Under the drafting leadership of Mark Hunter, the Toronto Maple Leafs showed a penchant for towering defencemen, and there were groans from the nerdier part of Leafs Twitter to stop drafting for size.  Well, if you like drafting little players who score, guess what?

Semyon Der-Arguchintsev is our #20.

The Player

Russian-born, OHL-trained centre Semyon Der-Arguchintsev is tied for the title of Youngest Player Picked in the whole 2018 Entry Draft, taken 76th overall by Toronto.  If he were one day younger, he wouldn’t have been eligible until 2019. He’s also one of the year’s smallest draftees, listed at 5’10” and 159 lbs.  You may wonder why the ten august and learned minds of the PPP braintrust decided to all rank a third-round pick who is essentially an adorable newborn baby.

The answer is that SDA, as the cool kids call him, has playmaking talent to burn.  You might guess that anyway; he finished third on the hapless Peterborough Petes in points, behind a pair of 20-year-olds (2015 Leafs’ draftee Nikita Korostelev and undrafted now-ECHLer Logan DeNoble.)  SDA is a passer first, foremost and finally. He regularly played on a line with Korostelev and RW Pavel Gogolev for the Petes, and his two wingers put up matching 30-goal seasons while Semyon racked up the apples.

To hack it as a player of his size and keep producing even at the junior level, SDA has to be elusive and tough to pin down, because when he gets stuck in a physical battle he’s going to have a tough time winning it.  That latter point is probably why it took until 76th overall to draft a player who can do things like this:

In my mind SDA spends this entire clip singing “na nana nana nyah you can’t catch me” on his way up the ice.  SDA doesn’t quite have the raw speed to burn guys like this all the time, and you’d like to see a little more of it from a guy his size, but his agility is terrific and he’s able to make plays while he employs it.  Notice how at the end of the clip that as he appears to run out of room he threads a pass out to his teammate entering the slot.  He can see an opening and put the puck through it before the defence knows it’s there.  Does that remind you of anyone?  Maybe a certain Leaf winger who, to judge by his appearance, is also about 12 years old?

SDA is obviously nowhere near Mitch Marner’s class.  But it’s that playmaking skillset that makes him so exciting, and the classic boom or bust pick.  As opposed to a jack-of-all-trades player who doesn’t much wow you but doesn’t have obvious weaknesses, SDA makes plays at an elite level and has no physical game to speak of.  His shot is fine, but he doesn’t take as many shots as you might like, being a very pass-first player. An increase in shot and goal totals might be expected as the Petes lean more on SDA next season, since Korostelev (KHL) and DeNoble (ECHL) are now gone.

People not unreasonably expect that SDA is more likely to be a winger at the pro level than a centre (although it’s worth noting that centres of his height are by no means unheard of in the modern NHL—Brayden Point comes to mind.)  His capacity to slip away from the defence may also define him at the pro level: if he can sustain it, he could be a very dangerous NHL player.  If he can’t, he probably won’t be any kind of NHL player.

Corey Pronman of the Athletic has long been high on SDA, warts and all:

Der-Arguchintsev can make high-skill plays, showing high-end hands and ability to create space. He’s one of the best playmakers in the class, who can flash elite vision, is very patient and looks to make plays to his teammates. He plays with pace, able to make tough plays at full speed and buzz around the zone. He has a lot of growing to do, though. He skates fine, but he’s not as explosive a skater as you’d like for his size, and he has to bulk up a ton, as his physical game at the moment is quite poor.

Ben Kerr of Last Word on Sports:

Like Janik, Der-Agutchintsev barely makes the cut for 2018 NHL Draft as a September 15, 2000 birthdate. He is a skilled playmaker. Der-Argutchintsev is an excellent stickhandler who opens up passing lanes with quick feints, and changes in direction. He can put the puck through tight spaces, and put it right on his teammates tape. Der-Argutchintsev has good anticipation and sees where his teammates are headed before they get there. He could be more dangerous if he can add some power to his shot. He also needs to bulk up to work along the boards and in front of the net.

Brock Otten, OHL prospects writer, agrees with the consensus and finishes with an exciting quote:

But I reiterate, this is one of the youngest players available and he has a very high ceiling if everything gets put together. It’s the type of pick you make in the 3rd or 4th round and perhaps look like a genius.

Scott Wheeler, formerly of PPP and now also of the Athletic (boo, sellout), has a mixed review of SDA:

On one hand, it’s clear — as always — that he can make plays. There’s no question he sees the ice as well as anyone at the OHL level.  But on the other hand, it’s clear that Der-Arguchintsev is one of those rare players who is successful in the OHL because he’s gifted, but will not be able to play like he does up a level. There’s a natural aging and growth curve that will obviously make him better, and fast, mitigating against some of that in the process, but a lot of it comes down to how Der-Arguchintsev plays stylistically.

