2017 Los Angeles Kings Top 25 Under 25, #20: Damir Sharipzianov

After four years in North America, the young defenseman looks for a KHL kickstart.

Our annual Top 25 Under 25 countdown is rolling right along! The rankings were determined by a combination of reader voting and our staff’s own voting. We then combined the reader rankings (50%) and the staff rankings (50%) to determine the top 25. To be eligible for the countdown, a player must be 24 or younger on October 5, 2017, when the 2017-18 NHL season begins.

We’re taking a look at the best and the brightest in the Los Angeles Kings organization in our fifth annual Top 25 Under 25 countdown. At #20, for the second straight year: Damir Sharipzianov.

2016-17 Team: Manchester Monarchs (ECHL); Ontario Reign (AHL)
2016-17 Statistics: 10 GP, 2 G, 2 A, 4 P (ECHL); 38 GP, 0 G, 3 A, 3 P (AHL)
Current NHL Projection (via NHLe): 82 GP, 0 G, 3 A, 3 P (based on AHL total)

Jewels Reader Ranking: 16
Jewels Staff Ranking: 25

Look, sometimes defensemen just don’t score. Matt Greene totaled 18 points in 146 games during his final five seasons. Last year, Kevin Gravel and Brayden McNabb each played 49 games and combined for 11 points. Robyn Regehr... actually, he cracked double-digits in assists and points in each of his two seasons with the Kings, and I bet you didn’t know that! The point is, the Kings don’t mind having the occasional defenseman who doesn’t bring much to the table offensively, because they have three blueliners who have consistently been able to play a bunch of minutes, score goals, man the power play, and move the puck.

They’ve gotta be able to do other stuff too, though. Which brings us to Damir Sharipzianov, who played in Russia and Canada before getting a taste of Southern California this past season.

In his 18-year-old season with the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League, the Russian defenseman scored 16 points in 67 games, a respectable total for a first-year player but not one which caught the eyes of NHL scouts. He’d had a goalless season the previous year in Russia’s junior leagues, so this was an improvement, and he ended up becoming a 0.5 PPG player over his last two seasons in Owen Sound. Better, yes. Enough on its own? No. But Sharipzianov had established himself as a strong defensive presence, and was on his way to being named Owen Sound’s assistant captain. That helped earn him a development camp invite (and shortly thereafter, a contract) with the Kings in 2015.

He mostly lived up to that billing after moving to the professional level last season. After ten mostly impressive games in the ECHL with Manchester, Sharipzianov was a beneficiary of Kevin Gravel’s call-up, moving to Ontario in November and sticking around. Fifteen different defensemen appeared in the Reign lineup, from A(lex) to Z(ach), and Damir was tied for fifth in games played with Paul LaDue. The consistency was there, as was the team spirit; he had three fights, and each one was either in response to or in defense of a big hit. But Ontario’s own #2 was as quiet on offense as LA’s usual #2, even though he’s actually shown quite a set of hands in the past.

In addition, Sharipzianov showed Matt Greene’s penchant for penalties on occasion, though he can at least chalk it up to inexperience and adjusting to a new level of play. It might have kept him out of the playoff lineup, though, as he chalked up a few minors in the final few games of April.

It was still an encouraging start for Sharipzianov, who turned 21 during the season. But he won’t get the chance to build on it in Ontario, as he’s heading out on loan to the KHL. He’ll be playing in Nizhnekamsk, Russia, just as he did in juniors, and he’ll be wearing an “A”, just as he did in Owen Sound. He’ll presumably have a larger role against tougher competition, and it might pay off better than another season of fighting for playing time with other Kings prospects. He still has a lot to prove, and maybe he can get it going there, even if it’s not by scoring a bunch of points from the blue line.