For some Russian born draft picks, getting to North America is half the battle for the team that selected them. For the Vancouver Canucks, that battle has already been won with Dmitry Zhukenov, their fourth round, 114th overall, pick at the 2015 NHL Draft.
Actually, it wasn’t a battle at all.
“He wants to be in North America and he wants to play,” said the Canucks’ Director of Player Development, Stan Smyl. “Watching him on the ice, he wants to be the first one to go in drills. He likes to compete. For him to play in North America, find out what the travel is like and to play against players over here, is really important for a player like that.”
Zhukenov will play for the Chicoutimi Saguenéens in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League next season. The Saguenéens took him 10th overall at last week’s CHL Import Draft.
The move will allow the Canucks to keep a closer eye on his development, which was a big factor in the organizations decision to draft him. The club did their homework and knew prior to the draft that Zhukenov wanted to play junior hockey in North America.
The 5-foot-11 forward put up modest numbers in the MHL last season, a junior league in Russia. He had 19 points (3-16-19) in 35 games along with 42 penalty minutes. But on the international stage, Zhukenov has fared well. He had six points (3-3-6) in five games at the 2015 Under-18s, five points (1-4-5) in four games at the 2014 Ivan Hlinka Memorial, and 10 points (3-7-10) in six games at the 2014 World Under-17 Challenge.
“He has skill and ability,” said Smyl. “To me, he is more of a playmaker rather than a finisher, you can see him out there always looking for people to pass to. He is an offensive player that has the ability to control the play and that is what he likes to do. He also has an edge to his game; he competes really hard out there.”
His skill has been on display at the Canucks Prospects Development Camp in Shawnigan Lake, where it doesn’t take too long to notice him out there. During battle drills, he isn’t afraid to get dirty. Going up against guys much bigger, Zhukenov comes out of the corner with the puck more often than not. He has good puck handling skills and isn’t afraid to use them. If there is no play to be made, he isn’t afraid to shoot the puck.
“We see him developing into a crafty playmaker that is competitive and not afraid to go into the traffic areas,” said Smyl. “His potential will climb as he goes along and gets comfortable in North America.”