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Danny Zhilkin: 2022 NHL Draft Prospect Profile: Middle-Six Center With High-Level Transition Skill

Second round prospect Danny Zhilkin should make an impact as a 200-foot third line center one day.

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2022 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images

Who is Danny Zhilkin?

Danny Zhilkin - born Daniil Zhilkin on December 19, 2003 in Moscow, Russia - is one of the prospects available in this year’s NHL Entry Draft. After being born and raised in Russia for the first 10 years of his life, Zhilkin and his family moved to Mississauga, Ontario. Because Zhilkin has done more of his “growing up” in Canada, that is how he identified to Scott Wheeler of The Athletic:

“Coming here at such a young age, you grow up here, you go to high school here, all of your buddies are from here. I have a few connections back home in Russia but not many. And then once I played at U18s for Team Canada and won that gold medal, it truly made me Canadian,” Zhilkin said of the “unbelievable” experience in Texas.

According to his Elite Prospects, page, Zhilkin stands at 6’0” and a solid 196 pounds. He has played for the Guelph Storm in the OHL, and did not play during the 2021-2022 OHL pause. In this most recent season, Zhilkin had 23 goals and 32 assists in 66 games. Below, you can see his Hockey Prospecting profile, created by Byron Bader. Bader’s model gives Zhilkin a 50% chance of playing 200 NHL games and a 15% chance of having more than 0.7 points per game in the NHL (57.4/82).

Hockey Prospecting - Byron Bader

With prospects like Zhilkin, you have to wonder how much the lost COVID season hurt him. Going from 15 points in his age-16 season to 55 points in his age-18 season is a pretty decent jump. But what if he got to play during that time lost? What we’re left with here is a bit of an underwhelming production profile.

Where Zhilkin is Ranked:

What Others Have to Say About Zhilkin:

One of the common themes of scouting reports on Zhilkin is that he is a very good transition player. For Smaht Scouting, Paul Zuk wrote that Zhilkin is an all-zone, 200-foot player - and he makes his biggest impact in this facet of the game. Zuk writes,

In transition, Zhilkin is just ridiculously talented and just a pleasure to watch, as his deceptiveness and nifty hands make it extremely hard for defenders to anticipate what he’s going to do with the puck. This keeps many defenders on their toes as they’re unsure of his next move. Zhilkin exploits this several times per game by accelerating into the offensive zone and putting his high hockey IQ to use. His zone entry and exit numbers are quite impressive to look at, especially after factoring in the traits in his gameplay mentioned above.

Using Mitchell Brown’s CHL tracking data, we can statistically quantify whether the scouting reports are right that Zhilkin is an excellent transition player. You can see Zhilkin’s percentile card below. While the offensive impacts leave something to be desired for a high-round prospect, Zhilkin seems to have made up for his in-zone inefficiencies with skill. However, it appears his transition skill comes as advertised.

Mitch Brown

For Last Word on Sports, Ben Kerr also praised Zhilkin’s ability to use his skating and hands to carry the puck through the three zones, putting defenses on their heels due to his speed. Kerr notes that, as a puck distributor, Zhilkin is “a bit of a risk taker,” which seems to be reflected by the disparity between the number of successful shot assists and expected goals created off his passes as tracked by Mitch Brown. Zhilkin’s offensive philosophy seems to be, based on this evidence, centered around dangerous chances over quantity of chances. Regardless, Kerr continues,

Zhilkin can also be a goal scorer. His wrist shot is powerful and accurate. It also features a very quick release. Zhilkin is able to make a quick move with the puck just before shooting it, changing the angle of his release and fooling goaltenders. He can get to the net where he can beat a goalie with a quick deke and elevating the puck. Zhilkin is able to find open ice in front of the net when he doesn’t have the puck. With his hands, he can pounce on a rebound or get a deflection. Zhilkin can create offence through strong forechecking and winning battles on the boards as well.

I am a bit surprised Zhilkin is not sold as more of a defensive forward given his willingness to get his hands dirty, making plays on the puck without taking a penalty. Kerr did not touch on his defensive ability much, just mentioning his experience as a penalty killer who creates turnovers with an active stick.

Some Video of Zhilkin:

Since I could not find a shift tape video for Zhilkin, the video section today is only his highlights. This first video is just a quick highlight, but it showcases the mix of skating ability and Zhilkin’s puck-hunting attitude. In this instance, it led to a short breakaway.

This second clip is pretty ridiculous. It makes me wonder how Brown’s tracking stats had Zhilkin’s offense in such a middling range. Just look at his puck skills here combined with his strong skating.

The third clip is also an assist highlight. This video came when Guelph was on the power play. With a loose puck near the corner, Zhilkin collected it and moved toward the net, drawing a defender near him. With the open space for a pass, Zhilkin made his move.

Beyond this, we have to look to Twitter for video clips. This one here is pretty fun. You know how Bob McKenzie put Juraj Slafkovsky at the top of his draft board? Well, that would put Shane Wright in the Devils’ fold. Zhilkin should be available at the time of their second round pick - and here they are when Zhilkin was asked to move to Wright’s wing for the CHL Top Prospects Game.

Last in the video section is this overtime goal that Zhilkin scored to complete a three-goal comeback.

This shot really froze the goaltender, and I think Zhilkin has a good shot of maybe outperforming his draft expectation. I think his in-zone chances, as tracked by Brown, indicate he needs to work on in-zone efficiency. As seen in clips like these, he certainly has the skill to be a force on the ice.

My Thoughts

The first thing I am thinking, having watched some highlight clips and reading about Zhilkin, is that I really wish I could have watched a shift-by-shift video. I liked what I saw on a skill level, but I need to see him make plays in the defensive zone, on the forecheck, and in the offensive zone. From what I can tell, Zhilkin is able to make plays on the puck without taking penalties, and this leads to transition opportunities for his team. For whatever reason, this does not translate to a whole lot of chances - and I would like to know why.

His production is a little underwhelming, but it’s also at a level I can understand a second-round prospect being at. Due to where he is normally projected - the later second round - I do not think the Devils are very much likely to walk away with Zhilkin during the Draft. There are more dynamic players that should be available at the start of the round when the Devils will be on the clock.

That is not to say I dislike Zhilkin as a prospect. His blend of skating ability and skill gives him a great ability to influence the game with his explosive bursts through the neutral zone. I could imagine him being a very good third line center. He is someone to keep in mind - especially if he drops to the third round. Ultimately, though - I think he’s more likely to rise a few spots from his average ranking rather than drop a few.

Your Thoughts

What do you think of Danny Zhilkin? Have you seen him play? Do you think he’d be a good target for the New Jersey Devils? How do you think he projects in the NHL? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.