games so that’s why I turned pro after my softmore season.

The Islanders were supportive of their young prospect telling him to essentially be like Anthony Beauvillier “have fun this season and to show my best” said Iskhakov.

With a year-long contract, Iskhakov will join a team that finished eleventh of 15 teams in the Finnish Liiga with a 17-5-8-29 record while scoring a respectable 149 goals. Iskhakov said his biggest challenge would be adjusting to the rink size as well as the style of play.

With the extra space, someone as creative and offensively gifted as Iskhakov can truly take over a game. Just watch this highlight reel of what Iskhakov has been able to do so far in Finland.

While all that extra space on the ice will certainly be an asset for Iskhakov, he also believes that’s going to be one of the challenges as he transitions from the college game to the European game.

What will help him is what he learned in those two years playing for UConn where former coach Mike Cavanaugh noted how Iskhakov wasn’t just an offense-first guy but a player who was strong off of the puck as well.

One of the things that college taught me is to play physical, not just to be that offensive guy and thinking about defense and faceoffs all the little details in the game. Some time you have to play physical and play hard and keep it simple.

Islanders fans are rightfully focused on the present with their team in the midst of a playoff run that hasn’t been seen in almost three decades. But some of us will also have eyes to the future with promising prospects like Ruslan Iskhakov who’s starting his professional career with a franchise that has won ten Liiga championship it’s in history.

With the move from UConn to Finland, we might just end up seeing the magical forward in North America sooner than anticipated.

I want to thank TPS’s Eero Tuominen for his help in securing the interview.