It was clear that the Vancouver Canucks wanted to use the 2015 NHL Entry Draft to add more depth to their offense. Americans Brock Boeser and Adam Gaudette were selected in that year’s draft, and they have both become regulars in the Canucks roster. Vancouver chose a total of four forwards and two defensemen that year, many of whom decided to play in lower leagues. For example, Boeser continued to play for the University of North Dakota before he joined the Canucks in early 2017.
Dmitry Zhukenov was one of the six draft selections in 2015. The Russian center, who had been drafted as a first-round pick in the KHL the year before, was a fourth-round pick for the Canucks. Zhukenov was 18 years old at the time and was not familiar with the North American style of play, and he agreed to sign for the Chicoutimi Saguenées of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to settle into a new culture. His plan was to demonstrate his playing qualities for a Canadian junior team and to convince the Canucks that he was ready for the NHL, but the desired outcome was far from the reality.
Zhukenov returned to Russia in 2017 to sign a contract with Avangard Omsk, his hometown team and the team that drafted him in 2014. He set his sights on playing in the KHL in what seemed like another attempt to impress the Canucks, but it was not to be and he moved to the Czech Republic instead. Zhukenov – who turns 24 this month – is currently playing for Gornyak Uchaly in the VHL and still looking to maintain his chance of having a long-lasting professional hockey career, whether it be in Canada or in Russia.
Zhukenov Embraced Playing in the QMJHL
Zhukenov wasted no time in making plans for his future. The Chicoutimi Saguenées had selected him in the 2015 CHL Import Draft, and he moved to Québec to practice with the team. He became more comfortable as he earned more ice time and was a very impactful player, scoring 57 points (15 goals, 42 assists) in 64 games during his rookie season. He finished the season as the team’s fourth-highest scorer and scored six points (three goals, three assists) in six playoff games. He told the media that he had adjusted to life in the QMJHL quicker than he had hoped and that his career was going in a positive direction.
His 2016-17 season was the main reason why Omsk offered him a contract. He had 65 points (18 goals, 47 assists) in 64 games, and he was second in the team’s scoring race behind Nicolas Roy. Zhukenov and Roy had formed a strong offensive partnership for the Saguenées, with Roy playing as a center and Zhukenov going on the wing. They seemed destined for a shot in the NHL, but their careers took different during the off-season. Roy had signed a contract with the Carolina Hurricanes and joined their AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers, for the 2017-18 season. Meanwhile, Zhukenov moved back to Russia to play in the KHL.
The KHL did not offer Zhukenov a fulfilling experience, and he did not hit the ground running. He scored one goal in 15 games and was sent to many different VHL teams, playing in a lower division of the Russian hockey pyramid. An unsuccessful stint in the Czech Republic soon followed, and Zhukenov was trying to find the right team for him and his hockey future. He decided to move to Gornyak Uchaly, a VHL team located in a rural mining town South of the Ural mountains.
Canucks Can Offer Zhukenov a Lifeline
Zhukenov has attempted to revitalize the good reputation he had in the QMJHL as a member of Gornyak Uchaly, where he serves as an alternate captain and has 24 points (nine goals, 15 assists) in 41 games. His rapid upturn in form earned him some playing time back in the KHL, this time for Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg. although he has been receiving more ice time this season and is rediscovering his ability, Zhukenov is stuck between two leagues and has to decide where to go when his KHL contract expires this summer.
The Vancouver Canucks can give Zhukenov a long-term and stable option by bringing him to North America. This would mean that the player would achieve his dream of playing in the NHL and that his potential would not be bypassed. Zhukenov has played in three different countries over the last six years, and he needs to find a suitable platform to keep his hockey career alive. The Canucks can secure his hockey future if they choose to add him to their roster.
James is a graduate of the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), where he studied Broadcasting in the hope of becoming a sports reporter. He coincided his studies with a part-time job at Rogers Place and saw many memorable moments for the Edmonton Oilers.
James currently runs his own YouTube channel and its website, both called From The Anvil. He post regular content about West Ham United – his favourite soccer team – and has appeared on many soccer podcasts. He covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.