Dmitry Zavgorodniy is a fascinating player.
He played three seasons for the Rimouski Océanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, serving as part of a formidable scoring unit with future NHL first-overall pick Alexis Lafrenière but also thriving in his own right.
Zavgorodniy made the jump to the North American professional ranks in 2020–21 and initially struggled to translate to the next level. He stuck with it and earned the praise of the Stockton Heat coaching staff along the way for his perseverance and gradual improvement.
What lies ahead for the 20-year-old Omsk product? Let’s take a closer look.
How Zavgorodniy got here
The Calgary Flames made Zavgorodniy their seventh-round pick at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft following a strong debut year in the QMJHL for the right-handed 5’9″ winger.
Zavgorodniy scored 26 goals and added 21 helpers in 62 games with Rimouski in 2017–18. He took another step in 2018–19, tallying 28 goals and 64 points in 67 games.
In Zavgorodniy’s final QMJHL season, 2019–20, he and Lafrenière powered the Océanic to a 38-18-8 finish. He contributed a career-high 29 goals and 67 points in only 40 contests.
Along the way, Zavgorodniy drove play at an admirable rate. Pick224.com estimates he averaged over 21 minutes a night during the 2019–20 campaign; during Zavgorodniy’s shifts at even strength, Rimouski outscored its opposition by an eye-popping 62–18 margin.
Zavgorodniy’s 77.50% on-ice goals-for rate ranked as the second-best in the entire QMJHL, ahead of such players as Jakob Pelletier, Samuel Poulin, Jared McIsaac, Egor Sokolov, and, yes, Lafrenière.
Rimouski scored 89 goals during Lafrenière’s shifts and allowed 42 (67.94% on-ice goals-for rate). The Océanic went from controlling 77.50% of even-strength goals in Zavgorodniy’s time on ice to just 55.24% (58-47) in his time on the bench.
Zavgorodniy signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Flames on March 30, 2019. The deal slid for the 2019–20 season before taking effect in 2020–21.
Zavgorodniy’s latest season
As a 2000-born player, Zavgorodniy was eligible to join the Stockton Heat of the American Hockey League starting in the 2020–21 season.
He did just that, playing 29 of the Heat’s 30 games and scoring four points (one goal, three assists).
Zavgorodniy’s first AHL season featured more learning opportunities than goals. He transitioned to the Flames’ professional ranks with exposure to nearly every possible in-game situation, spending time on Stockton’s fourth line with Mark Simpson and Alex Gallant while also earning deployments next to leading scorers Matthew Phillips and Adam Ruzicka.
After a long dry spell to start the season, the scoring eventually started to come for Zavgorodniy. He failed to register a single point in his first 20 AHL games and was a healthy scratch for the first time on April 2.
Zavgorodniy returned to the Heat lineup on April 4 and posted his first AHL point two nights later. After a week-long break for the team, Zavgorodniy recorded points in back-to-back games against Belleville and added his first AHL goal, slinging a beautiful shot over Kevin Mandolese’s glove, on April 15.
Heat coach Cail MacLean described his decision to scratch Zavgorodniy on April 2 as being born out of a desire to give his young forward a “reset.” After being reinserted, Zavgorodniy finished the year with four points in his final nine games.
Pick224 estimates Zavgorodniy averaged slightly less than 12 minutes per game in 2020–21, the third-lowest figure on the Heat. Stockton was outscored 12-9 at even strengths during Zavgorodniy’s shifts and fell behind 55-50 in his time on the bench.
Looking forward at what’s next for Zavgorodniy
Zavgorodniy battled through his fair share of adversity as a first-year AHL player. Stockton did much of the same, losing 17 of its final 20 games after shooting out to an 8-2-0 start.
The Heat will receive a sizeable contingent of offensive-minded reinforcements for the 2021–22 season. 2019 first-round pick Jakob Pelletier will likely report to Stockton for much of the season, as will 2020 first-rounder Connor Zary. High-scoring 23-year-old defenseman Johannes Kinnvall will also be making the jump from Sweden to the AHL.
Martin Pospisil should be ready to return after missing the second half of 2020–21 after tearing his MCL and undergoing shoulder surgery. 2020 fifth-round pick Ryan Francis could also join the Heat if he signs an entry-level contract with Calgary.
Zavgorodniy learned a lot about the AHL game in his time on Stockton’s lower lines last season. He also showed some of the best parts of his game while he skated next to Phillips and Ruzicka on the top line in the final stretch. He’s a speedy, shifty, smart player who has the potential to grow into a versatile middle-six NHL forward.
He needs to generate more momentum and confidence with greater offensive deployments and exposure to additional offensive talent. Zavgorodniy will return to the Heat next season and could spend time playing alongside a first-round pick.
It’ll be a critical year for our 15th-ranked prospect. If all goes well, it could also be a much more fruitful one.
Featured image created with Venngage.