Crossing the pond to Russia and the MHL, this week on Prospect Watch we’re talking about hulking Russian winger Kirill Dolzhenkov. He’s several years away from sniffing the NHL, but he has a rare set of attributes that make him stand out amongst prospects league-wide.
The first thing you notice when you come across this player is his sheer size. At 6′-6″ and close to 240 pounds, Dolzhenkov is one of the largest forward prospects in all of hockey. You don’t have to look too hard to find him on the ice, and once he catches your eye, you start to notice his skill pretty quickly.
He has surprisingly soft hands for such a big guy. When combined with his long reach, he’s able to keep the puck seemingly at will, drawing in defenders before firing off an accurate no-look pass to an open teammate. And he’s not just a passer; Dolzhenkov has a heavy shot that he can fire from a wide range, which makes him a dangerous goal scorer as well.
The biggest knocks on his game thus far are exactly the things you might expect. His foot speed is pretty sluggish, and while he makes up for that by using his intelligence; he also takes the odd shift off and needs to work on playing more consistent hockey. Consistency often comes with maturity, and this is exactly the kind of pick you hope to make in the middle rounds of the draft because if he does pan out, you have a nice prospect here.
Widely projected as a third or fourth round pick at last summer’s draft, the Jackets nabbed Dolzhenkov in the fourth round (#109 overall), and so far this seems like a wise move because he should only get better with time.
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Last year in Russia’s junior league, he scored 14 goals and 28 points in 33 games. He’s followed that up with similar numbers this year, and through 47 games he has 18 goals and 42 points. Dolzhenkov has also suited up for 5 KHL games, but was held scoreless in limited minutes with CSKA Moscow.
I would fully expect the team to take their time here and let Dolzhenkov develop slowly in Russia. It doesn’t cost them anything, and we have seen this strategy work out with players like Vladislav Gavrikov and Kirill Marchenko. By the time they come over, it seems like ages since they were drafted – but the NHL ready player is well worth it.
This is definitely a longer-term prospect anyhow, and would be no different if he were Canadian or American. If he was polished, he would have been a top-10 pick in the draft – he’s got that kind of skill. But he needs some time to grow and round out his game. This is the kind of pick that has made the Jackets look like one of the better scouting teams in the NHL, and I do think that Kirill Dolzhenkov has the potential to be a middle-six forward for them in a few years’ time.