Canucks GM Jim Benning admitted that centre was an area of need in their prospect pool, but it took until the sixth round for the Canucks to select a centre at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
Dmitry Zlodeyev is a two-way centre renowned for his defensive game, but questions abound about his offensive upside. He had 28 points in 42 games in Russia's junior league, well down the list of first-time draft-eligible players in the MHL.
"I'm a little bit surprised that they went in this direction, just because he projects as more of a bottom-six centre," said J.D. Burke on TSN 1040. "He's somebody who's really quick on retrievals, really hard on the puck, real attentiveness to detail. It's a projectable game."
"I'm really surprised that he was available in this spot, frankly," he added. "I know people within the sport who rated him quite highly going into this draft. It's not a surprise that Craig Button himself had him right near the end of his second round."
Button, TSN's head scout, had Zlodeyev ranked 50th overall on his final list and he sees a lot of potential in the 5'11" centre, comparing him to Radek Faksa of the Dallas Stars.
"He's got that style of game: he's in the middle of everything," said Button. "He's competitive, he's determined, he's hard. He wants to win the puck and if he doesn't win the puck, he's going to try to come back and win it in the next space."
Offensively, Zlodeyev is more of a playmaker than a goalscorer, but Button noted that he played to that strength, knowing where to put the puck to give his team a better chance to score instead of trying to do too much himself. "That speaks to real, significant hockey sense," said Button.
That's not to say that Zlodeyev can't shoot the puck — he's able to get the puck off quickly when he gets the chance — but it's not the strength of his game. His best attribute may be his competitiveness, which drives his play in all three zones.
"There's a V8 motor chuggin' along where this kid's heart ought to be," says a scouting report from Burke for Elite Prospects. "He's just relentless, consistently pressuring the puck-carrier or throwing himself with reckless abandon at his opponents on puck retrievals."
That motor and defensive game make him a strong penalty killer and he's known for winning faceoffs as well. He shuts down passing lanes aggressively with a smart stick.
According to Burke, Zlodeyev's "singular focus in the offensive zone" is to get the puck to the middle of the ice to create shots from the slot. That's a positive and a negative all at once: he's not necessarily the most creative player, but he at least consistently tries to get the puck to the right area of the ice.
"I don't think he's going to put up significant offensive numbers but you are going to want him out on the ice," said Button. "He's got a powerful approach to the game. It's not just the determination or the initiative, it's physically, he's in there. He doesn't dip a toe, he doesn't reach in, he's fully invested."
"I think that Dmitry's a really, really solid player that has a chance to be a good NHL player for a number of years," he added.
Getting a potential shutdown centre in the sixth round is a solid bet for the Canucks, but it's possible that he has more offensive upside. His season in Russia has already begun and he's off to a strong start in the VHL, Russia's second-tier professional league, with 3 goals in 5 games.
In the VHL, Zlodeyev's averaging just over 14 minutes per game and is 52.7% in the faceoff circle. He scored his first goal of the VHL season in his first game, winning a puck battle in the corner, then darting to the front of the net to tip in a point shot.
Do you want to see all 3 goals new #Canucks prospect Dmitry Zlodeyev has scored in 5 games in the VHL this season? Of course you do.— Daniel Wagner (@passittobulis) October 8, 2020
Here's goal one, where he wins a battle in the corner then tips in a point shot. pic.twitter.com/iDRLJhJJP6
If Zlodeyev can develop some offence to go with his well-rounded defensive game, the Canucks would be thrilled. Even if he doesn't, he has the potential to play in the NHL on the strength of his defence alone.