Zlobin: A "proven winner" with "big-game experience" who "scores clutch goals" as he "rises to the occasion" and-- oh, wait, Russian? Don Cherry weeps.
He was Sunday night's Memorial Cup championship hero, so it's only fitting we kick off our 2012 NHL Draft prospect profiles with Anton Zlobin, a speedy right wing from Moscow who was passed over in the 2011 draft.
Zlobin, Kirill Kabanov's fellow Russian and housemate this past season, led Shawinigan in regular season scoring (40 goals, 76 points in 66 GP) in his second season in North America.
For the most part we won't be profiling prospects outside the top 100 -- Zlobin isn't even on the substantial Combine invite list -- but his breakthrough season, his star turn scoring the Memorial Cup winning goal(s), and connection to Kabanov make him a little more interesting to New York Islanders fans speculating on potential mid-round picks.
The team that selects him this June will have another year's worth of data -- most of it encouraging -- than what was available to them last year. If he was unproven last year, the changes he has made to his approach can only improve his chances.
CSS (N.A. skaters): 137
Hockey Prospectus: 109
People Who Know Things
Speaking of Zlobin's candidacy for the 2011 draft class, here is how Kirk Luedeke of the New England Hockey Journal described him last year at this time:
... Superb hands, shot and offensive instincts. A human highlight reel, and when he gets it revved up with some open ice to work with, watch out. Finished the season with 23 goals and 45 points in 59 games. He took some adjustment time and also had some injury issues- he's very average sized at about 6-0, 170 pounds.
A year later, The Pipeline Show talked to Shawinigan coach Erik Veilleux about the difference in Zlobin his season:
"It took him until probably January last year to understand that he needed to play with more consistency in his game," said coach Eric Veilleux during our Memorial Cup Coach's Show on Tuesday night, "He's been great in learning, wanting to learn, and his work ethic changed totally from the beginning of 2010-11 to the beginning of training camp this season. He came in great physical condition, great shape. Scouts saw a consistency in his game from day one..."
There is no doubt about his offensive instincts. His size, and his defensive game, are questions. (He's listed at 5'11" and just shy of 200 lbs. now, so he may be filling out.) In fact, on the faceoff before he scored the OT winner to clinch Shawinigan's first Memorial Cup after a generations-long wait, an exhausted Zlobin was worried he'd be a liability if the draw was lost:
The star winger, not exactly a defensive specialist, was worried that he might become a liability if the Cats lost the faceoff in the Knights zone.
"Go! Just go!," Shawinigan coach Eric Veilleux told him. "He went for 10 feet and came back. He's like, if we lose the faceoff and the puck gets out (of the zone) I'm coming off.
"I said, 'No problem, you have a deal.' We lost it, but the puck stayed there. He scored."
(To be fair, Kabanov also looked exhausted leading up to that faceoff, and recognizing your vulnerability due to fatigue is no small matter in recognizing defensive responsibilities.)
Where He'll Land
Of course, the question now is how much Zlobin's Memorial Cup performance (5 goals, 9 points in 6 GP) will improve his draft stock. It shouldn't really, but it only takes one GM to fall in love with "clutch," one scout to become enamored with a "proven winner," one internal echo chamber to preach the glory of the small sample size.
Then again, that's not being fair to scouts and team managers. Zlobin isn't in the top 120 for either the CSS or ISS, but every team has its own ranking. And after the glacial pace of the first day, the draft proceeds quite quickly through rounds two to seven, even though we dissect them for years afterward as if there was an encyclopedia of infinite hindsight available on draft day.
And when you get to the middle rounds of the draft, you're not beholden to some scouting service's ranking or some group of fans shaking their THN Draft Previews at you -- you're beholden to who you've picked so far, who's left on your list of wants, and who you think will still be there when your turn comes up again in 30 or so picks.
If all these factors and a turn in the spotlight put Zlobin a little higher on some team's radar, good for him.