2021-22 Team: Guelph Storm (OHL)
Date of Birth: December 19, 2003
Place of Birth: Moscow, Russia
Ht: 6-foot-2 Wt: 183 pounds
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2022 first-year eligible
- NHL Central Scouting Midterm Rankings: 27th (among NA Skaters)
- Bob McKenzie’s Midterm Rankings: 31st
- Dobber Prospects’ Midseason Rankings: 41st
- Andrew Forbes’ March Rankings: 45th
- Peter Baracchini’s March Rankings: 45th
- Draft Prospects Hockey Winter Ranking: 45th
- Smaht Scouting Winter Ranking: 59th
- FC Hockey: 82nd
Danny Zhilkin is an intriguing prospect heading into the 2022 NHL Draft. He was upgraded to an ‘A’ rating on the NHL Central Scouting’s Player to Watch list back in November after jumping out to 15 points in 16 games with the Guelph Storm to start the season. It’s not something that’s done regularly, but after the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) lost their entire 2020-21 season due to concerns with the pandemic, Central Scouting made the exception for three players who looked like they had greatly improved their draft stock and should be considered for the first round of the 2022 NHL Draft.
Related: 2022 NHL Draft Guide
A lot of that decision was based on Zhilkin’s maturity on the ice. He specializes in bursting out with speed and carrying the puck into the offensive zone, but he’s not reckless in his transitions, instead employing a deftness and deceptiveness that are arguably already NHL-calibre. With the puck, he drives the play and can create opportunities at a rate that few can replicate, sending strong passes to teammates or firing a hard shot on net. After 20 games, he was still just on the outside of scoring at a point-per-game pace and was at one time tied for the league lead with three game-winning goals. He also displays strong defensive awareness, which is not always seen in top offensive forwards.
Part of his success this season undoubtedly came from playing alongside Anaheim Ducks prospect Sasha Pastujov, who joined the Storm this season after playing the past two campaigns in the United States National Development Program. Instantly, the 2021 third-round pick established himself as the team’s top forward, rocketing to first in points, but Zhilkin was right there with him, centring the top line and helping him lead the team in goals. The pair became the Storm’s anchors, playing in nearly every situation.
The one knock on Zhilkin’s game so far has been awareness. At times, he’s failed to create high-danger plays when the opportunity presents itself as well as skating himself into trouble rather than utilizing an open passing lane. Sportsnet scout Sam Cosentino described him as someone who “…understands the how and the why, it’s now about applying that knowledge to execute.” He’s also seen a bit of a drop in his production this season, falling back to about a .80 point-per-game pace, and projects to finish with 22 goals and 53 points – a fine total, but a little lacking if you consider him as a first-round selection.
But that hasn’t bothered some, including expected first-overall pick Shane Wright, who paired up with Zhilkin at the CHL Kubota Top Prospects Game in March and set up a perfect assist for him to score the first goal of the competition. “He’s a smart player,” said Wright after the game when asked about the goal and what it was like to play with him at center. “He thinks the game at such a high level, super skilled, and he can make plays in such small areas…definitely a fun guy to play with and a really good player.”
It’s far from the only highlight-reel goal Zhilkin has been part of, using that high-end speed to create space and open up a slot for him to fire the puck, as seen in the clip below, where he splits the defence and forces the goalie to pull low to one side, which opens up the top corner. But what this and many other clips don’t show is that he also possesses a physicality to his game, something he felt he demonstrated at the Top Prospects’ game and that scouts will certainly like to see more of from him. Despite needing some time to figure out the position earlier this season, he’s also become a very good faceoff man, ranking 12th in faceoff win percentage in the OHL among players who have taken at least 100 faceoffs.
Like all prospects, there are parts of his game that could use some work, specifically his overall hockey IQ, defensive skill, and playmaking, but that’s not to say these areas are bad. Defensively, he has the speed and awareness to break up plays, although some scouts want to see him exert a bit more effort when playing that role. On offence, he always has his head up, looking to take a pass and break up the ice with his strong, quick stride that allows him to get up to top speed in no time. The offence hasn’t always followed him, but he’s gone very few games without a point this season.
