With their fourth-round selection at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft the Vancouver Canucks went a little bit off the board and selected Dmitri Zhukenov, an MHL centremen playing for Avangard Omsk’s junior club. Zhukenov was the 61st ranked European Skater according to Central Scouting and was the 114th ranked skater by ISS. Many of us – even those of us who follow hockey prospects intensely – hadn’t even heard of him prior to the Canucks calling his name into the microphone on the draft floor.
The previously unknown Russian-born centre checks in at #18 on our prospect profile list.
Zhukenov is a sturdy pivot who plays bigger than his listed dimensions (he stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 170 pounds, according to eliteprospects.com), but he struggled to generate offense at a particularly high level in the MHL. In fact he was the 24th most productive MHL forwards by points per game, a totally unremarkable production rate.
What probably put Zhukenov on the Canucks’ radar then was his dominance in international play. In 16 games with Russia’s U18 team, Zhukenov contributed a point per game, and was a key power-play contributor.
Here’s a highlight package put together by Canucks Prospects that’s based almost entirely on Zhukenov’s U18 play. You can definitely see why his package of skill and competitiveness might appeal to Jim Benning and the Canucks:
The MHL hasn’t generally been a breeding ground for NHL talent, though that could change in the years to come, so the PCS tool (read more about PCS here) doesn’t really help us get a feel for how to put Zhukenov’s production in his age-17 season into historical context. Three goals and 19 points in 35 games definitely isn’t anything to write home about, and historically MHL players with a similar build and stature who have produced at a similar rate to what Zhukenov managed last season, haven’t been successful NHL players.
Then again, Zhukenov’s cohort consists of only five players, so we have to tread carefully here. There just isn’t a big sample of historical data for us to compare Zhukenov’s age-17 results to.
In terms of his stellar performance over a small sample of games for Russia’s U18 team, the PCS tool produces a variety of intriguing names as comparable, including Ondrej Palat, Erik Haula, Anton Lander, Jacob Josefson and recent San Jose Sharks signee Joonas Donskoi.
Basically the Canucks will have to hope that Zhukenov’s results in international play tell us more about his skill level and upside than his performance in the MHL.
While it’s hard for us to get a handle on precisely what Zhukenov is at a prospect at the moment, that’ll change in short order, as the Canucks prospect is due to play major junior hockey with Chicoutimi of the QMJHL. Chicoutimi selected Zhukenov with the 10th overall selection in the CHL Import Draft back in July, and teams don’t generally use a top pick on a foreign-born player without knowing, with a reasonable degree of certainty, that the player will be coming over to North America.
If Zhukenov is already willing to make the leap over the pond, which we can reasonably infer, then that would seem to auger well for the Canucks’ ability to get him signed to an entry-level contract.
That Zhukenov will spend his age-18 campaign playing in the CHL will also help us get a better handle on precisely how he projects going forward. We’ll be able to project his upside and skill set much better when we sit down to write his profile next year, and one might argue that no prospect in the system – aside from perhaps Guillaume Brisebois – has the ability to move up our rankings as swiftly as Zhukenov does.