Peter Chiarelli, Keith Gretzky and their staff made 7 draft picks at the 2017 NHL entry draft and 5 of them already make our top 25 under 25 list. In years past one would be able to cite a weak overall prospect pool as the reason for so many inclusions but that is no longer the case. Chiarelli’s work accumulating young talent is starting to pay off with organizational depth and all 5 of these recent draft picks make the list on merit, including Samorukov.
As an aside, the Oilers 7th round pick in 2017, Phil Kemp, was one of the last cuts from the US World Junior Hockey Team for the recent tournament and has a great shot at making the upcoming team after being paired with Quinn Hughes at the Summer Showcase. I would be surprised if Kemp wasn’t on this list next summer.
The Oilers drafted Samorukov from the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League in the 3rd round at number 87 overall. The first thing one notices is that, on draft day, the Oilers got nice value for their pick as Samorukov was generally slated to go earlier in the third round and was ranked:
- 76th on the Bob McKenzie “Consensus List” (often thought of as the “holy grail” as it is the average ranking from numerous official team scout lists provided to McKenzie)
- 53rd on Craig Button’s list (TSN)
- 76th on Cory Pronman’s list (The Athletic)
- 65th on Hockey Prospect’s list
- 65th on The Draft Analyst’s list
Samorukov was previously chosen second overall by Guelph in the 2016 CHL import draft. Guelph was awful in Samorukov’s first season in North America, his draft season, however, Samorukov adjusted well to the North American ice and game and, by the end of the season, Samorukov was playing 1st pairing minutes and wore an A for Team Russia at the U-18s where he had a goal and four assists in 7 games and was a plus 2.
The draft day scouting reports generally talk about Samorukov’s potential to be a 2-way defenceman – he has size and good, but not elite, skill, is a good puck mover and a strong defender who is not afraid to engage physically and battle in the defensive end.
For any OHL drafted player, the first place I look is to Brock Otten who tweeted the following on draft day:
“Oilers take another favorite of mine in Dmitri Samorukov. A massive enigma, but he’s got fantastic potential. Very high upside.”
Otten provided the following in his August 2017 write up on Oilers prospects:
“Loved this pick by the Oilers this year. Samorukov has one of the highest ceilings of any defender taken from the OHL this past draft. He can impact the game at both ends of the ice. The start to his year was rough and he appeared to be going through quite the learning curve; playing in a new league and for a poor team. But, he got better and better every month and saved his best performance for the U18’s. He’s really the complete package in terms of possessing a skill set. Mobility, physical aggressiveness, big point shot, puck skill. It’s just about putting it all together and learning the position. When to go for the big hit. Making better reads in coverage and chasing less. Picking his spots offensively. Getting his shot through to the net more effectively on the PP. I suppose what I’m saying is that over the course of the next two years, we’ll get to see what type of hockey sense Samorukov possesses. Guelph will aim to be better next year in a tough Western Conference. Their younger (but extremely talented) players will all be a year older and if they progress well, this is a team that should make the playoffs. I see Samorukov doubling his points totals from last year and hitting the 40+ point mark.”
A few weeks before 2017 training camp, the Oilers showed their faith in Samorukov by signing him to a 3-year entry level contract which was surprising for a recently drafted 3rd round pick (such picks generally do not get signed prior to their draft plus 1 season). Some attribute the early signing as a way to hedge against the player heading back home to Russia but lets not forget, Samorukov left home to come to Canada and play major junior in support of an NHL career and has been emphatic about this desire to play in the National Hockey League, as expressed in the following quote:
”I came to Canada because I want to play in the NHL. Edmonton is the best team for me. Best fans and best city.”.
No matter the actual reasons for the early signing, Samorukov rewarded the Oilers’ faith in him with a strong draft plus 1 season, at least on the offensive side of the puck. While Samorukov was a bit uneven on the defensive side of the puck, prone to mistakes as teenage d-men often are, he had a solid offensive season scoring 11 goals and producing 34 points in 62 games, good for 24th in the OHL in scoring among d-men.
To provide some additional context for these offensive numbers, it’s important to note the Samorukov’s offensive opportunities were limited as he was blocked in the lineup behind offensive dynamo Ryan Merkley and over-ager Garrett McFadden. This included limited power play minutes on the Storm’s 2nd PP unit.
Another of my favorite sources for OHL prospects is The Oil Knight who, based in London, watches more OHL games than I get a chance to. Unfortunately, his report provides a step back on the defensive side of the puck this past season due to a lack of intensity and commitment leading to a loss of the physicality that Samorukov showed in his draft season. This is a disappointing report given the previous reports of Samorukov’s plus physicality.
Outside of the Storm, Samorukov played for Team Russia at the World Junior Championships and, while Russia had a disappointing tournament losing in the Quarter Finals, Samorukov emerged as one of the team’s strongest defenders as his ice time increased throughout the tournament. After Guelph was quickly disposed of in the first round of the OHL playoffs, Samorukov finished off a strong draft plus 1 year with a fine showing in Bakersfield, picking up 2 assists in 5 games.
With McFadden graduating to the pro ranks, Samorukov should see added responsibility this coming season. His minutes should increase including his minutes on the power play. I look for Samorukov to regain his commitment to the defensive side of the game, which was his calling card on draft day, as well as to increase his offensive production with the presumed increase in offensive opportunities. Samorukov should be a lock for Russia’s World Junior Team and, given his strong performance in the tournament last year, he should have a material role for the Russians.