2020 Raw Charge Top 25 Under 25: #19 Dmitri Semykin

A physical defenseman with offensive upside.

Two years ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning surprised many of their fans by selecting young defenseman Dmitri Semykin from Russia as a third-rounder. At that time there was almost no information on Semykin, he barely played for the national team and spent just one season in the MHL, the Russian junior hockey league. This spring he signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Lightning and finally made our list for the first time, ending up at the 19th spot.

Shortly before the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Semykin had been traded to HC SKA – one of the strongest organization in Russian hockey. During the 2018-19 season he had been splitting time between three teams. Most of his games this season he played for the SKA-1946 St. Petersburg, the affiliate of the HC SKA from the MHL, but even spent some time with SKA-Varyagi im. Morozova, which is another SKA’s affiliate team from the same league. Semykin also received a called up to the VHL, the second highest league in Russia. In the VHL he played just ten games, recording one assists, but also made an appearance during the playoffs. Overall in the MHL he recorded 19 points, including six goals and 13 assists, in 44 games.

During the 2019-20 season he settled down in SKA-1946 St. Petersburg. His production rate had increased during the first half of the season, earning him an award for the best defenseman in November of 2019. While his numbers slowed down in the second half of the season, he still finished with more points than season before. In 44 games he scored 24 points and nine of them were goals. This season he received more top pairing and power play minutes, which helped him to boost his numbers. He also appeared in two postseason games, recording one assist and one goal, before the playoffs were cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite his performance in the junior league, Semykin still struggled to take root at a professional level. He played in just three games in the VHL with SKA-Neva, leaving the ice without any points each time. However, as Semykin mentioned in his interview last spring, he probably hadn’t been given ice time in the VHL, because he already made a decision to come overseas, despite SKA offered him a new contract.

After being unranked in 2018 and 2019 Semykin finally showed up on our ranking and I can imagine that his recent entry-level deal with the Lightning has really impacted people’s votes. The writers were a little bit more consistent on Semykin, ranking him in range of 18-20th places. The spread of readers’ votes was much wider: he even received some top-10 votes. I personally ranked him 18th on my list.

Semykin has enough potential to make the NHL. He’s a good-sized defenseman, currently listed at 6’2” and 214 pounds by Eliteprospects. Since being drafted by the Lightning, he has gained about ten pounds, which allowed him to stand out at the junior level in Russia. He’s not afraid of taking the puck to the offensive zone, going fully coast-to-coast, which he showed several times in the last season. Often he plays as an additional fourth forward, backing the offense from blue line or blasting slap shots towards the net. His size also allows him to play a very physical style.

There were not many scouting reports on him when he was drafted. Interesting that Dobber Prospects and some other rare reports still have him as a shut-down defenseman with low offensive upside. Last season he played a little on a penalty kill, but was mostly used on the power play, where he’s more useful. His numbers also showed that he developed into a role of an offensive defenseman. However it’s important not to overestimate the level of the MHL: while top teams in the league are comparable with the teams from the CHL, some their bottom teams mostly lack the financing and couldn’t dress a very competitive roster for the games. Out of all reports I liked what Geo wrote about Semykin two years ago in his draft profile.

I watched through some of the one game I found on YouTube (#13 in blue) and there were a few things that I noticed. When Semykin was on the ice, he was rarely in his own zone. He was effective in retrieving pucks and getting it out of the zone quickly and with sound passes. He also rushed the puck into the offensive zone on a couple occasions when the space was available to him. He played the center point on the power play. When the puck came to him, he either passed it off quickly to the half wall as their power play seemed to mostly want to operate down low, or he’d take a hard slap shot from the point and mostly got it on net. He threw a couple of big hits in the offensive zone to disrupt exits and on one such hit forced an icing as the forward carrying the puck had to get rid of it quickly before he was hit.

What concerns me is that he takes a lot of penalties. In his pre-draft season he recorded 118 PIM in 41 games, leading his team with a big margin in this component. However this number reduced to 75 PIM in 38 games in 2018-19 and to 41 PIM in 44 games in 2019-20, which means he worked on his discipline and took a big step forward.

Obviously Semykin won’t make the Lightning roster immediately and is expected to join the Syracuse Crunch once the new season starts. If we’re leaving out the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s probably the best time for him to come to North America: the Crunch blue line has recently lacked depth after the departure of one of their top left-handed defensemen, Dominik Masin, to the KHL. Semykin, who is also a left-handed defenseman, will likely start the season as a third pair defenseman with a potential of moving to second pair. The Syracuse Crunch currently have just seven defenseman under the contract and some of them, including a former first-rounder Cal Foote or newly-signed Andreas Borgman, could be utilized by the Lightning at some point of the season, opening further roster spots for Semykin. His offensive skills and especially his powerful shot could also help him to make at least a spot on the second power-play unit.

Drafting a Russian defenseman is always a kind of gamble. If we take a look at recent seasons, not many blueliners coming out of Russia managed to make the NHL roster: Nikita Zaitsev was considered a top defenceman in Russia, but while he plays top pairs minutes in the NHL, his advanced stats have always been mediocre. There was also a bunch of Russian defensemen who were well-established in the KHL, but left the NHL after one season: Bogdan Kiselevich, Yegor Yakovlev, Victor Antipin, Igor Ozhiganov etc. The reason probably lies in difference between the Russian and North American’s training systems for young defensemen and in different size of the rinks: it’s much more complicated for older players to change their style of play after arriving to the NHL. The two most successful Russian defensemen in recent season, Mikhail Sergachev and Ivan Provorov, arrived to North America at a very young age, which helped them to adopt to the realities of North American hockey. Dmitry Orlov had also spent a plenty of time in the AHL, before finally breaking the Washington Capitals roster.