Late in the third round the Oilers used their fourth pick to draft a Russian winger from Belleville Bulls – Daniil Zharkov. Given the fact he was ranked pretty high in pre-draft rankings, you may consider him a steal, especially if you get familiarized with the story of his life.
After 17 years of going extremely under the radar, his career finally took off on November the 2nd, 2011 when he scored twice on the Ottawa 67’s in his first OHL game. Everything else you need to know about him Daniil (pronounced Dah-nee-eel) can tell himself. Because if there’s one standout trait about him – it’s how well-spoken he is.
First steps in hockey
I was born in St.Petersburg. I started my career in SKA. I played for them until I turned 13 and then I moved to Lokomotiv. My dad and I figured that Lokomotiv junior team plays in the same division with Moscow teams, which was stronger back then. This is why I moved there. I wanted to play at a higher level. I came back to my hometown when I was 16. I wanted to play in the MHL [the league right below the KHL] and Lokomotiv had a very strong team so my ice-time wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. So my dad and I decided to come back. Sure the team there wasn’t as strong but I was getting more ice-time. I didn’t come back to SKA system, though, because they also had a strong team. I signed with Serebryanye Lvi instead.
Volleyball and soccer
My dad is a former pro volleyball player. We play volleyball together every summer. I think I play well. Besides I’m tall so that helps. What position do I usually play in volleyball? Libero. I can’t say that I’m really into volleyball but I like it. It’s a great sport. I also play soccer. As for hockey I fall in love with it right away. I was good at it since I was a kid.
I’ve always wanted to play in the NHL. There was very little time left. The NHL Draft was approaching fast. I wanted to go to the OHL first because it’s easily the best junior league in the world. I understood that OHL has the best players so even having spent half a season in the MHL it would have been tough for me to show what I’m capable of.
I think USHL was a huge step forward in my career because it allowed me to get used to North American hockey. Even down in the USHL it was tough for me at first. I didn’t expect to be that tough, to be honest. Take a look at my stats in the USHL and see for yourself (8 goals and 3 assists for 11 points in 36 games). I wasn’t a flamboyant player. However, I think it was a great experience for me. It’s a good league. I’m glad I played there.
I believe, there’s I big difference between North American and Russian hockey. In North America everything is faster, the rink is smaller and hockey is more physical. You always need to stay alert – don’t have to be scared, just alert – that somebody may bump into you. Nevertheless, I have big frame so I felt more comfortable on North American ice. I understood that in the OHL everything was going to be the same but players would be more skilled. OHL is closer to the NHL.
In the USHL the language barrier was an enormous problem for me. I still remember my first day there. Somebody asked me: ‘How are you?’. I understood that. But then at the end of conversation he said: ‘See you!’. And was like: ‘What’s this supposed to mean?’. I never learned English in Russia. I didn’t even think it would be of any use to me. Now it’s not a problem anymore. I understand everything and speak fluently.
USA vs. Canada
Obviously, there’s a difference between the two countries. I think Canadian towns are more clean and well-maintained. Also people are a little more friendly. However, I want to specify – just a little bit. The level of competitiveness is very high here and every now and then you hear whispers behind your back. Just like you do in America. Well, to be honest, it’s the same anywhere you go.
Hatred against Russians
I wouldn’t say people are open about it. You just sort of feel it, you know. Take for example that time when I came to the training camp last season after CHL Import draft. Everybody’s fighting for a spot on the team. And then they see me – a Russian, who can’t even speak English all that well. And you feel how they talk about you behind your back. Oh, there goes this Russian again, why’s he even here, he can’t even speak English and he thinks he’s better than us. You know, that sort of thing. Nobody’s going to come to you and say anything like this to your face but you hear them talk behind your back. I had no conflicts on the Bulls, though. Our coach George Barnett made it clear right away that we’re a team and he won’t tolerate such behaviour.
Departing the Motherland
First of all, nobody drafted me in the KHL. They made it clear that nobody needs me in Russia. Ever since I was a kid I wanted to play in the NHL and I think that the CHL is the best league to play in if you want to get drafted by an NHL team. I really think so. I think there will be a maximum of five MHL players who will be drafted – real stars like Andrey Vasilevsky or Anton Slepyshev. That’s it. It’s very difficult. You always have to be on display for North American scouts. I haven’t received any offers from Russia. Maybe somebody talked to my agent, but not to directly to me. I don’t know. If there are no offers, that means they don’t need me there. It’s like they want me to stay put in Canada.
Russian cuisine and sunflower seeds
I was lucky. My billets have friends in Toronto. During the season they went to a Russian supermarket about 6-7 times for me and brought over pickled herring, kolbasa, even borsch… Every now and then I’d ask to bring some Russian food for me and they did. I really like sunflower seeds but they are so weird in Canada. They’re like cheese and BBQ flavored. What the hell is this? My dad came to visit me on my birthday. I asked him to bring some sunflower seeds and kvass from Russia. Couldn’t find it here.
