With the news that Calgary Flames prospect and Rimouski Océanic star Dmitry Zavgorodniy is out 8-12 weeks with a fractured collarbone, now is the perfect time to reflect on what the young player has done so far this season. His injury is a big loss both to Rimouski and to Team Russia at the 2020 World Junior Championship.
The 198th selection in the seventh round of the 2018 NHL Draft, the Flames selected forward Zavgorodniy. The Russian was coming off of a solid rookie season with the QMJHL’s Océanic, putting up 26 goals and 47 points in 62 games and was one of the best rookies in the league. Fast forward nearly a year and a half, and the young player has become one of the Flames top prospects.
There are some very important things to note when talking about Zavgorodniy. First, he’s on fire to start 2019-20. Second, yes, he plays on a line with the probable first-overall pick ahead of the 2020 NHL Draft, Alexis Lafrenière – we’ll get to that. Finally, this success that we are seeing should not come as a surprise to anyone.
Zavgorodniy Starting 2019-20 on Fire
Zavgorodniy is playing on the top line for Rimouski with Lafrenière and Cédric Paré. At the time of writing, the 19-year-old has 16 goals, 27 assists and 43 points in just 23 games. He’s almost at his rookie production and prior to his injury, he was on pace to destroy his last season’s totals as well (28 goals, 36 assists, 64 points in 67 games).
Of all of his games thus far in the season, he’s only not had a point in four games. In fact, he started his season with an 11-game point streak (Lafrenière’s best streak this season is nine games). On top of this, he’s had nine multi-point games though.
His best performance so far came Oct. 16 against the Baie-Comeau Drakkar. In that performance, the young player scored a hat-trick and added three assists in the 9-2 win. He also had a five-point game (Oct. 31 against the Saint John Sea Dogs, a goal and four assists) and two four-point games.
His performance is coming after a strong outing iat the Flames prospect camp this summer, getting consistent top-nine minutes. He improved immensely over the summer in his skating and quickness, as well as his decision making. He looks much more mature this year than in past seasons.
Even prior to the performance we’ve seen though, Zavgorodniy has earned the respect and faith of the Flames. This was evident in the club signing their prospect to an entry-level deal in April. While lots of prospects are signed to these deals, it isn’t often that a seventh-round pick is signed to one this fast.
The forward shows flashes of brilliance at times and these instances have been coming more and more often. He’s taken slightly longer to develop than some other prospects do, but there’s nothing wrong with that. The ceiling is high for him right now and if he continues to trend the way he has, I don’t see why he can’t reach it.
Is the “Lafrenière Effect” Contributing to Zavgorodniy’s Success?
Let’s discuss the elephant in the room: is Zavgorodniy’s play because he’s playing with Lafrenière? Of course, there’s going to be an impact. The projected number-one overall pick ahead of the 2020 NHL Draft could raise anyone’s performance. But the impact on Zavgorodniy isn’t as big as you might think.
Yes, the point totals are likely inflated. Have you seen Lafrenière play? He would inflate pretty much any player’s numbers. What sets Zavgorodniy apart though, is his ability to keep up with his opposite winger. Lafrenière doesn’t have to drag the Flames prospect behind him. Instead, he’s right there with the younger player, contributing and making the line that much better.
Plus, Zavgorodniy is still a productive player without the future star on his line. To see an example, look no further than the 2019 CIBC Canada Russia Series, where he led the tournament with five points (three goals and two assists) in two games. You can argue that he was playing with another stud in Alexander Khovanov, but the two complement each other rather than one player pulling the other. The same is happening with Lafrenière.
The big takeaway from this is Zavgorodniy’s ability to play with elite players. He has the skill to keep up, contribute, and as I mentioned, compliment those other players. That is not an easy task and should not be taken lightly.
Over his development, he’s become a smarter, well-rounded player. He’s solid in both ends of the ice and he has great hockey IQ. He is the type of player that elite players want to play with. If his trajectory continues, that might be very possible.
Zavgorodniy’s Success Shouldn’t Be a Surprise
There are many signs that point to Zavgorodniy being as successful as he has been. Look no further than his draft year. I’ve already mentioned his stats with Rimouski in this season (his rookie season), 26 goals and 47 points in 62 games, but there’s quite a bit more that should have led NHL teams to believe he’d develop into a stud.
It started in the summer leading into the season, when the Omsk, Russia native competed at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, putting up five goals and five assists for 10 points in five games. That led the tournament in points.
He kept it going internationally, representing Russia at the World U18 Hockey Championships, collecting one assist in five games and played in the World Junior A Challenge, although he didn’t record a point in four games. But, he was invited and he made these teams.
This draft year performance had many fairly high on Zavgorodniy, leaving many well-respected scouts and analysts ranking him high ahead of the draft. The Hockey Writers‘ own Larry Fisher had him 58th in his final top-100. The Draft Analyst, Steve Kournianos, ranked him 39th overall in his final ranking. DobberProspect’s Cam Robinson had him at 106, ESPN’s Chris Peters ranked him 80th, and Future Considerations put him 86th.
These all projected him to go between the second and fourth rounds. Instead, he was very close to being undrafted at 198th overall in the seventh and final round.
Many people thought that Zavgorodniy had potential. They showed that back then, in the various rankings. Even then, he was known as a fierce competitor and an opposing coach’s nightmare. Now? Everyone is seeing that in this big season as the Flames prospect is looking like he’s on track to be a very good NHLer. Hopefully, Zavgorodniy can get healthy and jump back on to the ice without skipping a beat.
Starting out as an Ottawa Senators contributor for The Hockey Writers, Josh is now an editor and at-large contributor, focusing on prospects, the NHL Draft, hockey history, and breaking news stories.