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Photo Credit: Oilers.nhl.com

Scouting Samorukov and Oilers Blueline Prospects

George Burnett began his head coaching career 30 years ago as he guided the Niagara Falls Thunder to the third round of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs. He spent three years in Niagara and made it to the third round all three years. Then the Oilers hired him to coach their AHL affiliate in Cape Breton. They won the Calder Cup in his first season, 1993, then made the playoffs in 1994. Glen Sather promoted hired him to coach the Oilers that summer, but he only lasted 35 games.

The New York Rangers hired him to coach their AHL team for two seasons, then he returned to the OHL as the head coach in Guelph. He lasted one year before the Anaheim Ducks hired him as an assistant coach for two seasons. He left the NHL at the end of the 2000 season and has been in the OHL ever since: Four years as head coach/GM in Oshawa, eleven in Belleville, then they relocated to Hamilton for one season. He spent one year Flint as the GM, and now has been in Guelph for the past two seasons as coach and GM.

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In 1998 Burnett led Guelph to the OHL title, but lost the Memorial Cup final 4-3 to the Portland Winterhawks. In 2008 his Belleville Bulls finished third at the Memorial Cup and this year he won his second OHL title with Guelph and they play their third game of the round robin tonight against Prince Albert. The Storm and Raiders are both 1-1 thus far.

Burnett has coached many NHL prospects during his 22 seasons as a head coach in the OHL. He’s seen many make the large leap to the NHL, so I felt his scouting report on Oilers prospect Dmitri Samorukov would be pretty accurate. He’s coached him for two seasons.

“He’s had a different level since he returned from the World Juniors, said Burnett. “Sammy (Samorukov) had a great first half; we were a good team, but not a great team. We dealt with a number of injuries and some adversity, and a number of changes, but he has been a stalwart throughout the entire season. All the attention that he got during the tournament (WJC) and all the accolades are well deserved.”

Samorukov had 4-16-20 in 67 games in 2017, then produced 11-23-34 in 62 games last season and he had 10-35-45 in 59 games this season. He then added 28 points in 24 games en route to the OHL title. His offence took off when defenceman Ryan Merkley (21st pick to San Jose in 2018 draft) was traded. I asked Burnett about Samorukov’s offensive potential.

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“He probably took off a little more than expected offensively in the second half of the season and the playoffs; I think he had 28 points in the playoff run. He’s a guy who, first and foremost, is an outstanding defender who is hard to play against, he moves the puck well, he’s fearless, has great feet, he can get in and out of trouble and he can win battles.  

“But he also gained a tremendous amount of confidence in making plays and being involved in the offensive side. I don’t want to take anything away from him; I believe he will be an outstanding defensemen in the National Hockey League. Will he be a power play guy at that level? I am not sure, but he does so many other things so well. His future is extremely bright and we are really excited about the way he is playing now,” said Burnett.

The most difficult part of scouting and evaluating is to project what a player will be at the next level. Players develop at different speeds. Some take longer to reach their physical peak, and smart organizations recognize this and adjust their development play accordingly. Every player is different.

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Some are capable physically, and mentally, of handling the NHL as a teenager. Others won’t be ready until somewhere between 20-25.

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There is so much focus on the high-end player, I think many people overlook how many players need more time developing.

Samorukov has had a breakout season in the OHL. He will feel good about all aspects of his game when his is training this summer and he should come to training camp with a lot of confidence. But how will he react if he isn’t on the powerplay? Will it alter his play five-on-five, because he will have fewer puck touches in a game?

No one really knows, not even the best scout. Will he need one, two or three years in the AHL? It is too soon to say, but the biggest positive we’ve seen from him is that when given an opportunity, more PP time, he flourished with it. Many players don’t excel with more responsibility.

Samorukov, along with Evan Bouchard, William Lagesson, Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones has replenished the Oilers prospect pool for blueliners. Toss in Filip Berglund and Joel Persson and over the next few seasons, we should see a few of these players regularly in the NHL.

Bouchard and Persson have the most offensive upside. Jones is the best skater. Lagesson and Berglund are good defenders. Bear moves the puck well and has a great shot. Samorukov has shown he can play a rugged game, or be defensively sound or add offence. When an NHL opportunity arises, how will they perform?

