As a result of last year's trade involving Dustin Penner with the Los Angeles Kings, the Oilers possessed the Stanley Cup champions' selection in the third round of Saturday's Draft at Consol Energy Center. After picking Jujhar Khaira earlier in the round, Edmonton used the bonus pick to snag Zharkov, a left-winger from the Belleville Bulls of the OHL.
Despite missing the start of the season with a broken collarbone he sustained in training camp, Zharkov bounced back to record 23 goals and 36 total points in 50 games with the Bulls, as well as three points in six playoff games. The 18-year-old played in Russia and with Tri-City of the United States Hockey League in 2010-11 before making the jump to major junior this past year.
"Here's another young Russian that's come over here and extended himself, showed himself," Oilers Head Scout Stu MacGregor said. "I think it's a credit to these young guys to be able to come over here to North America. He's proven he wants to play here, and to me that's a big checkmark beside his name. I like guys who have that passion."
The 6-foot-3, 193-pound sniper was slotted in the 19th overall spot among North American skaters in Central Scouting's Mid-Term Rankings, but he fell to 32nd in the Final Rankings before the Oilers snagged him with the 91st pick. Zharkov was, admittedly, getting a little bit concerned on Saturday, but said he will ultimately use the draft as a launchpad for his pro career.
"I was really worried," he said. "It was one of the last picks in the third round, but I'm happy to be here. It's a great place to play and continue working. I know about Nugent-Hopkins, Hall and Yakupov … that's three really good guys. My goal is to try to be better than they are and make the team."
Zharkov, who scored five points in six gams with Russia at the 2012 World Under-18 Championship, will likely attend Oilers Development Camp this coming week, where he'll get his first opportunity to showcase his skills to all team personnel.
"If you listen to his coach in Belleville and watch him play, he's a big man with great skills who plays a two-way game," Oilers GM Steve Tambellini said. "He's another big man that knows how to use his body and has good skill to play with good players. He fits the bill."
Though he was born in St. Petersburg, Zharkov said he has completely transformed into a Canadian hockey player and wants to compete in the NHL, rather than possibly returning home for a career in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).
"I've started to call myself Canadian," he said. "Russian hockey is not my hockey anymore. I don't want to play in Russia like some guys. I'm getting stronger this summer and I'm going to start playing more physical, more Canadian. I think that's a good thing about me."
When asked if he's finished with all things Russia, including eating borscht, Zharkov concurred, but joked with the media, saying it was more because he simply doesn't enjoy soup. He did say, however, he is a big fan of salmon or hamburgers for dinner, as cooked by his billet parents in Belleville.
Much like his fellow Russian countryman, Oilers 2012 first-overall selection Nail Yakupov, Zharkov brings a charismatic and often comical demeanour to the Oilers organization.
"Not a clown, but kind of," he laughed. "I've never had problems with my humour. I'm really funny I think. That's good on any team."