Some of the news making the rounds this morning in Russia includes the trade of one of the league’s top young defenders, Leaf prospect Dmitri Vorobiev from Tolyatti Lada to Salavat Yulaev Ufa.Â This trade moves Vorobiev from Lada, a small market team bottom feeder toÂ a larger market team currently sitting atop the league standings. It should allow Dmitri the opportunity to get some more recognition amongst the hockey world as well as provide him with the chance at a deep KHL playoff run.
Why should we care? Well on the surface, Vorobiev certainly seems to be the ideal defensive prospect that the Leafs would be looking for. He was drafted by the Leafs in the 5th round, 157th overall in the 2004 draft despite coming in as one of the draft’s top eligible European defensive prospects. The reason he fell so far was due to a poor performance at the NHL combine, with scouts becoming worried about him not being in great physical shape. At the time, he was regarded predominantly as a one-way defensive shutdown player with a big-time physical game. He was a little undersized, but made up for it with sheer ferocity and reckless playing style that helped him draw comparisons to former Leaf Dany Markov.
Since then, his stock has gone nowhere but up, up and up. Entering the ’04 draft in the 5’11 – 6’0 range, there was question as to whether or not his body would be able to keep up with his playing style later on down the road. The latest measurements have Vorobiev checking in at a very sturdy 6’2 and 212 lbs. As for his limited offensive game? No longer a issue; in fact, it’s now one of his greatest strengths. He first began to show some flashes of offensive potential during the 2005 World Juniors when he posted 6 points in 6 games for Team Russia. Coming off 3, 8, and 9 point seasons from 2003 – 2006, something just clicked for Vorobiev in the ’06-’07Â season,Â and he doubled his point total to record 10Â goals and 7 assists for 17 points.Â The next season, he followed that up with a 28 point season thatÂ included a league leading 16 goals for a defenseman. This season, he’s already got 18 points playing for one of the worst teams in the league. That amounts to roughly a 0.5 PPG rate over the past 2 seasons which is very impressive considering the KHL does not count secondary assists. Another big plus is that he certainly seems NHL ready and could potentially step right into a top 4 spot right now. His potential? Probably as a second pairing shutdown defenseman and 2nd unit PP quarterback. Not too shabby at all, and with he and Schenn patrolling the Leafs blueline for the next few years, it would finally make opposing players wary of coming into the zone with their head down.
So the Leafs have a big, rugged (potentially crazy) defenseman who led the KHL in goals at the age of 23. Why isn’t he over here already?
As Alec talked about previously here, there’s been ongoing issues between the Leafs and Vorobiev and a lot of confusion regarding the whole situation. On one end, it seems like the Leafs aren’t making much of a push to get him over here (Vorobiev himself mentioned in a Russian paper that the Leafs have not even offered him a contract yet), and on the other, it was known that Vorobiev was very comfortable playing for a small market like Lada where he has grown very close to the team, the city, and the coaching staff. He recently signed an extension there, and the only way he could come over now is if he bought out his own contract like Jonas Frogren (see Alec’s blog for more).
So now we’ve come full circle. What does the trade have to do with all of this? Well, I’m just throwing out an idea here, but it seems like now or after the season would be the perfect opportunity for the Leafs to make a run at Vorobiev. First of all, he fits the Burke mold of a player down to a tee. Big, physical, and to quote Burke: “thinks he’s from Red Deer”. Secondly, for the first time in his professional career, Vorobiev has been uprooted from his comfortable situation in Lada and is now exploring the rest of the hockey world for the first time. Now is the time to jump at him with a big contract offer before he settles down long-term again. The chanceÂ to add aÂ previously-thought-to-be-lost bluechip defensive prospect has certainly got to be tempting, does it not?
Let’s see how the rest of this season plays out for Dmitri, and it should certainly be an interesting storyline to follow this coming summer.
Always a pleasure,