Last June, the Leafs made some eye-catching selections at the NHL draft by putting a premium on skill above all else. They took risks on high-end players with supposed flaws in their games, and in some cases they managed to scoop up a prospect whose actual selection was far below the pre-draft rankings.
While Dmitri Sokolov might not present with the same situation as any of the picks they took last year, by most accounts he seems to be arguably the most polarizing prospect in the draft. And as a result, his place in the rankings is all over the place. But there’s no doubt he is an intriguing option.
Sokolov was once-upon-a-time ranked as a top prospect in this 2016 class. In fact, as recent as September he was 12th on Bob McKenzie’s overall rankings.
So what the hell happened?
Well, first off, Sokolov was doomed to playing with the Sudbury Wolves, a team that won 16 games all season. By far the worst in their conference. To give you an even better idea of how terrible they were, the Wolves’ goal differential was, get this, MINUS 145. That’s in a 68 game season.
As for the scouting reports on Sokolov, there aren’t all that many recently since his stock has dropped out of many top-30 rankings. But Brock Otten of OHLProspects blog was impressed with what he saw from Sokolov in the second half of the season after a rough start that damaged his draft ranking.
Let’s examine the facts. He was the only rookie in the league this year to hit the 30 goal mark (even over Nylander and Jones), and he did it with little help in Sudbury…He lost over 20lbs over the course of the year and dedicated himself to being in better shape. And he battled a shoulder injury all season long that limited his effectiveness and required offseason surgery…He has the potential to be a real load for opposing defenders to handle based on the way he can protect the puck. And boy can he fire the puck, with a quick release.
The International Scouting Service (ISS), as questionable as it is as a resource, included Sokolov as one of their “wildcards” heading into the draft, which seems like a fair approach.
Can make you pay with quick accurate shot that can be released in traffic in next to no time.
Underwent shoulder surgery and missed U18. There’s potential here but a lot of issues need to be sorted out…
Lastly, Corey Pronman of ESPN, who’s probably higher on Sokolov than most, had this to say about his best attributes:
In terms of positives, Sokolov is a highly skilled forward with an elite shot who can dominate based on his puck skills, hockey IQ and power game. He’s a competitive player who notably improved his defensive play as the season went on.
As you can see, the skill is obviously there, but lack of conditioning, battling an injury, and his skating issues took Sokolov down a lot of notches from where he was in last fall’s rankings.
We know about why scouts are hesitant about Sokolov, but his numbers paint an interesting picture. The guy can really shoot…and score (which, you know, seems useful). In fact, his 231 shots on goal were third in the entire OHL for draft-eligibles behind only Alex Debrincat and Adam Mascherin (per Prospect-Stats).
Sokolov was one of only five draft-eligible prospects to score 30 goals in the OHL this year, and as mentioned earlier, projected first round prospects like Nylander and Jones didn’t even hit that mark.
Should the Leafs be interested?
If the Leafs want to take a swing for the fences, this could be the type of player they do it with. But I doubt they’ll reach for Sokolov at 30th or 31st.
To give you an idea of the range of opinion on this guy, Pronman at ESPN has Sokolov at 27th in his final prospect rankings, while scouting services like ISS and CSS have him 93rd and 129th, respectively. He’ll almost assuredly be there at the beginning of the second round, but then again he could be around for the Leafs’ picks at 57 and 62 overall, or beyond.
Sokolov appears to be risky as hell but I’d be fine with Toronto walking out of the draft with him. Maybe finding him a better situation than Sudbury (ahem…London) would give a clearer picture of what he’s capable of in his draft-plus-one season.