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We’ll see, but I expect Samorukov, like Bouchard, will start in the AHL and Ken Holland will let them learn to be a professional before they get a regular spot in the NHL.

PARTING SHOTS…

I love this time of year in the NHL due to so many trade rumours. I’ll put my two cents on a few.

1. Trading Darnell Nurse for William Nylander would be a bad decision. Really bad.

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2. No one is taking Milan Lucic’s contract full on, even with a sweetener. If he is traded it is likely in a three-way deal with each team paying part of his salary. Ken Holland should just sit down with Lucic and tell him he needs to spend time this summer on the ice improving his puck skills. Lucic’s speed hasn’t been the issue. His inability to make plays when he has the puck has. He admitted to me he is planning on being on the ice more this summer, but Holland and the organization should not only encourage him, but ensure he is on the ice and doing puck drills in confined spaces.

3. Just because a player or coach was in Erie with Connor McDavid doesn’t mean they are more valuable to Edmonton. I’d bring in Connor Brown, but not for Matt Benning. I’d take him for a pick, as the Maple Leafs try to shed salary. I’m 100% certain Brown ($2.1m cap hit) will contribute more than Tobias Rieder ($2m cap hit) did, but I’m not sold Brown is a top-six forward long-term. He could be a good stop-gap, which is fine, but because he played with McDavid in junior doesn’t mean he will produce the same in the NHL.

4. I’m very curious to see how teams view Semyon Varlamov in free agency. Will a team sign him for $4.5m+ on a multi-year deal or will he end up signing a one-year deal and have to prove himself? If he ends up on a one-year pact I could see Holland picking up the phone.

5. Vegas needs to clear cap space and Colin Miller’s name has come up. I’d take a long look at him. He is a second pairing RD right now. He has a $3.875m cap hit for three more years. Holland would have to shed some salary, likely Andrej Sekera or Kris Russell, to add Miller, but they need a right shot D. He isn’t so good I’d want to overpay for him. The challenge is he plays within the division and if Vegas is going to sell low on him, they likely do it to a team outside the division.

Recently by Jason Gregor:


  • OriginalPouzar

    Oilers trade a 4th and Lucic with $3M retained to Team B for a 7th.

    Team B retains $1.5M and trades to team C. Team C acquires Lucic at a cap hit of $1.5M per.

    Oilers $3M
    Team B $1.5M
    Team C $1.5M

    Lucic waives to ultimate destination (Team C) – 3 team deal agreed upon together.

      • OriginalPouzar

        It would be a 3-team agreed upon trade with Lucic ultimately waiving to Team C.

        I’m not sure what the trade between B and C would be, however, Team C is acquiring Lucic at a $1.5M cap hit and Lucic probably has some positive value to certain teams at that cap hit – Team B would probably get a middling pick and/or prospect.

    • Rock11

      I kind of like the option of a trade down in the first to get rid of Lucic. Lets say the Panthers as an option. Oilers move down 3-5 spots, theoretically get a similar level of prospect(kaliyev may be available at 13 for example), and shed the majority of Lucic’s deal. Lets say they retain $1.5m. Always somebody in love with a player on the draft floor willing to do something crazy to get their guy.

    • Derzie

      I’ve got an old broken lawn mower in the garage. Maybe I can convince my neighbour to pay me so I can store it in his garage.
      The only hope for trading Lucic is to a team trying to get to cap floor. On 31 of 31 teams, he’s not taking a spot from anyone.

  • OriginalPouzar

    My goodness, what a performance from Samorukov the other night against Halifax. Yes, the boxscore says one assist and a minus 2 but that doesn’t do his game justice. Samorukov was an absolute beast and a wall defensively last night. Aggressive defending the blueline, great stick to break up rushes, always on the right side of the puck and a beast on the boards – he is so good at battling on the boards, almost always comes away with the puck.

    He didn’t have a great offensive game but, my goodness, was he impressive last night.

    Also, I don’t even think I’m exaggerating by speculating that he played 16-17 minutes in the third period – he barely left the ice.

    Can’t wait to watch the game against Prince Albert tonight – Go Guelph

  • OriginalPouzar

    I put Lagesson right up there with Jones as far as NHL readiness (and ahead of Bear who I do like and love his shot (which is a weapon) still struggles with speed and on the boards).

