Daniil Zharkov was selected by the Oilers as the 91st overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft and is currently in his second season with the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League. Phil Phillps covers the Bulls for ohlwriters.com and answered a few of my questions about Zharkov’s progression.
ME: Zharkov has been blessed with size (6’4″, 212) and skill. Why hasn’t he been able to translate that into greater offensive production?
PP: Last season Daniil came to the Bulls as an unknown to the fans. He was laid out in training camp and didn’t get to start right away. But once he returned to the lineup, he scored 15 goals in his first 17 games. But what happened then I believe is the rest of league as a whole figured him out and started targeting him and found a way to shut him down. This season it’s been the same thing just in reverse. When Daniil returned this season after being drafted, he certainly wasn’t a secret anymore. The end of last season and the being of this season, in my opinion, was Zharkov learning how to adjust to the style of the OHL. He’s starting to come into his own in the 2nd half of the 2nd half.
ME: Zharkov doesn’t seem to lack confidence. At the NHL Draft, he said, “It’s my goal to be better than Yakupov.” How would you describe his personality?
PP: Zharkov seems very confident and really friendly. You can tell for sure that he wants to be in North America and is eager to learn the game here and the culture.
ME: It was a surprise to many that Zharkov was given a spot on the Russian World Junior team. What did you think of his play in the WJHC?
PP: I don’t think it should have been a surprise. He played pretty well in the Subway Super Series, and he knew Team Canada’s roster as well as anyone there, including their goalie. I thought he played well at the WJHC. Since coming back his game has been at a different level.
ME: From September to the end of 2012, Zharkov had only 8 goals and 3 assists in 30 games. Those were extremely disappointing numbers. But after returning from the WJHC, he tallied 17 goals and 15 assists in 29 games. To what would you attribute this increase in production?
PP: Someone or something motivated him at the WJHC. Maybe it helped to be in the spotlight. And some of it I think has been linemates. He has played very well with both Joseph Cramarossa and Alan Quine.
ME: Zharkov was quoted as saying, “I’m a physical player. I actually call myself not Russian but more of a Canadian player. And I think that I’m really physical in the way I skate and shoot the puck.” Do you agree that he’s a physical player?
PP: He is physical and can hit. He is also kinda of cheap, maybe even a bit dirty, and mouthy. He is one of those guys who can really fire up another team’s bench and building. In Ottawa they despise him. But in saying that, they would love to have him.
ME: How much time does Zharkov get on the power play and penalty kill for the Bulls?
PP: He gets plenty of PP time, and he can kill penalties but isn’t a regular on the PK unit.
ME: Last season Zharkov was -5; this season he’s +12. (This might not mean much since this season’s team has a much better goal differential, going from -21 to currently +61.) Has Zharkov improved his defensive play during his time in Belleville?
PP: His play without the puck has been his biggest area of improvement since coming to Belleville. Coach Burnett demands it.
ME: One criticism of Zharkov is that he’s not a good distributor of the puck. How would you evaluate his passing?