The Los Angeles Kings are known for developing prospects through the draft, but when it comes to Damir Sharipzyanov, they sought a change of scenery.
Sharipzyanov is a Russian Defenseman currently playing for the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Owen Sound Attack. He’s a 6-foot-1, 187-pound heavy-weight LA Kings’ prospect who wasn’t selected in a Draft. Instead, he was signed as a free agent to a three-year, entry-level contract worth a maximum of $925,000, over the summer of 2015.
Sharipzyanov is the only Kings’ prospect currently playing in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) who wasn’t drafted. So what can give us a better understanding of his current talent? Well…
- He was drafted in the 2013 Continental Hockey League (KHL) by Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk in the third round at No. 85 overall.
- The Owen Sound Attack drafted him in the CHL Import Draft at No. 50 overall.
- He played for Team Russia in the 2016 IIHF Under 20 World Championships in Helsinki, Finland and this was his third time representing his country in an IIHF tournament. He played in the 2014 Ivan Glinka Memorial tournament and the 2014 World Under 18 championships.
- He’s also played in the 2014 and 2015 Canada-Russia Series.
Now we’re beginning to get a better understanding of Sharipzyanov’s talent throughout history, but this list of accomplishments doesn’t tell us how he’s going to play down the road and it doesn’t tell us how he’s performing today.
This matters because the Kings have a knack for seeing unseen talent before anyone else sees it. Trying to get to the bottom of this, Ryan McGill – the Head Coach of the Owen Sound Attack, speaks with The Hockey Writers about Sharipzyanov and his development so far this season, as well as how he’s performing today.
Sharipzyanov Stands out Amongst 11 LA Kings’ Prospects
This season is the first time Sharipzyanov has had a letter on his Jersey. Serving as one of the Owen Sound Attack’s Alternate Captains, McGill says it’s because “he shows character and a willingness to get better on a daily basis. Guys have to be leaders by example. That’s what matters in that age group.”
One of the commonalities I’ve noticed between LA Kings’ prospects is they’re all reputable for having high-quality character. “He definitely has that,” says McGill. How do you learn character, though? Do you learn it on your own? “I personally don’t know,” McGill goes on. “Do you learn it when you grow up? I think you keep on developing character… I think his family raised him right and when he came over here, he had a goal in mind.”
“You can credit Dean Lombardi (General Manager of the LA Kings) and his scouts,” McGill continues. “They dig as deep and as far as they have to… If you look at where he came from – at the San Jose Sharks – they’ve developed their players through the Draft. Look at their staff – a lot of them came over to LA with him.”
But did they win a Stanley Cup in San Jose? No, they did not. But in Los Angeles, “something else clicked,” says McGill. “Maybe they were just missing a couple pieces…”
Could this have anything to do with Michael Futa, the VP of Hockey Operations and Director of Player Personnel at the LA Kings’ organization? “I don’t know Michael,” McGill tells The Hockey Writers. “Everything I hear is he has a really good track record in drafting players.”
Futa’s track record in drafting players clearly transitions well into signing free agents. For Sharipzyanov, “what he brings to the table has nothing to do with his nationality, but his experience of coming over to a new culture and a new language… It gives him an advantage,” says McGill. “I don’t know if at his age if I could do that same thing.”
One of our Writers here at The Hockey Writers has also taken a look at Sharipzyanov recently and highlighted commentary made by a Bleacher Report journalist, who thought that Sharipzyanov may have been overlooked. This is one of the most common things about Futa picks: they are constantly overlooked and aren’t recognized until significant improvement has actually happened.
LA Kings’ Prospect Shifts Focus to Defensive Play
Sharipzyanov saw significant growth between the 2013-14 season and the 2014-15 season, in terms of point production. It pretty much doubled, but this season, it seems to have plateaued. “I’ll tell you why,” says McGill. “He’s been put into a situation here where he’s responsible for shutting down the other team’s top players. He isn’t focused on offense. His point reduction is a direct result of being focused on defense.” So when it comes to Sharipzyanov’s 200-foot game, “he’s got really good offensive instincts,” says McGill. “We want him to develop good instincts… we want reliable players,” and he’s becoming reliable because he’s getting better in all situations.
“His strengths, for sure would be his shot,” says McGill. “He’s got a phenomenal shot. It’s really, really hard.” Also, “his ability to pass the puck to where he needs it to get to, quickly.” When it comes to his weaknesses, “he has to work on his ability to play against speed… His agility in defending on one-on-one, to get out of tight spaces. This all has to do with speed.”
Sharipzyanov may never have been drafted into the NHL, but he’s still the first of 11 Kings’ prospects currently playing in the CHL to sign an NHL contract. If he keeps up the hard work, maintains his focus and takes the instruction of his hockey mentors, his future playing in the NHL will only get brighter as the day’s pass. “I will say this, though: he’s highly competitive. He doesn’t like to lose any battles… or games… or any one-on-one situations.” says McGill. “As coaches, when you see that, our job is to understand that. LA wants us to keep understanding that… He will play in the NHL if he’s a hard-nosed guy to play against.”