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Winter T25U25: #20 Denis Malgin & #19 Dmitri Ovchinnikov

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Tampa Bay Lightning v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

#20: Denis Malgin

Many things about 2020 are already forgotten in the tidal wave of horror and chaos we’ve been enduring. You could certainly be forgiven for forgetting the February trade where the Toronto Maple Leafs sent AHL power forward Mason Marchment to the Florida Panthers for pint-sized winger Denis Malgin. The deal played very neatly into stereotypes of the two GMs involved. Kyle Dubas picked up the neglected, 5’9” playmaker, while Dale Tallon went for the bashing 6’4” grinder who has NHL pedigree without much of an NHL future. New NHL, meet old NHL.

Even if you’re a believer in 21st-century hockey, though, Mr. Malgin left little impression. Despite getting some brief opportunities up the lineup, Malgin put up a cool zero points in eight games for the Leafs pre-pandemic suspension. He didn’t get into a game in the qualifying round against Columbus. His extension for one year at $700,000 (on a one-way contract) was barely noticed. After a raft of bottom six signings ahead of Malgin like Joe Thornton, Wayne Simmonds, Jimmy Vesey, and Travis Boyd, NHL fans might reasonably expect they will never have to think about Denis Malgin again.

They might not! Except for those of us doing a ranking.

Two things jump out for Malgin: he’s younger than you might think (he will turn 24 in January, just like his player comparable Connor McDavid) and he has appeared in 192 NHL games. That means Malgin has played more in the NHL than all but three of the names on this list, and not to spoil too much, but they’re the three at the top. No one picked in Malgin’s draft round (the fourth, in 2015) is anywhere close to that. By the standards of mid-to-late rounders, Malgin ranks as a sparkling success even if he winds up staying in his native Switzerland for the rest of his career. He has 60 points in those NHL games, which again, is a number the vast majority of his cohort will never touch.

Malgin is a very gifted playmaker with elusive skating, and he occasionally shows some actual finishing ability. This reel is a couple of years old and comes after Malgin’s best season (when he put up 11 goals in 51 games for Florida), but you can see him slip out of reach or zoom away on a breakaway before beating goalies. It’s good times.

After his fairly anonymous Leaf audition, you could be forgiven if your memory pulled up a FILE NOT FOUND when you tried to recall what Denis Malgin can do. But he can do quite a bit, and the long shadows of Nylander and Marner shouldn’t obscure that he really does have high-level offensive skill. He’s also agile enough to employ it despite his small size (he’s point per game in Lausanne while on loan right now, if you’re wondering.) He just doesn’t quite seem to have enough of it for Toronto.

#19: Dmitri Ovchinnikov

In a normal year in the T25, nobody ranks a player who just got picked in the fifth round. This is a reasonable attitude to take: if the whole league passed on a player four to five times a month or so ago, that ought to keep expectations well in check. The rare players who do rise to prominence from late picks (like Connor Brown or Andreas Johnsson) do so over years to come.

In case you’ve been in a coma—well, first of all, I’d suggest going back into your coma for a while—but 2020 has been very much not a normal year. We’re doing this ranking in December and not July, and Ovchinnikov has been clobbering MHL (the Russian junior league) and getting short cups of coffee in the KHL, the elite Russian pro league. At time of writing, Ovchinnikov is kicking ass for the fiercely-named Siberian Snipers, and he leads the MHL in points. This is partly the product of an enormous amount of ice time, but the fact that our boy Dmitri is both playing and scoring constantly would seem to suggest he’s about ready to move past Russian junior and into a pro league—presumably the VHL, which is the second league in Russia and roughly aligns with the AHL in North America.

There are a couple of reasons why he might not have been moved up to the VHL yet. One is that the club thinks it’s better for him to be where he is, for whatever developmental reason. Another is that Russia is—speaking scientifically here—fucking enormous. Both the MHL team (the Siberian Snipers) and the KHL team (HC Sibir) are in the city of Novosibirsk, while their VHL affiliate (Yermak Angarsk) is a whopping 1,794 KM drive eastward. Going straight from the MHL to the KHL might be a big jump in competition level, but in more literal terms it’s a much smaller distance for our prospect, and a lot easier to do if his organization wants to keep him available at two levels of their system.

Enough geography. Ovchi, as I am nicknaming him for ease of doing business, was ranked higher in some quarters than he wound up being picked. He’s a very quick, agile skater and a hard worker, and as his boxcars will tell you, he doesn’t lack offensive skill. Scouts praise his willingness to attack on offence. He is, that said, feather light—EP currently has him at 5’11” and 161 lbs., and scouting reports talk about him being knocked off the puck despite his best efforts. It’s not enough of a problem to hold him back in the MHL, but it’s an issue to be addressed as he moves up.

