In this week’s version of Prospect Watch, we’ll take a peek at center Dmitry Voronkov. The big Russian is in his fourth full season in the KHL with Ak Bars Kazan, where he’s quietly developing into an NHL ready player.
Voronkov was originally selected in the fourth round (#114 overall) at the 2019 NHL Draft – though he was actually just the team’s second selection in the draft behind another 4th rounder, Eric Hjorth (#104 overall). In fact the club only made three selections at the 2019 Draft, yet they may have found an NHL player with one of them.
I want to make one thing abundantly clear: this guy is not the answer to our #1 center question. He’s probably not even the answer to our #2 center question. Standing in at 6’4″ and nearly 200 pounds, Voronkov is far from a typical Russian forward. He just doesn’t possess the traits we typically see when Russian players come to North America. This guy plays a physical, grind it out style that typically sees him winning battles in the corner or scoring the greasy goal in front of the net.
He’ll step up to throw a big hit, will drop the gloves to defend himself or a teammate, and is more than capable of holding his own. All that said, while he isn’t a play driver, or a guy who is going to carry the mail offensively; he has played with skilled players and can produce offense in a secondary role.
Through 28 KHL games this season, he has a modest 7 goals and 13 points; which is basically right at his career average. What stands out right away are his 47 minutes in penalties, which tells the real story of Voronkov’s game: he’s a physical depth player who chips in some depth scoring. Which is exactly what I think he will be in the NHL.
The expectation is that Voronkov will bring his game to North America when his contract expires after this season. In my opinion, he’s a mostly NHL ready player, who will just need to make the adjustment to the smaller ice surface and perhaps the pace of NHL hockey. The smaller ice surface will likely benefit his game if nothing else – it suits his style.
Over time, I think Voronkov will be a bottom-six center for the Jackets. That’s been his projection all along. He’s the kind of player that can play basically any style you want. Need a physical shift? Got it. Need someone to step up and play an offensive zone shift with the skill guys? No problem. Need someone to shut down the opposition? He’ll block the shots, whatever it takes.
Look for him to come over either in the spring or summer, much like Kirill Marchenko did this year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start his North American career in the AHL in much the same way; but don’t expect a point-per-game player here. For Dmitry to be successful, he just needs to be himself. He’s going to be a fan favorite in no time.