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Last year, Dmitri Ovchinnikov was ranked 15th on our T25U25 list. The fact that his ranking has dropped 6 spots when a bunch of players graduated, not a lot of new players entered the list, and this is the weakest year for eligible players in the entire time I've been involved in this... well it doesn't speak well for the esteem Leafs fans are holding for Ovchinnikov these days.
|Age as of July 1
But if you think about it, that's a bit weird. Last season wasn't a huge year for him points-wise, but as a pretty young player he finally had a full year in the KHL where he played every game. So it does seem like a stepping stone season for him.
If other voters have the same issue in mind for Ovchinnikov, it comes down to one question: what exactly is he?
Ovchinnikov was a 5th round pick by Toronto back in 2020. He's a 5'11" center/winger from Russia with a late August birthday, making him one of the youngest players in his draft class. In that draft year, he had the most points in the MHL for U18 players with 55 in 54 games.
The next season was a bit of a hybrid for Ovchinnikov. He spent most of the season in the MHL again, with 51 points in only 40 games which was the highest points per game pace among all U19 players who played in more than 10 games. He also got into 16 games for his KHL team, though he struggled to get any real playing time. He only had one assist, though he only had more than 10 minutes of ice time three times. The following year was more of the same. He had 29 points in 22 MHL games, and 17 games in the KHL with 3 points. The reason why he had so few games played isn't because of injury, it's because he was mostly kept on his KHL team's roster but was still rarely played – only twice did he have 10+ minutes of ice time.
But this past season, Ovchinnikov finally got regular minutes in the bottom six. He played the entire season in the KHL, never being sent down to junior. He averaged 9:43 of ice time, and had 13 points in 68 games. On the one hand, that seems great! It's a good sign of progression and trust earned from his KHL team. Only nine players born in 2002 or younger played in 60+ games in the league that season. As far as forwards, Ovchinnikov had the lowest point total of them all – you could maybe say that this is because the other forwards had more ice time, powerplay time, but I would say he still hadn't really shown he deserved more time.
That brings me back to that question. What is Ovchinnikov? His strengths when Toronto drafted him was speed and skill, the classic stereotypical zippy forward of the Maple Leafs. The problem is that projecting a potential role for him, even in the KHL, is weird. His speed is legit and could be useful, but while he has some skill he doesn't really have a lot – he certainly doesn't show enough to make me certain he has a future in the NHL. If I were to rate only his offensive skill (passing, shooting, puck handling) alongside Toronto's other forwards on this list, there aren't many I'd clearly rate him ahead. I had hoped he would be better than this, but his skill seems to have stagnated since being drafted. I still had some hope for him in the flashes of ice time he got in the KHL during the 2021/22 season, but this past season he seemed worse despite getting regular minutes.
The problem is that he doesn't really offer much else – not that I've seen on a consistent basis anyway. A few times I'd see him use his speed to forecheck hard, get down on defensemen quick and force turnovers, all that lovely chaos creation that you love to see speedy players weaponize. But he didn't do it often enough.
Basically, when he didn't have the puck he wasn't that good at getting back. When he did have the puck, he wasn't that good at making something happen with it. that makes this season a make or break one for him. Maybe, maybe, he just wasn't in a good system in Russia, and coming to the Marlies and working with their development staff and AHL coaching will help unleash that potential he seemed to have. If he can't prove himself to be one of the Marlies' better forwards by the end of this year, what does that say about him? It's not like he has a young Nylander, Brown, Kapanen, Hyman, etc on the roster. Voit, Tverberg, Hirvonen, and Steeves all have questions of their own.
So, I'll be up front and say I did not rank Ovchinnikov at all. You can consider what I wrote above to my reasoning why. In fact, four of the ten voters didn't rank him at all – with 14 being his best ranking.
Here's the breakdown of his votes:
The other voters had some thoughts on this player:
Cathy: I think it’s meaningful to ask what is the difference between Ovchinnikov and the guy ranked one below him, Lisowsky. Ovchinnikov is almost two years older and has one full men’s pro season played after a few short stretches of games in the prior two years. The KHL has degraded, but it’s still another level entirely to junior hockey in Canada. That’s the sum of the difference for me, Ovchinnikov is playing much tougher games, and is surviving at this point. That gets you up out of the dregs of the list for me.
dhammm: I ranked Ovchinnikov high last season thinking he was tired of riding the pine in the KHL and was coming over to the AHL for playing time. Instead, he went back to the KHL, but he managed to get icetime in depth duty at the KHL level, and that's not nothing—even if Ovchinnikov has yet to piece together a truly exciting season. If I placed him where I placed other prospects who had pro experience and who had done more than merely play in junior, this would have been the 3rd year in a row where I would have felt like I was ranking Ovchinnikov higher than he really deserves. He's got a cool name and the reputation for exciting hockey, and he’s only in his D+3, but he needs to hit the ground running in the AHL and put together a season to make people believe in him again.
Catch-67: Another small, late-round, offensively-minded player whose highlights I’ve enjoyed seeing on my twitter timeline. That said, he lost a bit of lustre this year for me because of his lack of success in the KHL and his relative invisibility in the handful of games he’s played with the Marlies over the past two seasons. A good first full season in North America would really help raise his profile in my eyes.
The Bag: Ovchinnikov was hard to place for me. On the one hand, he had a full-time role on a KHL team (and not a terrible one) in his age 20 season. On the other, he was 12th in team scoring. That’s largely due to usage but if he has an NHL future, he needs to earn a spot higher in the lineup with Sibir Novosibirsk in the coming season.
So that's what the main voters think, what do you all in our community think? Do you still believe in his skill or has your patience worn off as well? Let us know!
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