When you get to the fifth round of the NHL Draft, you’re going to find prospects with a case of the “yeah buts” — players with some encouraging skills, but also noticeable weaknesses. With the 142nd pick, the Montreal Canadiens selected defenceman Daniil Sobolev, a player who picked the wrong year to play in Ontario, and had zero games this season as a result.
Birthplace: Saint Petersburg, Russia
Date of birth: March 3, 2003
Weight: 210 lbs.
Team: Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
Sobolev has been listed as small as 5’10” and as light as 154 pounds. When he spoke to the media, he insisted that is old information and that he has been at his bigger size for a while. Growth spurts are very real among teenagers, after all.
The one thing that sticks out, despite his lack of game action since the 2019-20 season, is his relatively modest stat line, especially when you consider it took place in Russia’s U20 league. Two goals and four assists don’t scream puck mover or offensively gifted.
The highest ranking for Sobolev came from The Athletic’s Corey Pronman at #128. He was 162nd (of 163 qualified players with rankings) in our Consensus Rankings. Even Pronman’s scouting report showed a lot of hesitancy in his future:
“Sobolev’s value comes on the defensive end. He’s a mobile, physical defender who has grown a few inches over the last year. He makes a lot of stops and has enough of a puck game and straight-ahead speed to transport pucks. In a sentence, Sobolev has a chance at the NHL due to his skating and physicality but a lack of offense will be his struggle at higher levels.”
That description is what made his media availability so interesting. In one breath, he said his favourite player to watch is Cale Makar. When asked about the differences between his stat line and Makar’s game, his answer — through a translator — was very interesting.
He said that defencemen in Russia are not encouraged, or even allowed, to play offensively. It is part of why he made the decision to play in the Ontario Hockey League, and why he declined to play in Russia even though he had the option to this past season.
Canadiens draft pick Daniil Sobolev said that he had the option to go back to Russia, but they don't let defencemen play offensively there, so he wanted to stay in North America and work on that part of his game.— Jared Book (@jaredbook) July 24, 2021
Seems like a very confident kid...
Sobolev is adamant that he wants to develop the offensive side of the game. During his season without games, he still worked very hard. His agent Dan Milstein had him working with coaches in Anaheim, and then Saginaw throughout the year.
Elite Prospects did not rank Sobolev, but did discuss his defensive game.
“The most projectable element in Sobolev’s game is his defensive aggressiveness — a quality we more than admire in a defenceman. He picks up checks early in defensive sequences, boxes them out from high-danger areas, and pinches on them hard in the neutral-zone as they receive passes, knocking the puck away. There is a physical element to Sobolev’s game, but it’s his overall engagement in the game that defines him.”
They also say that his skating is good, but can improve with some technique improvements. His mobility is definitely a strength to his game.
McKeen’s, who ranked Sobolev #221, said that he is turnover prone and a “hot mess” in the defensive zone.
There are obviously some things that Sobolev will need to improve in order to make an impact at the professional level. That’s what you can expect with a fifth-round pick in a draft, but especially this draft. However, it has been a long time since many people have seen him in a game, and it will be interesting to see what progress has already been made.
His commitment to North America, and his commitment to improve parts of his game are intriguing aspects of his game. It should be noted, of course, that the head coach in Windsor that brought Sobolev over was Trevor Letowski. Letowski is now an assistant on Dominique Ducharme’s staff.