The crux of it, according to Scott, is that SDA is able to exploit bad junior defenders in a way he won’t get away with as a pro; he also makes turnovers, as many ambitious playmakers do.  Scott’s final line is the one that sticks out to me: “He is without question the most fascinating of the Leafs’ prospects.”

The truth is that the lower part of our rankings, like every year, is a muddle.  There are plenty of tricky, agile playmakers who have mixed results when they make the transition to pro—Dmytro Timashov’s work in progress with the Marlies is a testament to that.  And anyone in this range is a longshot to be any kind of NHLer,  But SDA has as much standout skill as anyone ranked outside our Top 10, and as an extremely raw prospect you can dream on him.

The Stats

Semyon Der-Arguchintsev from Elite Prospects

2014-2015CIHA Voyageurs Bantam AAAOEBHL301323366
CIHA Voyageurs Minor Midget AAAOEMMHL10110
CIHA Voyageurs Bantam AAABig Nickel Bantam41340
2015-2016CIHA White Midget AAAHEOMAAA4621497018Playoffs QC41340
Krylia Sovetov Moskva U16Russia U1610000
2016-2017Peterborough PetesOHL63821292Playoffs123582
2017-2018Peterborough PetesOHL6812395118

The Video

If you’d like to watch Russian youths merrily demolish OHL defence, I recommend the above video to your attention.  Gogolev as the left-shooting trigger man on the right side works to great effect time and again, and it’s largely because he has our boy Semyon feeding him like a baby bird.  It’s not hard to see why Gogolev wound up with nearly twice as many goals as assists last year.

Our Thoughts

Our Kevin Papetti provided the following explanation for his vote on SDA (18th):

SDA is two years away from being two years away, and it’s difficult to decide where to rank a 17-year old on a list that features 24-year old pros. He’s an undersized but quick forward who sees the ice well, and it is easy to envision a breakout season for him offensively as a result. He played on a bottom OHL team last season, so his 51-point season is nothing to criticize. Ultimately, SDA is a player who was a few days away from being in the 2019 draft, and I am willing to bet that would have cracked next year’s top 60 if he had another season to showcase himself and develop.

I think he belongs anywhere in the 17-22 range on this list, and his size and playing style makes him a bit of a high risk, high reward type of prospect. It has been well-documented that Pronman put SDA in his top 31, and while I am not quite as high on him at this point, I think a player with his scoring potential deserves to be comfortably on our T25U25 list. If I am genuinely excited to see what a prospect can do next year, they probably belong in my top 20.

Our Commander in Chief Katya also shared her thoughts on him (Katya had SDA 24th on her ballot):

When Daniel Briere was Semyon Der-Arguchintsev’s age, he’d just finished his first season in the Q where he scored 123 points in 72 games. As the quintessential modern man who was too small to be an NHL centre but did it anyway, he hadn’t been just making plays to bad linemates, although he had one assist per game, he scored goals to the tune of 10 more than the second-best guy on his team. That’s why he was drafted 24th overall. Like Der-Arguchintsev, he has a late birthday, but it’s late enough, he had another year of junior (with 163 points) before his draft. Der-Arguchentsev is not that class. Few people are, and no one drafted ahead of Briere scored as many NHL points as him. But the same forces that shoved Briere to 24th will have pushed Der-Arguchintsev out of the second round.

Der-Arguchintsev hits three of the factors cited in various research that have a high probability of lowering a player’s draft position from where it “should” be. His fourth-quarter birthday, his size, and his nationality. As a small kid, and we can likely assume he was one of the smallest on every team he’s ever been on so far, he’s always been playing over his head. As a kid younger than almost all of his teammates, he’s had a maturity gap that never goes away. As a Russian on draft day, even if he’s playing in the OHL, there are lots of teams that will walk on by.

I kept multiplying my mental ranking for him up because of all three of those reasons. He’s put in two seasons in the OHL, which is amazing in and of itself, that he played in that league at 16, and his Primary Points per Game rose by over 55 per cent year over year. I follow the Principle of Prospect Pessimism, but when you’ve got a guy so good, so young, one glance at the steep start to an aging curve tells me he can rocket up in performance over the next three years and outpace a lot of our prospects who are older and seem more finished now. He is already ahead of Adam Brooks, who didn’t have a good season until his third year in the WHL. He can go at least as high as Brooks. Maybe I should have ranked SDA even higher. Time will tell.

I had SDA 18th, myself.  Partly it’s that the votes from 13th on down the list are a wild jumble, without clear distinctions between many of the players.  Mostly what I like about SDA is that he has clear standout skill, and there’s a lot of room for him to get better—as Katya says, he’s been smaller and younger than his teammates.  That doesn’t guarantee him anything, and at any point he could plateau far short of the NHL.  At the same time, the raw talent there is exciting in a way you don’t usually get from a third-round pick, and in a prospect pool that is now rather thin outside the NHL, that’s worth a lot.

The Poll

Is the ranking of Semyon Der-Argunchintsev at #20 right?

Too high138
About right599
Too low144