Brandon
Holmes
June 26, 2023

Deep Dive: Dmitri Simashev has sneaky potential in the 2023 NHL Draft

Defensemen are always amongst the hottest commodities at the NHL Draft, as many scouts and managers show up to their draft tables hoping to land their teams a blue-chip prospect at a premium position.

For the 2023 NHL Draft, there is some debate over who is truly the headline prospect on the blue line this year. Many in the private sphere lean towards Austrian-born David Reinbacher, a steady, high-floor two-way defender, while Axel Sandin Pellikka, a creative and skilled offensive defenseman, headlines the defensive class on FCHockey’s final draft board.

However, the No. 1 defenseman on this scout’s personal board is neither of the two, as I would like to present an alternative that I believe represents one of the highest ceilings available in this year’s draft: Russian blueliner Dmitri Simashev.

Here is your deep dive into what I believe is one of the 2023 Draft’s highest potential prospects.

Statistical Profile

On paper, Simashev’s counting totals don’t immediately jump off the page. He’s spent the bulk of his time over the past two seasons with Loko Yaroslavl of the MHL, which is Lokomotiv’s junior-aged affiliate. Over the past two seasons, Simashev has tallied six goals and 28 points in 79 games at the MHL level, 12 of those points coming this year during his 33 contests split between Loko Yaroslavl and briefly Loko-76 while posting a plus-26 rating. Throughout the year, Simashev earned playing time in the KHL with Lokomotiv, going scoreless during his 18-game pro stint.

In the early part of the year, I was a big fan of Simashev’s tools and thought it was a matter of time before the offensive results would begin to come for him. In the second half of the year, Simashev’s appeared to be playing with renewed confidence and swagger with the puck. In his final 17 MHL games of the season, he tallied ten points and rode that level of play into the playoffs where he was a dominant two-way force, posting two goals and six points during Loko Yaroslavl’s ten-game run to the conference finals.

Simashev’s Skill Set

As mentioned, during the first half of the year I was left very impressed with Simashev’s tools and overall skill set despite the production not quite coming yet, and it was because of Simashev making advanced plays like this:

In Simashev, you find one of if not the best skaters in the entire class, with a smooth, fluid skating stride and nearly flawless skating posture, all while being a physical tower of power standing at 6-foot-4 and 201 pounds. There’s a lot to like in Simashev’s two-way potential, but his bread and butter is in his defensive game. For me, it’s not up for much debate: Simashev is the 2023 draft’s top shutdown talent, as he’s able to blend elite mobility with reach, physicality, defensive aggression, and a high-motor to break up offensive probes before they’re allowed to develop.

When working at his best, Simashev’s gift is in his ability to break up plays, regain control of the puck, and quickly transition it the other way, making it easy to see his path toward becoming an elite possession player at the pro level.

Defensive Play

Let’s delve deeper into Simashev’s defensive play, as it’s what makes him less of a risky gamble on upside and more of a projectable player to professional hockey.

Elite mobility, size, and reach are excellent traits to have in a new-age shutdown defenseman, but those traits are for naught if you play a passive brand of hockey. Luckily, Simashev does not fall into that, as his defensive aggression is one of the things I love most about him. When opposing forwards are working against Simashev, he’s a smothering presence, attacking aggressively with his stick positioning to disrupt possession of the puck and generate turnovers.

Simashev’s reach and four-way mobility make him a natural transition defender, allowing him to close quickly on puck carriers and angle them to the boards with his stick and body positioning. All that’s left to do for Simashev is to win a puck battle, chip the puck to his partner, and he’s out of his own zone and back on the front foot. Plays like these are commonplace for Simashev; he’s poised, intelligent, and naturally gifted as an athlete, making him a legitimate obstacle for opposing offenses to topple.

Many 18-year-old defensemen with size like Simashev are still growing into their frames, leading to an often clunky and stilted skating stride that makes them particularly susceptible to oncoming speed in transition. He is a unicorn in that way, he’s that rare blend of size and mobility that NHL teams are constantly seeking out on the blue line, and as the NHL continues to trend faster and faster, Simashev should have no trouble adapting at higher levels of play when the pace quickens.

