Daniil Zharkov is only 18 years old but he's already a world traveler. He was born in St. Petersburg in Russia and was a part of the Serebryanie LVI St. Petersburg team in the MHL in 2010-11. However, he didn't stick around. Instead, he jumped to the United States of America to play tier 1 junior hockey in the United States Hockey League for the Tri-City Storm. He definitely got noticed as the Belleville Bulls selected him in the first round of the Canadian Hockey League Import Draft. Zharkov moved to his third country to play hockey, suiting up for the Bulls in the Ontario Hockey League for the 2011-12 season The traveling hasn't stopped there as Zharkov also was a member of the Russian national U-18 team at 2012 World U-18 Championships in the Czech Republic. I don't know if he'll be in Pittsburgh for the draft, but he probably has the miles to make it work.
His draft stock has been moving around over as well over the 2011-12 season. Going into this season, he was thought very highly as a potential mid-first round selection. It has dropped as the season progressed for a few reasons. Normally, that's not a good thing; but there are plenty of reasons why he could turn out to be a steal at 29th overall for the New Jersey Devils. Let's learn more about the big left winger after the jump.
Daniil Zharkov Career Statistics
Who is Daniil Zharkov?
Based on his prospect card at NHL.com, Zharkov is a 6'3", 197 pound left winger who shoots left. Central Scouting Services ranked him 19th in their midterm rankings but he has dropped to 32nd among all North American skaters in their final rankings. His profile does note that he has missed the beginning of Belleville's season with a broken collarbone, which would explain why he only played 50 games with the team. The OHL season is 68 games long, so he did play most of it. With 36 points, Zharkov didn't exactly light up the OHL as a rookie. However, his 23 goals were the tied for third highest on the Bulls. He at least made his mark in that sense.
His talent didn't go unnoticed as he did play for Team Orr in the CHL Top Prospects Game as well as the Russian U-18 National Team. While that Russian team didn't medal (they finished fifth) it doesn't seem like he did too badly there. Zharkov finished fourth on his team in scoring with five points, bested only by Anton Slepyshev, Bogdan Yakimov (7 each), and Alexei Bereglazov (6 assists). For a first appearance in international hockey, that's not too bad. Hopefully, he'll get more with the U-20 team next season.
While his production hasn't been particularly impressive, it's his skillset and potential that have some people think Zharkov will be a first round selection.
What Experts Have Said About Daniil Zharkov
The Hockey Prospectus prospect guru, Corey Pronman, is big on Zharkov. He details a lot of his positive traits as he ranked him 28th on his Top 100:
Zharkov had a pretty impressive first OHL season despite somewhat underwhelming counting numbers. He's a good skater who hits a desirable top speed, with good first step quickness, showing very good agility and ability to evade defenders. That last part is also due to his puck skills, which are plus, as he can really dangle and has a lot of individual ability. His goal to assist ratio may give the indication of a poor passer or a puck hog, and while he'll occasionally look like the latter, he does show many instances of being a fine puck distributor. Zharkov is much better, though, at making moves and getting into shooting position where he displays high-end finishing ability. He shows a fine physical game, as while he still needs to put on strength, he has a projectable frame and will work hard on the forecheck and when he has to battle along the boards. Zharkov doesn't show that same effort in the other end, and will have to address his defensive game significantly going forward. While he still has some holes in his game, he has great upside and is worth the risk.
As you read this, you probably are getting excited at the idea of Zharkov being available to the Devils. How can you not for a big man who can skate well, has good hands, a good shot, and works hard on the other end? OK, he needs to work on his defense but as we've seen from many prospects and veteran NHL players with the Devils that can be taught.
Pronman's not the only one who really likes Zharkov. Shawn Reznik of The Hockey Writers also ranked him within his top 30 (27th, to be exact), noting that he blends of grit and skill. In his more detailed profile, he had this to say about the winger:
A fluid skater, Zharkov is agile and speedy, which is quite surprising for his mammoth figure. The 6'3″ winger's patented wrist shot rockets off his stick and his stickwork is that of a prototypical Russian forward...smooth, quick, and filled with finesse. His defensive game has increased leaps and bounds since his time in Russia, breaking up plays or separating the puck from opponent's stick. His size certainly aids in the physical aspects of the game along the boards, in front of the net, or simply laying out an open ice hit. The one thing that Zharkov lacked this season with the Bulls was consistency. It seems to be a problem with many players his age. The talent is there, but it can't be displayed cohesively game in and game out.
Like Pronman's analysis, Reznik had a lot of good things to say about Zharkov. He even had some praise for his defense; though he calls it improved as opposed to good or even average which may be intentional. Reznik hits on a main criticism of Zharkov: his lack of consistency. As with most rookies, playing consistently well is a common issue. While he's got the skills and the size to be a very good player, putting it all together is easier said than done.
Other experts haven't come away with a similarly favorable opinion after seeing Zharkov. The Scouting Report slotted Zharkov 58th in their Top 100 with a much more sobering analysis:
If you catch Zharkov on a good game, you might think you're seeing one of the premier goal scorers in the 2012 NHL Draft. However, Zharkov's enigmatic play leaves a lot to be desired as he struggled with consistency aside from an early season goal scoring streak. Zharkov is a perimeter player who doesn't contribute much when he isn't scoring. Scoring, however, is something that he is very capable of doing as Zharkov has an excellent shot and a slick repertoire of one-on-one moves. He's a good skater and has promising size, but he doesn't utilize these attributes enough. Zharkov can disappear against physical teams and will need to take his competitive drive to the next level if he wants to play at the NHL level.
