Photo Credit: Luke Durda/OHL Images
Scouting Report written by Paul Zuk
Danny (Daniil) Zhilkin is one of the top OHL players eligible for the 2022 NHL Entry Draft slated to take place this July in Montreal. Zhilkin is a dual citizen of both Russia and Canada, as he was born in Moscow, but moved to Ontario when he was ten years old. He moved to the Greater Toronto Area and played his youth hockey within the Burlington Minor Hockey Association.
After playing with the Toronto Jr Canadiens AAA program for a few seasons, Zhilkin made the switch to the Toronto Marlboros U16 AAA team which plays in the GTHL. He enjoyed success in his first season with the Marlboros in 2018-19, tallying 43 goals and 37 assists for 80 points in 102 games across all competitions. Playing behind teammates Wyatt Johnston and Jack Beck, Zhilkin managed to catch the eye of the OHL, and was later selected 14th overall by the Guelph Storm in the 2019 OHL Draft.
Zhilkin played his rookie season in the OHL in 2019-20, scoring seven goals and eight assists for 15 points in 60 games, but unfortunately the remainder of his season, as well as the entire 2020-21 campaign was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He was able to earn a role on Team Canada’s U18 team for the U18 Worlds in Texas, where he played up and down the lineup. He added two assists in seven games on his way to a gold medal, playing for one of the more notable U18 teams to ever play in the tournament.
The 2021-22 season was truly Zhilkin’s first full one in the OHL, and he didn’t seem to disappoint. He started the season on quite a tear, registering 15 points in the first 16 games off the hop. NHL Central Scouting raised his grade from a B to an A on their “Players to Watch” list shortly after. Zhilkin finished the season with 55 points in 65 games, but unfortunately the Storm were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in five games by the Soo Greyhounds, a series in which Zhilkin scored one goal and one assist for two points in 4 games played.
D.O.B – December 19, 2003
Nationality – Canada & Russia
Draft Eligibility – 2022
Weight –183 lbs
Position – Center
Handedness – Left
Zhilkin’s Style of Play
Zhilkin is a “do-it-all” style of player, meaning he can be relied upon to play in any area of the ice, in basically any situation that is presented. As his game has developed over the past few seasons, Zhilkin’s became much more dominant in all three zones of the ice and can be relied upon to play a 200ft game. One area of his game which scouts fall in love with, is his skillset in transition.
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.
In the clip above, Zhilkin picks up the puck from Luka Profaca at his own blueline and skates up through the neutral zone into the attacking third of the ice. He sees teammate Matthew Papais cutting out wide from the middle lane and uses him to pick off the Attack defender to create space for himself. He’s able to shake off the defender for a step, spin around, and put his quick release to work, firing home the OT winner.
Let’s take a deeper look into the facets of Danny Zhilkin’s game:
While he may not be the most explosive player on the ice for the Storm, Zhilkin’s skating ability is not something to scoff at. The mechanics all seem to be present in his skating, and his long, powerful stride aids him in competing for pucks. He tends to keep a low center of gravity and a wider base to help him generate those powerful strides and can usually reach his maximum speed after just a couple.
Zhilkin can show very impressive bursts of speed when fully engaged in the play. When carrying the puck in transition, he can often burst out wide and fly past the opposing defender. He’s also able to use that built up speed to drive the net and create uncomfortable situations for opposing players and goalies.
Zhilkin does also have some impressive foot speed, which is noticeable when in transition. He can weave in and around defenders with ease and can even squeeze in an extra crossover or two to generate as much speed as possible when entering the offensive zone.
Zhilkin’s edgework is average when compared to other NHL Draft eligibles coming out of the OHL, but he could use some work with his agility. With just a little more evasiveness, it will open up many more opportunities all over the ice for him to exploit opponents using his gifted offensive mind.
One aspect of Zhilkin’s offensive game is he has a knack for perfectly executing no-look plays. It seems as if he’s able to get a shot on net, or a pass directly on his teammate’s tape without looking several times a game. It’s clear that teams respect his offensive skill as he’s able to draw defenders on to himself by simply directing his head towards goal. Zhilkin uses this to his advantage as he can attract as many defenders as possible, then dish a beautiful pass to a teammate for a chance on goal.
In the clip above from the 2022 CHL TPG, Team Red recovers the puck down low in their own zone and starts the breakout. Shane Wright accepts a pass at their blueline and immediately dishes it off to Zhilkin. Zhilkin uses his powerful skating stride to break out wide to create separation between the defender and Wright by forcing the defender onto his body. Once he gets the defender to pinch over far enough, he’s able to dish a beautiful saucer pass to Wright who taps home the goal. Just awesome playmaking and execution from both players here.
Zhilkin likes to get pucks into high-danger areas, even if there isn’t a direct avenue he’s trying to exploit. He has no issue carrying the puck in the offensive zone and firing it on goal, often looking to generate a rebound in front, or trying to secure an obscure bounce in hopes it ends up in the back of the net.
When executing an offensive zone entry, Zhilkin utilizes his powerful stride and quick feet to catch defenders flat footed. He’s able to either carry the puck out wide with pace, or by cutting between the defenders and into the high slot area. While his shot is nothing to shrug off, he may just be an even better passer of the puck. Zhilkin’s vision on the ice and general hockey IQ is quite impressive and is more than capable of pulling off multiple “How did he see that?!” chances each game.
As mentioned above, Zhilkin does have one hell of a shot. He has an extremely quick release and isn’t afraid to fire the puck from just about anywhere that makes sense in the offensive zone. When he’s shooting from a distance, his main goal seems to be to generate a rebound in tight for his teammates to hopefully tuck home.
While Zhilkin’s defensive zone play isn’t necessarily why he’ll be sought after when the 2022 NHL Draft rolls around, he’s a sound defensive player when he’s on the ice. He’s positionally aware and can assist in covering off for his defensemen when they’re caught up ice, or in a puck battle along the boards.
When hemmed in their own zone either at even strength or on special teams, Zhilkin has zero issues sacrificing his body to block a shot and disrupt the opponent’s offensive zone setup. He’s also quite talented getting his body and stick into many areas to block passing lanes and disrupting the play. As he moves up in his career, Zhilkin’s ability to play in all situations effectively will reward him with more ice time for him to continue to develop.
However, Zhilkin’s overall defensive game could use some work. While he’s capable of winning draws and tying up the opposing center, it’s noticeable he can be caught watching the play at times. It could simply be chalked up to him overthinking in the defensive zone, but it should be something he looks to remove from his game as he transitions to the next level.
Another aspect Zhilkin may look to improve on is his consistency when backchecking and assisting his defenseman when they’re out of position. Zhilkin has showed he is extremely capable of doing this without hesitation, but he’s also shown he can be hit and miss with those abilities. Perhaps some more consistency in this aspect of his defensive zone skillset would benefit him.
While Zhilkin has shown his ability to be dynamic in transition and shoot the puck incredibly well among other strong points of his game, there is still some work to be done to fine tune his game.
Offensively speaking, Zhilkin’s overall game is the most professional-ready area of his game. He has a firm grasp on pretty much every aspect, although, he may look to work on his accuracy when passing the puck in the offensive zone. This isn’t a knock on his passing skills, as mentioned above, they’re quite impressive. It’s more so just a suggestion on sharpening an already solid trait.
Defensively, Zhilkin has made strides in the past season to improve his overall defensive game and transform into a three-zone player. As mentioned above, he may look to work on his consistency when it comes to his ability to cover off for his defensemen, as well as his focus when hemmed in the defensive zone.
With just some minor tweaks in his game, he can certainly develop into a middle six forward who possesses an abundance of offensive skill but can also play that shutdown role that teams definitely covet.
When you look at most prospects in the 2022 NHL Draft coming out of the OHL, it’s clear that the lost season of 2020/21 hurt their development quite a bit. Danny Zhilkin is no exception to that rule. There’s quite a lot to like about the way he plays, but just like everyone else, there are kinks in his game which will need more time for him to work out.
His offensive talent is quite impressive, and for the most part, his vision on the ice and his hockey IQ will allow him to be successful at the next level. However, how successful he could potentially be hinges on how the rest of his game can develop. It seems unfair to call him a project, as it’s not his fault for losing an imperative season of development.
There’s a solid chance that Zhilkin could sneak into the tail end of the first round, depending on if a team falls in love with his game, and if they believe he can round out his overall game to their liking. If that doesn’t become the case, I think his wheelhouse for being selected lies somewhere between 50th and 65th overall in the second round.
May 28, 2022
stats from InStat and EliteProspects
Prospect report written by Paul Zuk. If you would like to follow Paul on Twitter, his handle is @paulzuk_81.
Looking for other scouting reports? Check out the Prospects tab for our other scouting reports.
Need a scouting report on a particular prospect, contact us today!