Daniil Zharkov’s Progress

On Sunday I drove out to Mississauga to cover game three of the first round playoff series between the Ontario Hockey League’s Mississauga Steelheads and the Belleville Bulls. As you probably well know, Oilers prospect Daniil Zharkov plays for the Belleville Bulls and I chatted with him post game. I figured I’d share some of my game notes and some of Zharkov’s post game comments with you, or at least with those of you willing to read my work after I took that massive run at your sacred cows a couple of months back.

Zharkov’s draft plus-one season hasn’t been as productive as perhaps Oilers fans and management were hoping. In 59 games with the Bulls this season, Zharkov managed forty-three points and twenty-five goals. Those aren’t numbers that scream "future NHL star" at you, but I would mention that Zharkov doesn’t usually play first unit power-play minutes for the Bulls and doesn’t factor into their top-line. 

So far in the postseason, Zharkov has a couple of assists but has been relatively quiet. On Sunday he didn’t register a point but he was, by my estimation, Belleville’s best offensive player by a fair bit. I counted scoring chances at the game and Zharkov’s even-strength scoring chance differential was +3 (five for, two against). More importantly he personally factored in on every scoring chance his line generated at even-strength – taking four of them himself, and creating another with some quality work on the forecheck and some lovely puck handling which he followed up on with a crafty passing play. 

Still, Zharkov seemed frustrated after the game: "You’re always pissed off when you don’t score, especially when you have a lot of chances. Their goalie played really well obviously, and I think that’s a big part of their plan."

Zharkov’s frustration matched what his coach George Burnett told me after the game as well, "I thought it might have been the weakest games [Daniil] has played all year long. He needs to have the puck more, protect it better and be a more physical force in the game." If that was Zharkov’s worst game this year and he still factored in on five quality looks, then Oilers fans have plenty to be excited about.

To my eyes it didn’t appear that Zharkov played a "floaters" game on Sunday. He closed hard when defending point shots, and looked to take the body on occassion. His back-checking was on point too, and he seemed to be effective at using his speed to disrupt Mississauga’s build-up in both the neutral zone and when forechecking. That said there was one comical sequence where Zharkov backchecked from behind the Mississauga goal line, forced a turnover in the neutral zone and then skated into his own end where he quickly gave the puck away. His team cleared the zone without surrendering a shot attempt, but I’d imagine it’s those sorts of unpolished moments that would cause a coach to be frustrated.

But for every sequence like that one, there were two where Zharkov was making something happen on the ice. Early in the second period he created a turnover on the forecheck but lost possession of the puck over the blue-line. He retrieved the puck and pulled a series of inside-outside moves to avoid Mississauga checkers while hie teammates tagged up. He then skated back into the Mississauga zone, eluded another Mississauga defender and sent a nice dish to a teammate for a scoring chance. On sequences like that one, you really do wonder how he’s not a point per game player at the OHL level…

When asked where he needed to improve going forward in the series, Zharkov seemed painfully aware of his "Russian-ness" and the reputation players from his country have in North America, "I would say battling in the corner and protecting the puck better. I still kind of play like a Russian hockey player…" When I countered and told him tht he seemed to be taking the body and backchecking hard all game, he credited his coach with improving his two-way habits: "That’s because it’s my second year here and I’ve learned a lot from George Burnett, he’s a great person to be with as a coach."

Zharkov’s commitment to playing a two-way game was visible throughout on Sunday, or at least I thought so. While his performance in those areas may not have been enough to impress his coach, I don’t know that it’s for a lack of effort. Moreover he certainly has the size, speed and the raw offensive tools to be an NHL player – but as his lack of production this season suggests, he’s yet to really put it all together. 

You might also be pleased to hear that he’s also following the Oilers closely. "Yeah I watch the Oilers with my billet family and I try not to miss any games. And I follow my buddy Yakupov. I think he’s doing really well, considering he’s a rookie." If he hopes to become a resident of Yak City, Zharkov will need to find a way to utilize his skillset to be a more productive offensive player while also continuing to refine his two-way game. On that front he certainly passes the eye-test, though the proof will remain in the pudding.

  • The Soup Fascist

    Thanks for the rational take on one of our prospects who has the tools, just needs to develop and learn how to play. Of course, the current management is a tad short on rational right now, so we probably won’t offer him a contract when the time comes.

  • Ducey

    I must say that I like what I just read of Zharkov very much. I hope he improves even more all along the way up to the Oilers.

    That being said, I am extremely ticked again at Oiler management for not being proactive proactive and proactive on the trade front since this past summer.

    If this was way back when, in Sather’s younger time period, trades would have been forced and made by him to better the Oilers.

    To the Oiler’s Management Team – We obviously have the high end skill and talent with the kids, but where the hell are the type Jason Smyth, Craig Muni, Dave Lumley, Esa Tikkanen, Norm Lacombe, Kevin McCelland, Mike Krushelniski, etc, guys that are needed here in order to get to the playoffs and win. Belanger, Barker, Eager, Hordichuk,Frazor, Foster,etc, have been busts and I dont even care that all Belanger does okay is win 53% faceoffs only. THATS NOT ENOUGH. TAMBELLINI and others SHOULD BE FIRED!!!

