It's been a roller coaster career path for Ruslan Iskhakov since being drafted 43rd overall by the NY Islanders in 2018. Following his time in Russia, Iskhakov attended UCONN for two seasons before heading to Europe to play professionally in Finland and Germany. Before joining the Bridgeport Islanders in 2022, Iskhakov had become an afterthought among Islanders' prospects, appearing to be another failed draft pick.
Perhaps some tri-state area cooking was all Iskhakov needed, as he turned his career path around with just one season in the AHL. The Moscow native flew out of the gates as he was named AHL Rookie of the Month for October. At 22 years old, Iskhakov registered four goals and seven assists in his first seven games - near the top of the points list among all players. The pace was too much to maintain as his numbers dropped off in November, finding the score sheet in just two games in November.
Entering his second season in North America, Iskhakov is looking to make his start to last season more of the norm. With training camp around the corner, where exactly does Iskhakov stand among centers within the organization? Ahead of Iskhakov sit Bo Horvat, Mat Barzal, Brock Nelson, JG Pageau, and Casey Cizikas. With Barzal likely to start the season on the wing, he'd still likely take over if a center were to go down to injury.
As an undersized player who doesn't move the needle much on defense, it's hard to imagine Iskhakov leading a checking line. The fourth line is out of the question, but he could play third-line minutes at center if necessary.
Training camp and preseason will be the first opportunity for Iskhakov to prove he can hang with the big boys at the NHL level. While plenty of players are successful in the AHL, it's much harder to come by in the NHL.
He'll likely be given plenty of time alongside some of the Isles' top wingers as a set-up man. As his numbers from last season prove, scoring 17 times and adding 35 assists, Iskhakov is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer. The Isles are more in the market for a goal scorer, allowing William Dufour or Matthew Maggio to become a likely call-up before Iskhakov. If he has a great camp and tears up the AHL to start the season, there's a chance the Isles have no option but to give Iskhakov a chance, whether that be on the wing or down the middle.
It's an uphill battle for the former second-round pick, whether due to his size (5'8") or that he's now 23. Skill-wise, Iskhakov is incredibly talented, as shown by his shootout performance in February, where he had one of the league's most memorable moments. The opportunity for Iskhakov to showcase those skills at the top level may present itself at some point this season, with training camp being the first opportunity to engrain an image into the brains of the Isles' staff before the season begins.