Dmitri Voronkov Is Having A Stellar Rookie Season For The Columbus Blue Jackets

By Dan Dukart on February 5, 2024 at 10:15 am
Dmitri Voronkov scores a goal against the St. Louis Blues
Jeff Le-USA TODAY Sports
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Rookie Dmitri Voronkov started the season in Cleveland but quickly found himself a mainstay with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

To say he's grown would be true both literally and figuratively. The website lists him at 6'4" and 190 lbs, which has clearly not been updated since he left the KHL. The NHL lists him at 6'5" and 240 lbs, the heaviest player in Blue Jackets history. But it's not just his size that makes I'm a noticeable player on the ice; it's also his hockey sense, poise, and finishing ability. 

The 23-year-old is tied for 6th in the NHL in the rookie scoring race, with a very respectable 12-13-25 in 44 games. His most recent goal, the only goal scored in the club's 1-0 win over the St. Louis Blues, showed off his strong hockey sense. 

On the play, Johnny Gaudreau picks up the puck in the neutral zone and is joined by an activating Zach Werenski. Voronkov surveys the play, an innocuous 2-on-2, until Gaudreau slips the puck to Werenski right at the blue line. As soon as the pass is made, Voronkov identifies that he just needs to time his route in the middle of the ice to the net-front before Jordan Kyrou (#25 in blue) can track him down. Watch how Voronkov changes his speed to match the tempo of the play, and he's rewarded with an easy tap-in goal. 

Just a few games earlier, Voronkov scores again off a rather innocent-looking play. The Edmonton Oilers have full control of the puck in their zone with Voronkov playing the role of F1 - first forechecker. He disrupts the play and wins the puck. The two Oilers defensemen who combined for the mistake quickly go to defend Voronkov, who shrewdly drops the puck back to Kent Johnson. Voronkov gets it and knows that if he takes the correct route and circles just long enough to give Johnson time but not too fast to ruin his own angle, he could get a pass back for an easy give-and-go. He's correct and has one of the easiest goals he'll likely ever score.

Both of these goals highlight what makes Voronkov successful. He isn't fast, but he doesn't need to be to be effective. Instead, Voronkov is intuitive. He understands patterns and spacing. He's got a decent shot, sure, but he doesn't rely on a Patrik Laine release to score his goals. These goals were simple, easy, and effective.

The NHL has advanced player tracking data that is now publicly available. I was curious where Voronkov stacks up. Unsurprisingly, Voronkov is "Below 50th" percentile in top skating speed, speed bursts over 20 mph, skating distance, and top shot speed. But he's in the 90th percentile for shooting percentage. Is that a coincidence? Small sample size? Unsustainable? It's too early to say for sure, but my guess is that his 16.2% shooting percentage is only slightly higher than what it will be for his career. As illustrated in the above two videos from the most recent road trip, Voronkov doesn't rely on sniping to score his goals. 

Voronkov is recently primarily playing alongside Johnson and Kirill Marchenko. I think that's an astute line combination deployed by Pascal Vincent. Johnson, in particular, seems like a great complement to the big and tumble center. He, like Voronkov, is not a burner and prefers to let subtle and highly skilled passes dictate the play. I'm not convinced that Marchenko is the long-term third player for this line, but he's probably the best fit - for now. In Marchenko's corner is his finishing ability, his willingness to shoot the puck, and his ability to win and recover pucks in the offensive zone. Working against him are his puck transport skills, particularly between the blue lines, and his poor defensive play. In a perfect world, the third player would be able to support Johnson as a zone exit/entry player and provide more defensive support to a young and inexperienced line. Unfortunately for the Blue Jackets, I'm not sure that player exists on the roster, though Gaudreau, and particularly Yegor Chinakhov, could maybe be that player eventually. Coincidentally, the trio of Gaudreau/Chinakhov/Voronkov has only played 1:01 of 5v5 ice this season. So obviously the coaching staff disagrees with my hypothesis. 

Long term, I could see a world where Voronkov is moved to the wing, but not imminently. His (lack of) speed has been an issue against some of the better-skating teams, and he can get caught in transition. And more to the point, Voronkov excels along the wall, where a winger is more likely to find himself. He is adept at protecting the puck, taking it to the net, and making the correct 'next play' in the offensive zone. 

Voronkov finds himself squarely in the Calder Trophy race, and it shouldn't be a surprise to see him take another step this season. 

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