  • Ducey

    DZ really struggled for the first three months but then put up 32 pts, including 17 goals, in 29 games to finish the season. He is 6’4″ 212 lbs so if he has some defensive ability and grit, he should be a keeper.

    On the other hand, who let the Canucks guy in here?

  • 24% body fat

    Why is a writer that has previously proclaimed that the oilers organization in the NHL is completely irrelevant writing about the oilers?

    I guess his opinion changes when he gets paid.

  • Eulers

    To the couple of guys shooting the messenger in the comments above: Would you rather have no information, information from someone who has no axe to grind, or spin from Oiler management? Show some appreciation ffs.

    Thanks for the update on Zharkov. We need guys like him pushing for ice time all the way up the depth chart. Size, work ethic, willingness to learn, personality and actual hockey talent. Can he win a faceoff if called upon? Icing on the cherry, in that case.

  • Eulers

    ” Zharkov doesn’t usually play first unit power-play minutes for the Bulls and doesn’t factor into their top-line.”

    That’s not a reason for low stats, that’s a concern in itself. What am I missing here? Sidney Crosby has his spot on the top line?

    • Copperblueandwhite

      When the trades happened for Graovac, Quine and Cardwell (Jan 2013) the Bulls, although first in the division, were the lowest scoring team in the league…I’m sure the Canucks were a bit worried about their first rounder (Brendan Gaunce) because he struggled mightily until the trades as well.

  • Copperblueandwhite

    Great article Tom…thanks…Sunday’s Bull’s game was an anomaly…Austen Brassard’s penalty in the last three minutes didn’t help as they lost 2-1 on that PP opportunity….repeatedly Jack Miller (voice of the Bulls) remarks that Zharkov is slowly becoming a major OHL force….the addition of Quine, Graovac and Cardwell in January certainly helped Daniil out down the stretch….tonight’s game (radio CJBQ 800 @ 7 edt) should be a zinger and I’d watch for the Bulls to edge closer to taking the Steelheads out….here’s hoping the Bulls win the OHL and we can see Zharkov playing against the Oil Kings in the Memorial Cup.

  • The Soup Fascist

    Relax. The writer in question is expecting some good natured shots after his “satirical” piece a couple of months ago. Most of us that printed it off and used it to line the bottom of the birdcage have moved on. We realized it was written tongue in cheek and was not meant to be mean spirited. The fact that it was written by a hack supporting a team that is to hockey championships what McDonalds is to fine dining, was never even considered.

    We loyal readers of ON appreciate the efforts of Mr Drance, who set aside valuable time playing with his Sedin action figures to evaluate an Oiler draft pick. Well written and objective article, Sir. Mucho appreciado.

  • I’ve seen Zharkov play multiple times in person this season, and many more on TV (living in Ontario I get OHL games with my sports pack).

    Thanks for reading and for mostly tolerating my presence at your humble Oilers blog. Can’t wait to read the draft coverage here in June (who are you guys hoping for: Mackinnon, Jones or Drouin?).

    • The Soup Fascist

      Draft coverage begins in March in these parts, Mister.

      It is as predictable Riot Coverage in May in Vancouver and Stanley Cup parade route planning every September in Toronto.

    • Copperblueandwhite

      Keep it in perspective Tom….I live in Vancouver and whenever any of the local knuckleheaders give me Oiler schtick…I remind them that 5 Stanley Cups and a .527 win% is better than NO CUPS and a .486 win%. Then we all laugh and they shut up!

    • Copperblueandwhite

      Thanks, clown – you are tolerated by me about as much as DSF is tolerated (look it up if you need more info)…

      Nice article you referenced, by the way, at the beginning – how well did that prediction about Gagner and Hall work out for you? If you predict everyone is going to have a bad season, of course you’ll be right about some, but nobody here is worried about how RNH and Eberle will turn out.

      By the way, if you want to look at complete mismanagement of a 1st round pick, look no further than Hodgson – how’s Kassian’s grit working out for you folks in Van city? Especially, considering you are in bad need of a 2nd line center that is not injury prone. If you want to look up “klutziness” in the dictionary, you would find Kesler’s name there sooner than Hall’s, I will tell you that much.

      But thanks for the update on Zharkov, good to know

    • Copperblueandwhite

      Thanks for the update. It’s well written and it’s the best update I’ve seen on Zharkov in many months.

      And…..as an Oilers fan the sarcasm doesn’t bother me at all….I get the joke…..and it is funny….nothing wrong with that…

      and the answer is…Jones, after that, ANY big center….

      Just one last point…..have you got your eye on any property in particular that you plan on trashing when the Nucks get bounced in the first round?? Here’s a tip…..don’t record it and post it on your facebook page.

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      Odd for such an astute observer to miss Zharkov’s mid-season reboot.

      Equally odd that such a dedicated Ontarian and sports fan can’t seem to recall who won the Grey Cup last year.