Top 25 Under 25: #18 Dmitry Korobov
The draft isn't the only place where an organization can add young talent -- Dmitry Korobov is one example of this, signed as an undrafted free agent out of the KHL and playing a big role last year for the AHL Syracuse Crunch.
After the 2013 NHL Entry Draft in June, an all-too-common refrain among the Tampa Bay Lightning faithful was that GM Steve Yzerman hadn't done enough to address the team's defensive issues. Drafting five forwards and a goaltender signaled to many (apparently) that Yzerman was unable to diagnose and treat this team's biggest problem, which is admittedly on the blue line.
Unfortunately, that short-sighted view doesn't take into account the numerous (non-draft) defensive acquisitions the Lightning have made in the 12 months, including #18 on our list, Dmitry Korobov, who signed as a free agent out of the KHL where he was playing for Dinamo Minsk.
Here's how the panel ranked Korobov:
|Kyle Alexander||John Fontana||Clark Brooks||Clare Austin||Patti McDonald||Mike Gallimore|
Korobov, at 6'2 and 230 lbs., brings size and physicality, but doesn't really fit the mold of a classic "defensive-defenseman". While his tendency is to take care of his own end first and he isn't one to freewheel, he has good instincts in the offensive zone, is an able passer, and has a nice shot from the point. He's more of a "do-everything" type defenseman, capable of logging big minutes at even strength, and is perfectly comfortable manning the point on the power play or clearing the front of the net on the penalty kill.
That type of versatility is probably what caught the organization's eye in the first place, and it's been a hallmark of his game noted both by Corey Pronman of ESPN and Hockey Prospectus:
Decent at everything prospect. Big, strong D. Has skill, can skate, play PK. RT @allPokerface: @coreypronman what's yr take on TB's Korobov?— Corey Pronman (@coreypronman) July 23, 2013
And by the staff at Bolt Prospects:
Korobov has good size and above average skating ability, and at times shows decent offensive upside, as well. Most encouragingly, Korobov uses his size and strength to dish out punishment along the wall and in front of his cage. We have some concerns about Korobov's footwork and there are times he looks a little stiff in his pivots, but all in all he looks like he is a solid role model for the youngsters in Syracuse who also can compete for #6 or #7 defenseman duty in the NHL.
Pronman also speculated after he was first signed that Korobov might end up as a bottom-pair defender for the Lightning sooner rather than later.
Part of the reason why some other defensive players with less professional experience will end up higher in this countdown is due to the nature of this ranking exercise -- every ranking is a balance of potential and current talent. While Korobov is a solid defenseman with a little room to grow as a prospect, his floor is rather close to his ceiling. The type of game he played last season in the AHL was instrumental for that team's success, but suggests stepping into a top-4 NHL role is well outside his capability as a pro hockey player.
That said, as a depth option and a veteran pro player, Korobov definitely still has significant value to the organization, and another good year in Syracuse coupled with more of the same from Keith Aulie at the NHL level could see Korobov taking Aulie's spot in the lineup in 2014-2015. It's far from a certainty, but with Aulie on just a one-year deal, it's not unreasonable to think that he may not be part of the long-term solution on the Lightning blue line.
Korobov appeared in 65 regular season games with the AHL Syracuse Crunch last year, recording 22 points (3 goals, 19 assists). He added 2 more points (1 goal, 1 assist) in 17 games played during the Calder Cup Playoffs as the Crunch made it all the way to the finals as defending champions before losing to the Grand Rapids Griffins four games to two. Making the Lightning this year out of camp is the longest of long shots (I'd go as far as to guarantee it won't happen) but he'll undoubtedly continue to be a fixture in the top 4 for the Crunch as they look to make yet another deep playoff run.
The next stop for Korobov will likely be training camp for the Syracuse Crunch, which will jump to Newfoundland later this week after Tampa Bay makes a few more cuts. The top affiliate of the Lightning will continue a tradition of opening with a preseason series against the St. John's IceCaps in an event now known as the Mary Brown Cup.