2023 NHL Draft prospect Dmitri Simashev is a dynamite shutdown defender (but he’s Russian)
Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
By Ryan Pike3 months ago
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In 50 trips to the NHL Draft, the Calgary Flames have never taken a player based in Russia in the first round. 1999 first-rounder Oleg Saprykin, who’s from Russia, was playing in the Western League when he was selected. But there are a couple promising Russians in the 2023 draft class that might tempt the Flames outside of their comfort zone.
First up: shutdown defender supreme Dmitri Simashev.
A product of Kostroma, Russia, Simashev has a February 2005 birthday and turned 18 midway through the 2022-23 season. He’s a left shot defenceman listed at 6’4″ and 200 pounds. He currently plies his trade with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, located an hour’s drive west of his hometown.
Simashev is a really interesting player. Because of geopolitical reasons – Russia invaded Ukraine – we haven’t seen him head-to-head against most of the other high-end 2023 prospects. But he’s played a good amount in Russia’s top leagues, and he’s performed really well against some high-end offensive talents.
Dobber Prospects’ Graham Montgomery detailed Simashev’s game:
A large, smooth-skating, two-way defenseman with intriguing upside. Strong skating, puckhandling, and puck distribution skills make him very effective in transition. Similarly, his anticipation of opposing neutral zone plays combined with his long reach and strong positioning makes him very effective in denying zone entries, particularly controlled entries. His defensive impact on the cycle is admittedly less impressive, but he is still strong in his own zone, and he is particularly good at finding ways to get the puck out with control. He is arguably the best defender in the draft. His offense relies too much on perimeter plays and he has shown hesitance in shooting the puck that could limit his offensive upside, but he has also shown enough in terms of puck distribution skills and off-puck positioning that one could see a world where he regularly produces points at the NHL level.
Gray Matter of Smaht Scouting wrote this assessment:
In my opinion, Simashev is quite possibly the best defenceman in this draft, and by far the best defensive player. He’s fluid on his skates, and very mobile, especially for a guy his size. He shuts down plays before they start; he reads and anticipates play very well, stepping up in the neutral zone with perfect timing to prevent entries without taking himself out of the play. He uses his size effectively and protects the puck really well, extending his long reach and using his free arm to shield off pressure. He’s not the most physical yet, but I think that’ll come when it’s necessary, he doesn’t really need to be right now, and he won’t take himself out of the play to throw a pointless hit. But don’t underestimate his offence either, there’s a lot more potential there than he gets credit for. If he has the puck, good luck getting it away from him; he controls the puck exceptionally well and adapts to pressure instantly, weaving through defences in transition and making it look easy. He’s a breakout wizard, great at escaping pressure with the puck, recovering it along the boards and combining his skating and puck protection to evade incoming pressure; he sniffs out contested pucks and turns them into offensive rushes in an instant. The stats still don’t suggest a very offensively skilled defenceman, but then you’ll watch him pull off like five insane plays in one shift that no other defenceman in this draft does, and you start to really see the potential that he has. To me, his upside is some of the highest in this draft, and I really believe that he can be a good #1 defenceman in the NHL some day.
In short: Simashev is a really effective defensive player. His offensive game is less developed. How highly you rate him probably varies depending on which side of the game you think is easier to develop. But if nothing else, he’s been able to play against grown men in the KHL and not look out of place.
Now, let’s get into the Russia of it all. Since 2013, 15 Russian-based players were drafted in the first round. Of those players, all but one – 2022 Minnesota pick Danila Yurov – have signed with the team that selected them. The Flames haven’t had a ton of success with Russian-based players, but they also haven’t been going for them early in the draft, when they would select the most promising Russian prospects. (When you’re drafting mid-round projects, sometimes they don’t turn out, and that’s where they’ve been taking Russians recently.)
In 18 games in the KHL with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl this season, his first-ever pro games, Simashev had zero points. He ranked second in the KHL in games played by an under-18 player.
In 33 games in the junior MHL with Loko Yaroslavl (and Loko-76 Yaroslavl), Simashev had 12 points. He was ranked 10th in points by an under-18 blueliner in that league, and fourth in points-per-game by an under-18 blueliner.
Availability and fit
The Flames’ defensive pool is pretty short on blue-chippers, so adding a superb blueliner like Simashev could be a good fit. Again, his offensive game is a work in progress but he’s able to defend well already. The Russia factor is what it is: there’s no IIHF transfer agreement between Russia and the NHL right now, so Simashev will probably play out his KHL deal, which runs through 2024-25. The Flames probably don’t get him into their system until 2025-26, so Simashev would automatically become a longer-term project than some of the other potential 16th overall selections.
Opinions are mixed on Simashev. That isn’t to say that different scouts think he’s good and others think he’s lousy. He’s highly-regarded, but his placement on various rankings varies quite a bit. He’s not in the first round for Sportsnet or Scott Wheeler. He’s 9th for McKeen’s and 10th for Corey Pronman. He’s 18th for Daily Faceoff and 24th for FC Hockey.
If Simashev can develop his offensive game a bit, he could be an excellent draft choice. But that’s a fairly substantial “if.”
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