Other THW Draft Profiles:
Danny Zhilkin – NHL Draft Projection
Zhilkin has made a compelling case as to why he should be taken in the first round. He’s been ranked as high as 22nd this season, and although he has dropped some since then, he still possesses plenty of aspects NHL teams love. However, his point total isn’t as high as some would have liked it to be this season, and although that likely will improve as he develops, it may prevent him from going on the first day of the draft. Still, he won’t be passed over for long as this is a player that will be gone by the beginning of the third round.
“Zhilkin is a very skilled center. On his best shifts when you see a 6-foot-1 pivot who can dangle and create chances like he can it gets you excited about his projection. Zhilkin is a pass and shot threat who can run a power play well. His skating is fine — not explosive but good enough. His game can lack pace, though, which is his main issue. He competes well enough off the puck but it’s not his strength. I see him as a potential top nine forward; if down the middle it would be as a 3C.” – Corey Pronman, The Athletic (from ‘The 2022 NHL Draft ranking: Pronman’s top 32 prospects at the midseason mark’, The Athletic, Jan 19, 2022)
Zhilkin excels in the transition game, moving pucks up ice with his quick feet and shifty hands. The Guelph center does an excellent job of bobbing and weaving through the neutral zone and has a track record of making reads to attack weak points as a puck carrier or passer. Zhilkin makes passes off the back heel of defenders making it difficult to defend as well. He needs to work on how consistently he hits his targets on the tape but he is rarely all that far off.” – Tony Ferrari, The Hockey News
“Zhilkin is a transition monster who uses his top speed and puck skills to gain entry into the offensive zone every opportunity he gets. Once he is in the offensive zone, Zhilkin capitalizes with his attacking style of play to quickly create a scoring chance for his team. One of Zhilkin’s skills that doesn’t get as much attention is the quick release of his wrist shot. When on the power play, Zhilkin tends to look for screens in front and open shooting lanes for him to release his wicked wrister on net, hoping for a goal or to create a rebound for his teammates. Over the course of the last couple of years, there has been much-needed growth in Zhilkin’s defensive play. He has brought his attacking mentality to all three zones of the ice and has made life more difficult for oppositions in his own zone.” – Zack Szweras, Dobber Prospects
“It’s very evident just by watching him that he’s ahead of the curve at this point from a lot of prospects; he really plays a mature game. He’s a top line player that plays in all situations for Guelph, so he’s a big part of his team and he’s a very strong skater. He had a good U-18 Worlds and showed his ability to play up and down the lineup while filling multiple roles in that tournament.” – Joey Tenute, NHL Central Scouting
- Skating and speed
- Transitional game
- Puck control
- Strong shot
Under Construction (Improvements to Make)
- On-ice vision
- Creating high-danger chances
- Defensive awareness
Zhilkin is a low-risk pick as he projects to be, at the very least, a bottom-six player in the NHL thanks to his blend of size, skill, and speed. He’s not a one-dimensional threat, either, and can effectively kill penalties and transition back to defence when needed. He isn’t afraid to get messy in the corners to dig out a puck, making him a strong candidate to end up in a special teams role in the future. Though, there’s a chance he could end up being a strong, second-line player if he can upgrade his vision and awareness. He already has a great shot and strong pass, but if that can be combined with a better on-ice sense, he’ll be a very dangerous player in the NHL, potentially like a David Backes or a Blake Wheeler.
Risk – 2/5, Reward – 3.5/5
Fantasy Hockey Potential
Offence – 7/10, Defence – 6/10
Although he was born in Russia, Zhilkin moved to Mississauga at a young age and has played for Canada internationally at both the 2020 U17 World Hockey Challenge and the 2021 U18 World Junior Championships, where he helped the Canadians win a gold medal over the Russians.
Danny Zhilkin Statistics
An elementary teacher by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.