Welcome to The Leafs Nation’s 2019 Prospect Rankings! As I’m sure you all know by now, we’ve changed things up this year and will be rolling out these little guys in tiers that aim to encapsulate each prospect’s projection as an NHLer.

Crazy stuff! Try to keep up.

For brevity’s sake, though, we’ll be tackling the lowest tier in two succinct editions which hit the interwebs both yesterday and, now, today (that’s the one you’re reading right now!).

Without further adieu, let’s put a neat little bow around The Longest Shots.

Vladimir Bobylev

Position: LW/RW

Age: 22

2018 TLN Prospect Ranking: N/A

Draft Information: 5th round, 122nd overall in 2016

Given the nature of the prospect ranking game, it should go without saying that the Longest Shots is a tier comprised almost entirely of International Men of Mystery™, each one fitting very specific criteria.

No one knows much of anything about these youngsters, aside from how they’re all about as likely to touch Scotiabank Arena ice as I am to ever earn the respect of my parents, and that available footage of their respective games ranges from sparse to non-existent.

Vladimir Bobylev is no different. The guy is a ghost. In fact, the only legitimate proof of Bobylev’s existence to this point is that running his name through Google Images actually garners a few results. Believe me, that’s more than you can say for some of his tier peers. (Hey, that rhymes!)

Alas, we once again reach another late-round Mark Hunter pick with no conceivable NHL future. There’s quite an interesting trend developing here, isn’t it? It must be a mistake! I was told the Scouting God was infallible.

Bobylev is, unfortunately, far from a unique case then. The hulking winger was chosen by Toronto in the fifth round of a notoriously-thin 2016 draft in which every player, save for Auston Matthews, has failed to play a single game for the Leafs at the NHL level thus far. Moreover, a whopping four of Hunter’s eleven picks from that class have since left the organization entirely, therein making Bobylev one of the lucky ones.

At least he’s still around, even if it happens to be in the loosest sense of the term.

So what is Bobylev’s game all about? I’m glad you asked, dear reader. The 22-year-old is, you guessed it, a big-bodied grinder with decent physical tools – he measures in at 6’2″ and 203 pounds – and little to no offensive talent. Sound familiar? It should. I could honestly just copy-and-paste that very description onto every later-round Leaf prospect from 2016-2017 and you’d barely even notice.

I won’t do that, obviously. But I could!

Heading to Russia full-time once his Junior eligibility ran out in 2017, Bobylev has proceeded to log a combined total of six pointless games in the KHL with Salavat Yulaev Ufa, spending the majority of his time between the MHL or VHL.

It won’t shock you, then, to learn that Bobylev’s production either level doesn’t exactly jump off the page.

While his peak undoubtedly came in his first taste of MHL action, during which Bobylev managed to rack up 18 points in 18 games with Tolpar Ufa, that initial burst was more or less a one-and-done event. Bobylev’s 2017-18 breakthrough was the hockey equivalent of a solar eclipse. It was beautiful, confusing, and looked into far too much by old white dudes, but this generation will ultimately never see it again.

Everything Bobylev has done since barely registers a pulse. And now, after his most recent campaign consisted of 14 points in 53 games with the VHL’s Toros Neftekamsk, the imminent expiration date of Bobylev’s signing rights will likely see Leafs management Thanos snap him into the ether.

We hardly knew ye, Vladimir.

Vladislav Kara

Position: Centre

Age: 21

2018 TLN Prospect Ranking: N/A

Draft Information: 4th round, 124th overall in 2017

Hey, remember a few seconds ago when I said I could basically Control-C+Control-V Bobylev’s description onto every other late-round Leaf pick from 2016-2017 and get away with it?

Let me tell ya, folks, it’s taking a lot of willpower not to do that here.

Like Bobylev, Vladislav Kara is also a big-bodied and offensively inept specimen currently biding his time in the KHL and its adjacent, affiliated leagues. The main difference between these two countrymen, though, is that Kara has seemingly etched out a nice role for himself as a defensively responsible centre at the KHL level, where he successfully logged 41 games with Ak Bars Kazan last season.

Bobylev has, uh not. And when taking into account just how adverse the KHL typically is to handing out ice time to young players, Kara’s usage is pretty impressive.

Will it be enough to one day earn him a shot in the NHL, though? Well, as Randy Jackson famously said: that’s gonna be a no from me, dawg.

The 41 games Kara played in 2018-19 are actually tied for the most he’s spent in one league in one given season. He’s bounced up and down between three different levels for the past two years. And while that does offer somewhat of a caveat for his lacklustre offensive totals, Kara still hasn’t topped the 25-point barrier since he was 17 and playing MHL level B, and there’s just no way to spin that in a positive light.

Kara appears to have an actual future a decent KHL contributor. He’s only 21, after all, and his development curve still has some runway on it. But Kara’s signing rights expire relatively soon in 2020-21 and, barring a stretch of complete domination, Leaf fans likely won’t get a glimpse of him.

Nikolai Chebykin

Position: LW/RW

Age: 22

2018 TLN Prospect Ranking: N/A

Draft Information: 7th round, 182nd overall in 2016

Okay, I’m starting to get legitimately worried about Mark Hunter now. Has anyone checked on the guy lately?

In shifting our focus over to Nikolai Chebykin to round out The Longest Shots, it’s become abundantly clear that, as Quentin Tarantino views women’s feet, that’s how Hunter treated the “thicc but decidedly not quick” prospect archetype throughout his tenure as Leafs Assistant GM.

This quirk wasn’t even cute at the time, either. Everyone knew it was wrong. We just sat back and let it happen. And now that enough time has passed since Hunter’s inevitable departure and we see that nearly every pick who fit that bill back then currently stands with either one or both of their feet outside the organization’s door, an intervention might be the only solution.

This makes Chebykin my breaking point.

The 22-year-old is a 6’5″, 223-pound behemoth who actually put up decent-to-meh numbers in his draft year and, after being selected by the Leafs, has proceeded to do nothing of note ever since.

“STOP ME IF YOU’VE HEARD THAT ONE BEFORE,” I scream into the endless void of space, descending deeper into the pits of madness will soon swallow me whole.

Am I being punked here? Did someone trick me into writing three different analyses for the same prospect? Who did this to me?

Like Bobylev, Chebykin’s repeated inability to earn himself a defined role in the KHL has relegated him to the MHL and VHL for the bulk of his professional career. The offensive result of both players’ has been similarly muted, too. While Chebykin did score at a higher pace than Bobylev’s last season in the VHL – both finished with 14 points; Chebykin did so in 15 fewer games – neither total is all that impressive.

Frankly, haggling over whether Chebykin or Bobylev put forth the better 2018-19 campaign is a lot like demanding you’d rather die from being drowned than getting burned alive. One is probably worse than the other, but the end result is ultimately the same, and it’s not a great one.

With his signing rights set to expire in 2019-20, Chebykin will almost certainly replicate Bobylev’s eventual fate and get snapped out of existence by management at year’s end.