Edmonton Oilers prospect Dmitri Samorukov playing Steady Eddie hockey for CSKA in KHL

Edmonton Oilers prospect Dmitri Samorukov playing Steady Eddie hockey for CSKA in KHL

Author of the article:

David Staples  •  Edmonton Journal

Publishing date:

Oct 31, 2020  •   •  7 minute read

Dmitri Samorukov, Edmonton Oilers prospect playing for CSKA

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Sometimes less is more.

It’s certainly adding up to more with what we’re seeing from Edmonton Oilers prospect Dmitri Samorukov this year.

Samorukov, 21, has played 20 games for CSKA in Moscow in September and October, working his way up to being on a top defensive pairing with 29-year-old Klas Dahlbeck, a stay-at-home d-man who played a few season in the NHL.

The two stalwarts get the most shifts per game of any CSKA d-men. Samorukov leads the team at +14 goals even strength.

I’ve seen Samorukov play 15 or so AHL and major junior games, but wanted to get a sense of how he’s been able to earn so much trust from his coach in the KHL, a significant accomplishment for the 21-year-old who got only third pairing minutes last season in Bakersfield. Yet here he is in the mighty K –arguably a better league than the AHL and also a league that tends to favour vets over rooks — eating up the major minutes on one of the league’s best teams.

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What I saw was a more patient, mature and efficient Samorukov, a much different player than he’d been when I first started to watch his games in his final year of major junior, 2018-19.

His game had plenty of dazzle and razzle at that point.

In the final months his major junior career, had had transformed into arguably the most dynamic defenceman in Canadian major junior hockey.

In no small part due to the strength of his play, his Guelph Storm squad made the 2019 Memorial Cup finals. He put up 28 points in 24 playoff games that year, and was named second star in Guelph’s final game, a 6-4 semi-final loss.

But even then, even when his game was full of glitter and gold, there were questions marks about him as a pro prospect. He earned the second star honours with some strong skating, shooting and passing, as well as a few nasty open ice hits. At the same time, he got beat out of the corner by big Boston prospect Jakub Lauko on opposition Rouyn-Noranda’s crucial fifth goal in the third period. It wasn’t Samorukov’s only defensive mistake in his four Memorial Cup games. He got beat in his own zone enough times that it was then apparent he was going to need a season or two at the American Hockey League level.

Condors d-men, games, goals, assits, points, PM

A few months later in August 2019, major junior talent sleuth Sean Patrick Ryan of The Oil Knight blog listed Samurkov’s strengths: “Excellent mobility, good top-end speed, stronger skater forward than backward…Head usually up, delivers a strong but easy to handle puck tape to tape… Very capable of delivering an open ice hit. Booming shot from the point that used to be erratic but has improved significantly.” And his weakenesses: “Compete level was inconsistent for most of career in junior… Plays a high-risk style game. Over skates the play too often. Tries to get cute and walk around guys in the neutral zone, turns it over. Guilty of not getting the puck out effectively when pressured. Panics and throws too many pucks up the middle in the defensive zone, or not hard enough along the glass. Passing has gotten much better not nearly as many turnovers there now.”

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Ryan continued to watch tape of Samorukov last year in Bakersfield, where he was struggled to get playing time.

In Ryan’s summary of Samorukov’s season, he wrote: “If you’ve never watched him play, Dmitri Samorukov’s game can be accurately described as …. eventful. That means there is a lot of positive and negative in his style of play… In Guelph, he was known for his big one-timer that often rattled the glass behind the net. He has a cannon of a shot but accuracy was a real problem. In Bakersfield, he seemed to rely on low hard wristers more often than not. That led better scoring chances, either thru deflections, rebounds or screens… Playing for the Condors, Samorukov didn’t play a lot of minutes and when he did, it was on the 3rd pairing most nights… He showed progression over the course of the season. His consistency in terms of effort was probably the most pleasant surprise.. Defensively, Samorukov is still very much a work in progress. He’s still not great at puck retrievals but did a much better job at gap control, limiting time and space for opponents. The physical part of his game is hit and miss… Decision making is likely going to be Samorukov’s Achille’s heel and ultimately determine how good he can be as a prospect. There’s still a bit of ‘chaos’ to his game in that he takes some unnecessary chances at times. He has flashes of brilliance one shift, then displays some real head scratching decision making the next. He seems to think he can be a real offensive threat, but could be better served to focus on the defensive side of his game if he’s going to have a long career as a pro.”

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From all these reports, we’re getting a sense of a player with real promise and talent, but one finding just how far that talent will go against increasingly better players. It’s worth noting that players like Caleb Jones and Ethan Bear also struggled in their first AHL seasons, so it was no major issue for Samorukov to do so.

Hockey Night in Moscow

Fast forward to this past week in Russia, where Samorukov continues his journey.

Just what did I see from Samorukov in the three games I watched?

  • I strongly doubt he reads the Cult of Hockey, but he seemed to be following Ryan’s advice of toning down his desire to attack and instead to focus on defence. Like every d-man, he loses battles, but I rarely saw him out of position. I rarely saw him making an iffy decision that cost his team a dangerous chance against. He was playing cool and calm.
  • His most common play on the ice was to track back for the puck, control it, then pivot rapidly to face Dahlbeck and whip over a pass right on his partner’s stick. That kind of simple pass now defines Samorukov’s game. Indeed, I’m guessing it might be his mantra: make the simple pass, make the simple pass, make the simple pass. Quite often for a d-man, that fast simple pass to the closest open man, at least if it’s delivered right on his teammate’s stick, is the single best play he can make.
  • Dahlbeck shoot left, as does Samorukov, but it’s the younger and more mobile d-man who plays on his off-side on the right. This puts Samorukov at something of a disadvantage moving the puck out of his own-zone, at least when he’s pinned on his backhand on the boards. Call it the Russell Effect, as we’ve seen Kris Russell so often in this spot struggle to make a good pass out of his zone on the backhand. Samorukov deals with the Russell Effect by keeping his feet moving, but I tend to think he’d be better off his his left side. That said, he’s strong pinching down the boards on his backhand in the o-zone. He’s able to make hard, physical and successful stops in that spot.
  • At 6-3, he’s one of the tallest players on his team, but at 197-pounds he was on the lighter ones. He doesn’t look big on the ice. And he’s not playing a nasty physical game, either, though hitting isn’t the norm in the KHL. But he is playing sound defensive hockey, especially in puck battles, where he’s got a good stick and often comes out with the puck.
  • His coach trust him in the last minute of games and in OT. In fact, even though he made one of his few major mental errors in the last minute on one game, getting caught up ice to allow a two-on-one in a tied contest, his coach still had enough faith to go back to him in overtime. In that spot, he won the puck in the d-zone, made a sharp move to shake a forechecker, and started the rush that eventually led to the winning goal.
  • Samorukov is getting both PK and PP time. He seems OK in both roles, but nothing too spectacular.
  • I don’t see anything special in his offensive game. I’m not sure there ever will be at the NHL level. But that’s OK. He’s a swift skater and got decent size. He keeps his head up and he’s good with the puck. He’s got the makings of an NHL d-man. Whether he’s a third-pairing d-man or maybe works his way up to the second-pairing, I can’t say. But his consistency and his reads are coming along. When he gets back to North America, he’s going to be in the running for heavy minutes in the AHL. If he excels there, he’ll be an Oiler, and maybe sooner than later.

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