I broke my collarbone three days into the training camp with the Bulls during a scrimmage game. It was quite funny actually. I got into the neutral zone, a guy bumped into me and I fell. I skated to the bench after that and told my coach: ‘Let me get on the next shift!’ He did. I got on the ice, got the puck and that was it. I was done after this. Well, everything happens for a reason. Maybe if I didn’t get this injury, I’d never get to play at the Top Prospects Game.
Top Prospects Game
Honestly, I didn’t expect to get an invitation there. When they called me I almost fainted. They told me like ‘you’re gonna play there’. But they didn’t tell me what it was or anything about it. I Googled it myself right away. Learned a few things about it and called them back. ‘Is this a joke? You were just kidding, right?’. ‘No, this is not a joke. You’re going there’. I was really happy. It’s gotten me even more motivated.
They made it clear that it was something special. I understood it when I was coming out from the airplane and somebody reached for my bag and asked if he could carry it for me. It was quite nice. Everything else in terms of organizing was also just perfect.
There were some fans at the skills competition. Sure, not as many as there were at the actual game but about 5,000 showed up, anyway. At the game, though, the place was packed. It was an unbelievable feeling. Besides, I got a chance to see guys who were projected to get drafted in the first round. I had a unique chance to measure myself against them. When you’re among great players it’s a great chance to understand where you need to improve.
Penalty shots and Brendan Gaunce
I didn’t think they’d sign me up for it. I wouldn’t say I’m amazing at penalty shots or anything. My penalty shot numbers aren’t the greatest. I thought I would do accuracy shooting. It would have done better there, I think. Although, my buddy Brendan Gaunce was a more interesting story that weekend. They also signed him up for penalty shots. That was ridiculously funny.
He’s a kind of guy he only scores ‘from the corners’, you know. He’s a power forward. He doesn’t have soft hands, he can’t beat defensemen 1-on-1. He storms into the crease with it and shovels it in. However, they signed him up for penalty shots. He told me back then: ‘What do I do now? Do I smash it in along with the goalie?’. He’s also got a very powerful shot. I think he’d win this competition, had they put him on it.
You’re asking me how much money I make? Sure, if you compare it to the money I would have been making in Russia, it’s nothing. But then again I got a roof above my head, food on my table and clothes to wear. I don’t have anything to spend my money on. I make $200 every two weeks in Belleville but what would I spend it on? Sure, sometimes I’d go out for breakfast with the guys. Sometimes I’d buy a game for XBOX. That’s it. I mean, sure, a good game would cost me about $70 but I’d play it a whole month. I’m telling you, I don’t know what to spend the money on. I was saving up for the summer. My dad bought me a car for my 18th birthday. I think I’ll take for a spin or two. I want to have money for gas, so I could go somewhere if I want to. I want to save as much money as I can so I wouldn’t have to spend my dad’s and my family’s money. I mean, I have a little sister. I understand that she needs this money more than I do. Don’t worry, I’m not starving or anything (laughs).
I heard that the London Knights and some other teams pay ‘win-bonuses’ to their players. Some other teams give you something extra if you make the playoffs. And why not? It’s always good to play for a little bit of money no matter how little it is. I mean, everybody wants to be paid for their work. I don’t see any corruption here. Where’s the corruption? It’s just a way to say ‘thank you’. Corruption is something when you have to pay to be on the team. However, I don’t believe guys in London make the same money other teams in the league do.
I don’t know who I resemble now but I want to play like Evgeny Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk. This is my goal. I can’t compare myself to any NHLer now, it’s ridiculous. I’m no one so far. I want to have hands like Datsyuk because nobody has such amazing hands. I also want to have out-of-the-box kind of thinking Malkin has. You can’t predict what’s he’s going to do next. The way he thinks is just so unusual. It’s a lot of fun to watch him play.
I think it matters when you get drafted but you also have to take into consideration that every team has its needs. It’s a huge business. Players shouldn’t think of this too much. We just have to play. I had a week when I was really focused on it. I checked the rankings, try to find my name in them… And they it dawned on me – what am I? A fool? What’s the use of looking at the screen all the time? Just play! Have fun! Enjoy!
Previously by Andrey Osadchenko
- Mikhail Grigorenko: why is he falling?
- Nail Yakupov on being a Muslim, Don Cherry, the draft combine and playing in Canada
- The true face of Leo Komarov
- Interview with Yakupov/Galchenyuk agent (and Hockey Hall of Famer) Igor Larionov
- Nail Yakupov: in his own words
- Interview with Oilers prospect Kristians Pelss
- Interview with Oilers prospect Martin Marincin
- Interview with Leafs prospect Greg McKegg