The 2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft will be held July 7-8 at the Bell Center in Montreal. Round 1 will be July 7 (7:00 p.m. ET; ESPN, ESPN+, SN, TVAS) and Rounds 2-7 will be July 8 (11:00 a.m. ET; NHLN, ESPN+, SN, TVAS) instead of. NHL.com counts down to the draft with in-depth profiles of top prospects, podcasts and other features. Today’s look at forward Danil Zhilkin of Guelph of the Ontario Hockey League. For NHL.com’s full draft coverage, click here here.
Danil Zhilkin approaches hockey with a desire to reach the NHL almost since he and his family moved to Canada.
That’s how he trains, how he plays, how he trains off the ice. Also how he handles his sticks.
“I love it when they’re perfect,” he said. “They all have to be equal on the bench. And if there is something that is not the same, you have to change and fix it so that everything is perfect. …And I will continue to be careful with my bat. That’s how you score goals, with your racquet.”
Zhilkin said he slightly changed his pre-game grooming routine as he got older.
“I used to spray paint it white,” he said. “Not so much now. I switched to black tape and just roll with it. It’s only seven stripes on the blade with regular tape and seven on top, make the knob a little bigger for my pinky. Otherwise just sand the.” Blade down a bit before I glue them in place. Nothing crazy otherwise.”
Teammates have noticed Zhilkin’s routine, but few go to his extreme level.
“He’s very good with his sticks,” said forward Matthew Poitras. “He always says how you treat your thug, that’s how your thug will treat you. He always sands it down with sandpaper, puts some candle wax on it and gives it some support. Kinda weird like that.”
Zhilkin’s maintenance of his sticks helped him finish second to Guelph with 55 points (23 goals, 32 assists) in 65 games and he is No. 35 The definitive ranking of North American skaters from NHL Central Scouting for the 2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft.
“For me, Danny has the whole package,” said Joey Tenute of Central Scouting. “He’s got the size (6-foot-1, 196 pounds), he’s got the skills, he’s got the intelligence. He has a power/speed style in his game where he can really come at you and back you up on your heels. And his IQ is very good in the offensive zone, so it doesn’t take much for him to get things going really fast.”
Zhilkin was born in Moscow and began acting at an early age. But a Roger Neilson hockey camp in Aurora, Ontario changed his family’s course.
“Actually, I was 9 years old,” he said. “I was here for two weeks for a camp and a coach saw me and just asked me to play the following fall. So we went back, grabbed our stuff and moved here, just like that.”
Zhilkin developed in the Toronto area leagues and was drafted No. 14 by Guelph in the 2019 OHL draft. He had 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) in 60 games in 2019-20 but did not play last season when the OHL canceled their 2020-21 season due to coronavirus concerns.
His only games were with Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Under-18 Championship. He was Canada’s third youngest forward (after top pick Shane Wright of the 2022 draft and Connor Bedard of the 2023 draft) and had two assists in seven games to help Canada win the tournament .
“I took on a profound role in the team,” Zhilkin said. “Kind of [moved] up and down the lineup. I played the Canadian way and did what the coaches wanted me to do. It was an incredible experience.”
Guelph coach George Burnett saw Zhilkin benefit from that experience on and off the ice.
“He played every line, he played, he didn’t play,” Burnett said. “It was the first time in his young career that he’d taken on a limited role and that’s all part of developing and understanding what it takes to play at such a short-term event. I think it was helpful. I know he was a good teammate and that’s the most important thing after all the pointers and reports and feedback I’ve received from people around the team and the tournament. That’s a pretty clear picture of a young man’s character and his willingness to take on a role.”
He built on the U-18s and played a top role with Guelph that season but was also moved to fullback for a game against Kitchener in March.
Burnett said Zhilkin played better than expected but the change of position was a one-off affair.
“I’ve done it in the past where you might take your most talented puck carrier and skater and put them in a situation like this,” Burnett said. “He handled quite well. Just his ability to carry the puck, put it on the ice and come back. He’s such a great skater. It was a shot in the blue and we were very excited and happy with how he played has . I just didn’t feel like we could do it in the long term.”
The long-term plan for Zhilkin is to remain a forward and Burnett said part of the focus is making sure Zhilkin understands the many ways he can influence a game.
“We’re trying to convince him that there are other ways to contribute even if you don’t score, whether it’s winning face-offs or blocking shots, penalties or checking,” he said. “You don’t always see that on the score sheet, but I think it’s a very important part of the development process. He has made great strides to understand that, but also to implement it.”
Zhilkin said he understands his game needs to grow, and that’s one of the reasons he’s looking ahead to the Tampa Bay Lightning Nikita Kutscherow so close.
“He’s so good at it all,” Zhilkin said. “He has such a great shot and vision. I was actually lucky enough to be able to attend Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals [in 2021] when they won. It’s an amazing experience to see these guys live and it’s awesome.”
This summer, Zhilkin will skate with other pros, including the Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid. He played as a defender against McDavid during a summer skate last year and saw firsthand how fast and powerful it is to play to the next level. Edmonton defender Darnell nurse and further Zach Hyman were also part of the game.
Zhilkin watched McDavid run through every shift and drill at full speed. And also how he took care of his gear.
“I had the pleasure of skating with them a couple of times last summer and I think I’ll be with them this summer too,” Zhilkin said. “I think just following these guys and seeing what they do every day and how everything is clean and perfect in their gear. That’s part of being a professional.”
Photos: Gar Fitzgerald
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