In the leadup to the draft, Ovchi won a few admirers, including Will Scouch, one of the keenest public sphere draft analysts. Scouch notes his flaws (he’s raw, he chases the puck defensively) while praising his benefits (he plays hard, skates well, and in Scouch’s opinion may have long-term centre potential.) He’s a neat project, essentially, and a neat project is about the best thing you can get out of the fifth round.

If you’re looking for a fun little highlight clip of Ovchinnikov—and why not—this one is short and sweet. The optimistic viewer will note how he creates space with his skating to make plays; the pessimist will point out that gets a lot harder outside of junior. Tell the pessimist to shut up for 45 seconds though.

Ovchi only turned 18 in August, making him one of the younger players selected in this draft (a Kyle Dubas trademark.) He has plenty of time to bulk up and improve, and patience is completely justified even once the heady glow of his MHL highlights fades a bit. He has time.

Denis & Dmitri

And Malgin doesn’t.

These two forwards ranking back to back is neat for narrative purposes, because it compares two players who have some similarities and yet are at different stages of the cycle. How you ranked each of them might tell you something about what you value. (I ranked Malgin 15th, and I did not rank Ovchinnikov at all. Species and Brigstew did exactly the opposite.)

Winter T25 Votes: 20 and 19

Player Dmitri Ovchinnikov Denis Malgin
Player Dmitri Ovchinnikov Denis Malgin
Summer 2020 Rank N/A 16
Birth Date August 19, 2002 January 18, 1997
Nationality Russia Switzerland
Position F W
Species 15
Brigstew 15
Katya 20 14
Hardev 23
Fulemin 15
Kevin 17
Jared 13 18
Adam 13
Rahef 24 20
Weighted Rank 19.9 20.4
Lowest Rank 24 20
Highest Rank 13 13
Spread in Rank 11 7
Total Votes 7 5

It’s completely legitimate to value Ovchinnikov’s future more highly than Malgin’s present. He has five and a half years before he’s as old as Malgin is now. He can only play the games in front of him, and in those MHL games he’s been exceptional, while his KHL production (which is nil) should hardly count against him considering he’s there as a development project and barely plays. Yes, he has things to fix, but he’s 18; nearly every player does at that age, much less ones picked 137th overall. Whereas it’s not hard to see Denis Malgin spending the year playing for Lausanne in Switzerland whenever they do play, and perhaps not showing up in the NHL again. Sheldon Keefe, after all, has had a look at him, and he looks a long way from the top twelve forwards in the Leafs organization.

You can just as easily point out that Denis Malgin has played more NHL games than Ovchinnikov is ever likely to. A very high percentile outcome for Ovchi is just to turn out as good as Denis Malgin, and the leap from clowning fellow junior players to producing even a point every three games in the NHL is much longer than the drive from Novosibirsk to Angarsk. Both players have been called top-six-or-bust types; the difference is that Malgin has actually been in an NHL top six before slipping back, and Ovchinnikov is unlikely to ever do so just based on the odds of any fifth-rounder doing it. It’s probably more likely that Malgin makes the Leafs lineup in the next year or two than that Ovchi makes it ever. One of them needs a few injuries to do it and the other needs a quantum leap in development.

Putting more weight on that longshot chance that Ovchi really does make that big jump, and becomes not just a fringe NHLer but a contributor, is a fair way to look at things, and I don’t mean to say one view or the other is wrong. The vote just happens to have thrown up a chance to look at two different probably-not players: one who looks to be on the way up, and one who might be on the way out.

Voter Quotes

For Malgin:

Brigstew: He’s barely old enough to be eligible, and he has lots of NHL games and seems to do okay when he’s given a shot. But at this point he’s not getting better, and I honestly can’t distinguish between him and career AHL/NHL tweeners like Nic Petan. I just don’t value guys in that group very much, because as the Leafs have shown the past few years you can easily get better guys for cheap as free agents. So I didn’t rank him, but I wish him well.

Katya: He’s Pierre Engvall without the history as the coach’s favourite, so he’s paid half as much, but he’s as good. He’s Joey Anderson, more or less. They’re all serviceable depth players.

For Ovchinnikov:

Brigstew: He has some real nice point totals for a guy his age in the MHL, even if a lot of his points are coming because his team plays him almost half of each game. He’s starting to get groomed to play with his KHL team. Rodion Amirov was a first round pick who is close to a full year older, and just last year he was splitting time between the MHL and KHL. Difference is Amirov was good enough to average 9~ minutes of ice time in the KHL where Ovchinnikov has averaged 3ish. So he’s not at the level of a first round draft pick (shocking), but still seems pretty good. He seems smart, speedy, and skilled. He seems too good for Russian junior hockey by now. Those are all things you want to see in a prospect’s post-draft season. I ranked him 15th as a guy who is just on the cusp of being in the group of “legit prospects”, which is darn good for a 5th round pick.