Simashev’s tool kit lends perfectly to his ability as a transition defender, but his defensive prowess also extends to his in-zone defending. He’s a natural penalty killer who can win battles for position in his own zone and block off passing lanes with his stick and body positioning. When he sees an opportunity to safely pressure a puck carrier, he takes it and can generate turnovers to end offensive pressure from the other team.

He excels at truly suffocating attackers deep in his own zone, not falling for quick changes in direction, and using his body and stick to limit time and space. This is how the modern shutdown defenseman operates in today’s NHL, but that isn’t to say he’s without some throwback elements to his game.

Physicality

The physical side of the game comes naturally to Simashev. He’s very difficult to win physical battles against, as he can overpower smaller opponents in front of his own net, separate opponents from the puck with open-ice hits, or even reverse-hit opponents while carrying the puck.

Simashev’s mobility allows him to easily line up opposing puck-carriers for hits or close off opponents along the boards.

As evidenced earlier, physicality isn’t the crutch that he rests his defensive game on, but merely another tool in his bag that he uses to limit and shut down offensive probes.

When he wants to, Simashev can play like a bull in a china shop, bowling over opponents with his large frame and excellent balance on his skates. More often than not, He comes out on top through contact, showing physical maturity in relation to his peers, and should quell any concerns that he would struggle against larger opponents at higher levels of play.

Offensive Progression

As noted earlier, Simashev really seemed to find a new gear to his offensive game in the second half of the season. In a November 30th report, I outlined what I wanted to see from Simashev throughout the rest of the year:

“Simashev showed some good offensive attributes with strong mobility, poise with the puck on his stick, and a heavy shot when he was able to get his full frame behind it, but he did show some timidness on the offensive side of the puck and acted more of a safety valve in the offensive zone for his team rather than participating to become a legitimate offensive threat. In future viewings, I would like to see Simashev continue to round out his game to become a more two-way threat rather than just a pure shutdown defenseman.”

In the early part of the year, I felt Simashev didn’t take enough ownership over the offensive side of the puck despite having tools that would lend themselves well to that side of the game. It felt like a mindset problem more than a skillset issue, and his play in the second half of the year validated that opinion as he looked the part of a true impact two-way defenseman rather than just a shutdown defender.

Simashev’s mobility is such a natural asset on the offensive side of the puck, and it was a breath of fresh air to see him engage that part of his game and activate from the offensive blue line to help generate offense for his team.

His skating allows him to play with a high degree of shiftiness and evasiveness at the top of the offensive zone, allowing him to freeze defenders and open up space for him to step into. He keeps his head up when handling the puck in these areas, allowing him to more regularly identify attacking lanes than he was in the first half of the season while generally still showing strong decision-making to not put the puck into harm’s way with ill-advised passes.

I have a lot of appreciation for how Simashev is able to extend offensive zone possession with strong decisions and his ability to find space with his legs, and I just want to see continued growth in his ability to make advanced offensive reads. During the MHL playoffs, he showed continued growth in this area, and it’s my hope that this is only the beginning for Simashev and not the cap on his offensive game.

Future Projection

Often times throughout the draft process, players are given a variety of labels, one of the most common being a player having a high ceiling or a high floor. More often than not, those two labels are used somewhat mutually exclusively, but I believe Simashev is a rare representative of both sides of that coin.

If Simashev’s offensive game stagnates, I believe he still owns a very respectable floor as a high-end, top-four shutdown defenseman at the NHL level. If Simashev’s offensive game continues to blossom, he has the potential to become an all-situations top-pair defenseman with his coveted blend of size, mobility, physicality, and flashes of high-end skill.

If I still need to sell you on the upside of this player, this I believe is the perfect encapsulation of the ultimate ceiling that Simashev possesses:

A 6-foot-4 defenseman that can deny zone entries, transition the puck quickly, play with a killer instinct, and flash advanced puck skills to generate offense, I believe there should be 32 teams lining up to add a player like that to their organization.

There’s a legitimate chance that Simashev finds himself out of the top 15 or even 20 on draft day, as he sits among a very strong draft class as well as his contract status in Russia not allowing him to be available to come to North America until the 2025-26 season, but I believe there is a very strong case for Simashev as a top-10 talent in the 2023 draft.

And he may be looked back on as one of the steals of this year’s draft.


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