Player: Denis Smirnov
Position: Left Wing
Height: 5’10” Weight: 185 lbs.
Team: Penn State(Big 10)
Final NHL Central Scouting Rank: 167th among North American skaters
What I Like
Smirnov is really smooth with the puck on his stick, especially when he gets in tight around the net. He’s really quick and really skilled. Here’s a couple good examples of his ability to finish:
The other thing that really stands out about Smirnov offensively is that he’s got great vision and passing ability. He has the ability to find a second or third option to maintain possession and create offensive opportunities rather than trying to force a play.
I understand the allure of upside and realize Smirnov is two years older than most of the other players that will be selected in this Draft, but I strongly believe there’s something to be said for a player already proving he can be successful at the NCAA level. There are some high schoolers that will be picked that may not go on to match Smirnov’s 47 points last year over the course of their collegiate career. Not that being safe is every(or any) team’s goal, but there’s less variance in drafting older NCAA players in the later round.
What I Don’t Like
Having a height that starts with a five isn’t an automatic disqualifier the way it once was in the NHL, but it does come with certain limitations. Smirnov isn’t particularly bulky so he has to play a finesse game, which limits his versatility. If he’s not scoring, he tends to disappear on the ice.
He also lacks blazing speed, which can make it tough for a player his size to be effective at the next level. He’s got excellent offensive instincts that allow him to spot openings and create chances that way, but that’s much harder to do at the pro level where defenses make fewer mistakes.
Smirnov got off to a blazing start this past season for Penn State, but much of that built against an incredibly weak schedule. He tallied 21 points over a 10 game stretch against Canisius, Niagara, Alaska-Anchorage, Arizona State, and Michigan, all teams in the bottom half of the country, and all at home. He recovered from a brutal dry spell in January to finish the year with 26 points in his other 29 games, which is still pretty good, but his numbers aren’t quite as impressive as they appear.
NHL Central Scouting has Smirnov right on the edge of being drafted, once you factor in Europeans and goalies. I would probably pass on drafting him, but I’m admittedly on the lower range of opinions on him since I saw some of his worst games of the season this year. There’s a possibility that a team could fall in love with his offensive upside and take a shot at drafting in the 5th-7th round. It would be a low percentage pick, but there isn’t a ton of high-end talent available in the later rounds, and it wouldn’t be any worse than anyone else you’d get in those later rounds.
There’s no doubt that Smirnov had a very good year last year for Penn State, but this is the tricky part. If Smirnov is going to be a contributor at the NHL level, it’s likely going to have to be as a top-six scoring line forward, because his size will limit his ability to play in a role that doesn’t utilize his offensive talents. He’s good, but I’m not sure he’s that good. There’s a chance he takes another step forward in development and becomes an elite player, but it’s much more likely he’s a career minor league guy. He’s definitely a boom-or-bust type of prospect.