I suppose TSR caught Zharkov on some not so good games. As with Reznik, it's noted that he's got some skills but they really sour on the lack of consistency. That he may have wilted in more physical games or hangs around the perimeter is also concerning given his size. Zharkov may have a good shot, but with teams relying on cycles or dump-and-chase tactics to generate shots, he's got to be able to get in there.
Sean LaFortune of The Prospect Blog didn't come away with that same opinion about Zharkov's physical play. In his report on Zharkov, he noted that as a strength in addition to his skating and his play with the puck:
He is not shy physically and willing to battle for loose pucks. He still is not as consistent as I would like to see him be, but the willingness is there.
However, his listed weaknesses fall in line with what TSR and Reznik discovered. He even goes into some more detail over the defensive concerns Pronman mentioned:
I do love Zharkov's long term upside, but at the same time there are some concerns. He seems to be a player who has a ton of skills, but at times he doesn't know what to do with it. He will skate into defenders instead of passing off the puck when he had the opportunity. He often seems unaware of his surroundings, and needs to know where everyone on the ice is at all times. He often gets cause with his head down in all three zones, which is something that needs to change before he moves forward. Positionally, he needs to improve his three-zone play and know where he needs to be positionally in all three zones.
I believe positioning will come with instruction and experience. Zharkov can be - and apparently will have to be - taught to know where he needs to be off the puck. I'm hoping for his sake that his awareness improves as that could be a driver of his inconsistent play. If he struggles to read the play and understand what he has to do, he's not going to be in a position to use his skills. LaFortune sees him as a high risk, high reward player questioning whether he can reach the ceiling his skillset implies.
Lastly, check out this take by Brock Otten, who focuses specifically on OHL prospects at his appropriately named blog, OHL Prospects. He has Zharkov as his tenth best prospect out of the OHL (and just ahead of Slater Koekkoek) and has a positive opinion of the player. Here's the more negative part from his explanation:
The problem is that he's still trying to figure things out offensively. This could point to a lack of hockey sense, or simply a lack of experience playing at a high level. He can float at times in the offensive zone, waiting for teammates to set him up for the one timer, rather than getting his nose dirty in the corners or making things happen himself. And at times when he has the puck, he can commit turnovers by making one move to many, or by skating with his head down. He needs to learn how to play aggressively every shift and really use his size to his advantage. His overall intensity level is wavering, as at times he'll be engaged physically, and other times not so much. I felt like his defensive zone play improved over the course of the season, and by the end of the year he had actually become a pretty good shot blocker and a guy not afraid to take a hit to make a play in his own end. As I said, if he figure out things in the offensive zone and learn to play better away from the puck, he could be a real force. He probably has the most potential of any forward not named Yakupov or Galchenyuk
I'm focusing on his negatives in Otten's longer explanation because all of the previous cited opinions from people who have seen Zharkov play all agree that he's a very good skater, he's got a very good shot, he's got good hands, and he's big. Otten agrees. The guy's got game. At the same time, this also justifies the criticisms from others. He needs to utilize his skills more effectively, he needs to know he's big and so he can actually win battles for pucks so he should try, and work on his defense. If he can address those areas, then like Otten says, he'll become a very special prospect.
A Little Video
Add videos of Zharkov doing work.
Here's a highlight video of Zharkov's 2011-12 season with Belleville complete with lame hard rock:
This one goal in particular deserves it's own video. He takes the puck up off the breakout, carries it in, torches the defenseman, and finishes the play himself. It's short but it demonstrates his skills in skating, hands, and shot in one clip:
An Opinion of Sorts
This is the sort of player that one could expect to be available late in the first round or even early in the second. From my standpoint, Zharkov is someone with a lot of talent but enough issues to give a lot of teams pause within the first round. As much as people who've seen him wrote about his lack of consistency, I'm hopeful that'll get better over time. He's played for three teams in three different countries over the last two seasons - four if you include his time with the Russian U-18 team in 2012. Plus, he missed the beginning of Belleville's season with a broken collarbone, so that's more time needed to get acclimated to Belleville. A second season in juniors could help in that regard. As for the defense, again, I'm not really concerned about that either. Defense can be taught and it'll come with experience. I am somewhat concerned about his lack of aggression. He's 6'3" and just under 200 pounds; he's got the body, but he's got to learn to use it. I'm not saying he needs to play entirely below the dots; but it seems to me he needs to get involved more. With that, he may appear more consistent by way of doing more on the ice. Incidentally, I'd love to know what Zharkov's shot totals were, that would help put his offensive production and work ethic into some larger perspective.
That all said, I think the Devils could do a lot worse than selecting Zharkov. Again, the Devils really don't have any prospects with offensive potential in their system right now. In Zharkov they can get one without the risk of him being too small or too weak for the next level. Granted, they are replaced with risks surrounding his intensity and consistency, as well as whether he can put it all together. The positives outweigh the negatives. Forwards who are 6'3", 200 pounds who can skate well and have good hands are coveted for a reason. If he falls all the way down to 29th overall - and he may not, if other teams are enthused by Zharkov's skillset and potential - then the Devils could have a gem on their hands while addressing a need in their prospect system. They could do a lot worse.
While I'm intrigued by Zharkov as a prospect, I want to know your take. Which one of his skillsets excites you the most? What do you think his biggest drawback is based on what you've read? Do his positives outweigh his negatives in your opinion? Do you think he'll improve on his issues next season with Belleville? Lastly and certainly not least, would you be pleased if the Devils drafted him? I think it's incredibly unlikely that he'll be around by 60th overall, so it's either their first rounder or not at all. Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Daniil Zharkov in the comments. Thank you for reading.