Canucks: Why big, intriguing defenceman Dmitri Simashev merits NHL draft consideration

If the Canucks retain their No. 11 pick, and blue-line targets Axel Sandin-Pellikka and David Reinbacher are off the board, scouts believe they should consider a leap of faith.

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If you pick him, will he come? And will he stay?

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There are always concerns with rolling the dice on Russian prospects at the NHL draft. Those who play professionally back home have contractual obligations in the KHL and obtaining their services here is often more sticky than a roll of hockey tape.

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The Vancouver Canucks had adventures with their drafted Russians who didn’t pan out — including Nikita Tryamkin, Fedor Fedorov and Sergei Shirokov — but they continue to attract attention. A total of 29 Russians were selected in the 2021 draft and 23 were picked in 2022.

Which brings us to 2023 and intriguing defenceman Dmitri Simashev.

The 6-foot-4, 201 pound left-shot defender played 18 games this KHL season with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. What stood out was his physical presence against men and using his speed and range to close quickly on the opposition. Although he has yet to develop offensively, he’ll walk the line and do something creative to raise the eyebrows.

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Simashev is also under contract through the 2024-25 KHL season.

If the Canucks retain their No. 11 pick on June 28 in Nashville, and if blue-line targets Axel Sandin-Pellikka and David Reinbacher are off the board, scouts believe they should consider a leap of faith. And if the Canucks drop down and get Chicago’s selection at No. 19 as part of a picks package, maybe Simashev slips to them.

That seems unlikely.

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NHL scouts believe there’s a little Vladislav Gavrikov of the Kings in NHL draft prospect Dmitri Simashev. Photo by Rich Lam /Getty Images

“From my perspective, he’s the best D-man in the draft with a No. 3 (position) upside,” said NHL prospects scout Shane Malloy. “It would not be unreasonable if he produced 35-40 points in his prime NHL years from age 24-30.

“I think of the St. Louis defence core when they won the Cup (2019). He’s one of those players. Rangy, makes a smart first pass, and surprises you with a little bit of offence. His games translates better to the NHL than a majority of the (draft) defenceman.

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“And I’m not adverse to taking risk on a Russian. I don’t mind waiting (for NHL arrival). You’re going to wait anyway. Every coach wants those big, lanky defencemen who have range and smack some people around if they really have to.

“If he’s available at No. 11, the Canucks should take him based on their needs.”

As much as the game has changed, the need for size hasn’t — especially in the hard-hitting playoffs.

It’s why Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet was enamoured by the Vegas Golden Knights’ back end in a 4-3 loss on March 21. He could see where his club eventually needs to be. It has emerging skill, but must add the will to defend.

“Vegas is one of my favourites with that defence — big and they move the puck and jump into the play — and I don’t think we were ready for it,” said Tocchet.

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Fast forward and the growing buzz around Simashev is like any prospect. It’s based on what he has done and what he could do. He was pointless in those 18 KHL games, but had 10 points (1-9) in 29 MHL junior loop outings.

“A highly co-ordinated player who’s one of the top skaters in his class and it’s very rare that you see this kind of frame with how efficient he is,” said Jason Bukala, a Sportsnet analyst and former NHL director of amateur scouting. “What’s interesting is the untapped two-way potential.

“He looks like a shutdown defenceman who eats minutes, that insulator we always talk about. But the most projectable is how he skates and uses stick length. Everybody wants larger defenders and that think physicality first, but it’s not just physicality. Range matters everywhere. 

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“It’s extremely important when closing a gap more efficiently. He has yet to apply himself correctly at the offensive blue-line. If you give him time, and increases his level of technical ability, you might get an elite two-way defender.

Where does he go in the draft? I think there’s a wide range, but he’s a first-round pick.”

Brad Allen is director of scouting for Hockey Prospects Radio on the Sirius SM NHL Radio Network. He’s sees a Simashev comparable to defenceman K’Andre Miller. He was selected 22nd overall by the New York Rangers in the 2018 draft because his size and range (6-foot-5, 215 pounds) proved pivotal.

“When he makes mistakes, his athleticism gives him fallback options and that’s exactly like Simashev,” said Allen. “He can break down traffic and already uses it on retrievals, breakouts and can create transitional zone entries.

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“He’s on (draft) rise for me, the more I break him down. He does have a lot of (Vladislav) Garvrikov in his game. He’s not necessarily punishing physically, but Simashev uses that reach to hold pucks away, get away and sneak up on you at the offensive line.

“He’ll walk the puck and distribute something backdoor off the seam. It’s in there, it just hasn’t materialized. His numbers are pedestrian at the MHL level and some teams will be very concerned about that and really do their homework.”

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