Dmitry Zhukenov is a player that many in this space expected a leap forward from this season. Perhaps no one more so than yours truly.
Playing in his second year with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, Zhukenov’s failed to build on a strong if unspectacular start to his North American career. Playing in the Sagueneens’ top six, Zhukenov has 37 points in 39 games. For Zhukenov to start to impress upon us his long-term NHL prospects, he’s going to have to start translating his high-end hockey sense and awareness into tangible production.
For now, though, Zhukenov checks out as the tenth ranked prospect in the Canucks Army Midterm Prospect Rankings. Exactly where he was when we last checked in.
Before I delve too deeply, let’s quickly review the criteria for a qualifying prospect:
- The player must be 25 years or younger, and
- The player must be eligible for the Calder Trophy next season.
As a result, players that are considered to be “graduated” to the NHL (Brendan Gaunce, Nikita Tryamkin, Jake Virtanen, Anton Rodin) are not eligible.
It’s not hard to see what parts of Zhukenov’s game drew the Canucks attention. For a player on the smaller side of the ledger, he’s not shy of playing in front of the opposition’s net and his intelligence and vision make him value added from the defensive zone. None of that’s changed for the worse in the two years he’s spent in their system.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) October 16, 2016
Zhukenov’s role on the Sagueneens changes from game-to-game, and looking therein we might be able to find out why it’s been difficult for the Russian import to distinguish himself as a prospect. With Nicolas Roy playing on the Sagueneens’ first line, Zhukenov is either playing on his left wing or as the club’s second-line centre. It’s fair to wonder if Zhukenov could produce well above the point per game clip he’s at now playing in a premier role.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) January 3, 2017
As friend of the Army Shane Malloy was apt to point out, Zhukenov has high-end hockey sense and works the give and go well in tight spaces. And whereas Zhukenov’s offensive production has, more or less, plateaued, Malloy indicated on the Gametime Decision Podcast that Zhukenov’s defensive game has taken a significant step forward this season.
Players who produce at below a point per game pace in their draft or higher season don’t generally tend to have NHL success, which reflects itself in Zhukenov’s paltry 1.7% expected success rate. Players in Zhukenov’s cohort with NHL success averaged about 33 points a game, which makes sense, given a third line centre is about as optimistic a projection one can grant him
One of my biggest regrets is that the Russian Ice Hockey Federation didn’t grant us the opportunity to see Zhukenov play at the World Junior Hockey Championships. I tend to think there was a strong enough case for Zhukenov, but he was a long shot ever to make that team the second he left the MHL for the QMJHL.
For now, we’re left waiting to see how Zhukenov will fare against stiffer competition than that offered in the ‘Q’. It’s entirely possible we’ll be left waiting next season, too. As Ryan Biech wisely pointed out, the Canucks don’t have to sign Zhukenov this season to retain his rights. They can wait it out until next summer. That could mean he’ll play his overage season in the ‘Q’.
Here’s hoping Zhukenov finds another gear offensively in the mean time. It’s put up or shut up time for the 19-year-old as a junior prospect.