Eighteen-year-old Leafs prospect, who came to Canada from Russia to play hockey at 14, gets his first taste of pro hockey with Newfoundland ECHL club
His name is Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, but you can call him “Sammy.” Or, his personal favourite, “SDA.”
“I like that,” he smiles.
He’s a professional hockey player now, but he looks like your paper boy.
After all, he’s only 18.
Sammy, or SDA, is slight, listed at 5-11 and 161 pounds. But that’s if he’s standing on a couple of telephone books, with a few rocks in his pocket.
But, boy, can he play.
Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, from Moscow, played his first professional playoff game last night, suiting up for the Newfoundland Growlers in Game 1 of their first-round ECHL series with the Brampton Beast down at Mile One Centre (for a game recap, go to www.thetelegram.com).
Don’t expect SDA to grow a playoff beard.
Der-Arguchintsev was the youngest player taken in the 2018 NHL draft, selected in the third round, 76th overall, by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
He just completed his third, and likely final, season of junior hockey, with the Ontario Hockey League’s Peterborough Petes.
The Leafs could have sent him to their American league team, the Marlies, but opted instead for St. John’s, following a plan Toronto GM Kyle Dubas hopes to make standard, that is one similar to the baseball structure where the organizational entry point is Class A or AA ball (the ECHL in this case), followed by promotion to AAA ball (the AHL) and eventually the major leagues (NHL).
“I’m excited for the playoffs,” said Der-Arguchintsev, who enthusiastically dubbed it “cool” to be turning pro. “My first year in Peterborough, we reached the conference final, and it was really exciting. It was a joy to come to the rink every day.
“It’s the same here. Since Day 1 when I arrived, I’ve felt really comfortable with the guys. Everyone likes each other in the dressing room, and they’ve really been nice to me.”
Don’t let the boyish looks, or the ‘golly gee, I’m so happy to be here’ perception overshadow this fact: Semyon Der-Arguchintsev is a driven hockey player.
“He’s not out here hiding,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock told TSN last fall as the young Russian took part in his first NHL training camp. “He wants to be out here… he thinks he should be dressed (for pre-season games) and that's a big part of it too.”
Just how serious is Der-Arguchintsev about the game? He left his home in Moscow, bound for Canada and the Canadian International Hockey Academy, located just outside Ottawa.
He was only 14, and didn’t speak a word of English.
“The first year was hard,” he says. “When I first got there, I came with my dad, and he stayed in a hotel for a month, so I got to see him every day.
“When he went home, it was tough. I missed my family (which also includes his mother, brother and sister), but I knew why I was doing it, and I didn’t forget that. I want to play in the NHL and coming to Canada was the best opportunity for me to get better in hockey.
“I never lost that focus. It was a tough decision, but I’m very happy my parents sent me.”
Der-Arguchintsev spent two years in Rockland, Ont., playing major bantam and minor midget hockey.
In 2016, the Petes made him their second-round pick in the OHL priority draft, and for the next three years, he’d suit up with one of Canadian junior hockey’s most storied franchises.
When you look at Der-Arguchintsev’s numbers, they almost look like defenceman’s stats. Not a whole pile of goals, but lots of assists.
Thing is, Der-Arguchintsev is a centreman.
“I’m a skilled, play-making centre,” he says when asked to deliver a self-assessment. “I like to have the puck on my stick a lot. I’m a pass-first guy.”
It probably explains why his favourite player growing up was the former slick Detroit Red Wings pivot, Pavel Datsyuk, and why he currently admires Leafs star Mitch Marner.
“I watched him a lot at camp this year,” he said. “Both on and off the ice. I hope he didn’t think I was staring at him.”
This season, he managed only six goals, but collected 40 assists in 62 games.
He did, however, score in his second pro game, a 4-3 loss to the Worcester Railers last Saturday night in Worcester, Mass. He assisted on Scott Pooley’s goal the previous night in Manchester, N.H. in a 3-2 loss to the Monarchs.
“He’s a very good hockey player,” Growlers coach John Snowden said. “He comes as advertised when it comes to his play with the puck. He’s a very special player. He sees the game in a little bit of a different way than a lot of people do.”
The biggest jump for Der-Arguchintsev will be adjusting to the pro game, especially the playoff pro game.
Der-Arguchintsev is the latest Euro the Leafs have inserted in the pro ranks. Rasmus Sandin, who only turned 19 in March, played as an 18-year-old this season with the AHL Marlies, and Timothy Liljegren was 18 when he suited up for the Marlies last season.
“He’s a crafty player who can find good ice,” Snowden said of Der-Arguchintsev. “He is a pass-first player. He wants the puck on his stick, and he wants to be able to make those plays.
“But we’ve told him if he’s in a good shooting position, let it go. He understands everything is going to happen quicker, so if you’ve got a Grade A scoring chance, you have to put it on the net.”
He’s still young, still developing, but the Leafs seem to think they’ve scored with this youngster.
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort