Dmitri Zlodeyev celebrates his goal for Russia against Switzerland at the Junior World Championships in 2022.
Dmitri Zlodeyev’s World Junior debut on Sunday did not go as planned. In Russia’s 6-3 loss to Sweden, Zlodeyev was on the ice for two of Sweden’s goals and in the penalty box for one more.
On Monday against Switzerland, in his second match in the 2022 World Junior Tournament, Zlodeyev had a much better game, to the point that he was named Russia’s best player.
Zlodeyev is the only Canucks prospect at the annual Junior World Championships, and he was drafted in the sixth round of the 2020 draft. The 19-year-old forward plays on Russia’s fourth line and was pushed from the center to the left wing after the first period of Russia’s match against Sweden. He stayed on the left wing against Switzerland, playing primarily with Ivan Zinchenko and Ivan Didkovsky, neither of whom has been drafted by an NHL team.
In the 4-2 victory over Switzerland, Zlodeyev had only 9:47 in ice time, but he took advantage of his limited minutes and was heavily involved throughout the match.
After Danila Yurov opened the scoring with a lucky pinball goal, Zlodeyev scored Russia’s second goal of the match to make it 2-0.
It was an impressive individual effort from Zlodeyev. He picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone and tried to create some space with a head foul on the Swiss defender Arno Nussbaumer, who did not bite. Unable to get past Nussbaumer to the net, Zlodeyev tried to catch goalkeeper Pas Pasche from his post, but instead hit the outside of the post.
Zlodeyev stuck with the puck and fought against Nussbaumer to get the puck out in front, then took Pasche off-guard with an evil release on his shot.
Dmitri Zlodeyev (#Canucks) enters the zone and shoots from a narrow angle, then collects his own rebound and scores.
– EP Rinkside (@EPRinkside) December 27, 2021
It was not the most beautiful goal, but it showed two of Zlodeyev’s best qualities: his level of effort and his heavy shots, which he does not use near enough.
The heavy shot came into play again late in the second period. His wrist shot was blocked by Nussbaumer on the inside of his knee and it caused the Swiss defender to crash onto the ice in pain. Nussbaumer had to be helped off the pitch as an injury meant he was unable to finish the game.
Zlodeyev also had almost another goal in the second period on a rapidly evolving 3-on-1. Zinchenko tried to sell his shot from the middle of the ice and then put Zlodeyev up, but Pasche read the game perfectly and robbed Zlodeyev with his block, arguably his best save of the game.
Zlodeyev had another chance at breaking through on the right, but the home team’s left defense cleared the ball to a corner.
Most players do not get as many great scoring chances in 18 minutes of ice time: Zlodeyev got the three chances in less than ten minutes of ice time. Teams typically like to spread “best player” awards around during World Juniors, but Zlodeyev fully deserved the recognition in this game.
In addition to his scoring chances and goals, Zlodeyev showed some other good qualities. Against both Switzerland and Sweden, he played very well along the boards, winning puck matches and protecting the puck to extend offensive zone possessions. He made simple but clever passes to ease the pressure.
At the pre-check, Zlodeyev took smart roads to the puck, forcing Swiss defenders to make less-than-ideal breakout passes.
He is one of the few Russian strikers who regularly makes a beeline to the front of the net from the puck and plants himself there, fighting with defenders to create traffic up front. Much of the Russian offensive has come from the perimeter, so Zlodeyev’s willingness to get on the net is noticeable.
However, there are some shortcomings that have been obvious. His skating requires a lot of work, especially when he has the puck. He has a broad stance and often stops skating when he is stick action. At times, he accelerates well, especially in straight-laced situations, but his lateral mobility is lacking and he struggles to create separation.
That’s a problem, because if he does not create separation from his peers at this level, he will likely end up one step behind at NHL level.
Sometimes bad skating can be repaired, but it can often take a lot of time and effort. Zlodeyev has the engine to compensate for his skating at lower levels, but he has work to do if he wants to join his compatriot Vasily Podkolzin on the Canucks.
One of the areas where Zlodeyev’s bad skating shows up the most is when he carries the puck. He takes a broad stance and stops skating when he is stick action, which is also something that appeared in Podkolzin’s game before he came to the NHL. Podkolzin has been working on that area of his skating and is much more dynamic now with the puck, but that’s something Zlodeyev needs to address.