The Calgary Flames seem comfortable leaving their comfort zone in the late rounds of the NHL Draft. In recent years they’ve become more comfortable with grabbing undersized scorers, with the likes of Matthew Phillips and Andrew Mangiapane being snapped up by the club. But this past June they did something they rarely do: select a small, Russian import player from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in the seventh round.
It’s a bit of an interesting move for a team that hasn’t had a ton of recent success with Russians or Quebec league players, but Dmitry Zavgorodniy is an interesting prospect who could be worth the risk.
Originally from Osmk, Russia, Zavgorodniy came up through the Avangard Omsk organization and put up strong numbers. He led the Russian U16 league in scoring as a 15-year-old and was top 30 in scoring in their U17 league as a 16-year-old – he was third in the U17 league on a points-per-game basis.
Zavgorodniy’s domestic success led to interest on this side of the Atlantic, which led to him making the big leap and coming over to Canadian major junior hockey via the 2017 CHL Import Draft. A bright-eyed 17-year-old Russian was dropped into the heartland of the QMJHL with the Rimouski Oceanic.
“I really like Rimouski and North America, Canada,” said Zavgorodniy at Flames development camp. “People like hockey and now every time each game, four thousand people at each game. It’s pretty cool. And it’s a bit different. It’s different, but my teammate [Denis Mikhnin] is from Russia, he’s a big help when I arrive there.”
In addition to adjusting to all the on-ice differences of North American hockey, including the smaller ice and different pace of play in the QMJHL, Zavgorodiny had to adjust to life in a bilingual country and a team where not everybody spoke the same language. He credited his coaches with helping him adjust.
“It’s hard at first,” said Zavgorodniy. “I sit in the locker room and all speak French, just four or five guys who don’t know French. My first time I came there I wasn’t sure how to speak there. But I learned some French words. I want to learn some [more] French.”
During the season, Zavgorodniy took language classes twice a week to help him adjust (and presumably will continue to do so). He made a strong first impression in his rookie year, with 47 points in 62 games – good for fourth on the Oceanic. With a playing style and build somewhat resembling a right-shooting Mangiapane he seems poised for a stronger 2018-19, as the Oceanic will have potential 2020 top pick Alexis Lafreniere leading the way while some departures will open the door for Zavgorodniy to have a bigger role on the team.
“I want to get better every day,” said Zavgorodniy. “I don’t have any goal, but I just want to make the team in Rimouski and try to show what a teammate I am. And go on that roster and try to make NHL and sign a contract. That stuff, that’s my dream, to play in NHL. I want to do all I can to go there.”
Zavgorodniy was one of the youngest first-time eligible players in the 2018 draft class, not turning 18 until mid-August. Due to where his birthday falls, he’s not eligible to play in the American Hockey League until the 2020-21 season – so he’ll have two more full seasons in the QMJHL to hone his craft. For now, he’s just excited to be drafted.
“I’m pretty happy to be part of this organization,” said Zavgorodniy. “I’m so proud. It’s really cool. It’s one of the best days of my life.”
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