    Lagesson is the new age defensive d-man, the new age Adam Larsson or Jason Smith if you will. He’s a physical and aggresive defence first d-man, however, he is also a good skater and a solid transitioner of the puck with decent offensive instincts.

    He’s been developed perfectly since drafted by McTavish – two years in college, one in the top league in Sweden (where he gained the trust of his coach and earned minutes) and then one in the AHL. He’s developed year over year and, this past year, month over month.

    My guess is Jones breaks camp with the big club and Lagesson will have to wait for an opportunity but it will come this year and he may never see the AHL again when it does.

  • OriginalPouzar

    My target from Vegas is Cody Eakin and I wouldn’t mind the rights to Pirri thrown in as Pirri is almost a no-brainer sign for me – good scoring metrics, good possession and shot share metrics including relative metrics.

    He would be cheap and may see the top 6 opportunity with a skill center on the Oilers as enticing.

    • QuitForRealThisTime

      The issue as Gregor pointed out. Eakins will have a lot of trade options, so for Vegas to trade within the division would take an overpay by the Oil. I like Eakin and he would be a perfect 3rd line center but it would be tough to make this deal. Mat ol’ Ken can use his former team to run the deal through though.

  • OilCan2

    The pipeline is full of good, young D men. These are the value contracts of the future. It’s great to see no older career minor leaguers taking up roster spots. I would take Varlamov on the SHOW ME deal too.

  • OriginalPouzar

    I will preface this by saying that I do believe that Bouchard is the “better” prospect, much more of a sure bet to “make it” and to “make it in the top 4” with a definite higher offensive potential.

    At the same time, as far as ultimate ceiling, I do think Samorukov’s is higher as he has the full range of skills. His pure offensive potential isn’t as high as Bouchard’s, however, he is a very good skater and his defensive game is just fantastic – his defensive positioning is great, he’s physical and aggressive and he wins most board battles. This is in addition to a strong transition game, great sense in the offensive zone and a bomb.

    His defensive game and his skating give him that all-tools game – yes, Bouch can skate fine, he gets up the ice quite fast actually but Samorukov has the full on elite skating and mobility.

    He is highly unlikely to reach that ceiling which is a true 1D – hell his game may not translate to the pro level – but he’s got massive potential.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      Bouchard, as offensive as he’s shown, it out of position defensively more times than not.
      For this reason he is not NHL ready, although more time in the higher leagues, with the better coaching it brings will hopefully change this…

      • OriginalPouzar

        Oh, he definitely needs to start the year in the AHL – that’s a no-brainer and an easy decision.

        I’m excited for him to work with Dave Manson.

  • OriginalPouzar

    Yes, Holland should be speaking with McCrimmon re: Miller but I think we need to be a bit careful about this player.

    At least on Vegas, he’s been a 3rd pairing guy at 5 on 5 and plays the PP.

    6th among regulars both last year and this year at 5 on 5 ice time and doesn’t PK much (a minute last year per game put 35 seconds this year per game).

    I do think he could handle 2nd pairing minutes if his partner was the pairing rock but he played behind Engelland at 5 on 5 the last few years (and Schmidt).

  • Jjm

    Gregor. Really liked the article. Agreed with most of it.
    I don’t disagree with Miller but shouldn’t we look for more of a stop gap solution with all of these D men coming up?! Someone on a one or two year deal at most?

  • oilpower

    Miller is like all the rest of our defenceman lol. He’s a 3-7 d. I think the focus should be I unloading and making room. Look at the pipeline of D we have. As usual, won’t really know much until training camp. Real talk.

  • RJ

    Said this in another thread, but it bares repeating: the Flyers had a highly touted defenceman pool, with a lot of quality defenders. Provorov was the best defenceman in his draft class, he was the best Flyer D for two years and then fell back this past season.

    Expecting any one of the Oilers D prospects to immediately proceed to a regular gig in the NHL is as solid a plan as expecting Klefbom to play 82 games. It’s not impossible but I wouldn’t bet on it.

  • toprightcorner

    Lucic should set up a tent in Adam Oates back yard and work with him on skills every day. He needs to put some of his $6 mill salary to good use and hire the best skills coaches to work with him every day this summer