Utah Grizzlies Sign Denis Smirnov

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Denis Smirnov
DETROIT, MI - MARCH 17: Penn State Nittany Lions forward Denis Smirnov (25), left, celebrates with teammate defenseman Erik Autio (20), right, at the conclusion of the second overtime period of a Big 10 Men's Ice Hockey Tournament semifinal game between Penn State and Minnesota on March 17, 2017, at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan. Penn State defeated Minnesota 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Utah Grizzlies have signed Denis Smirnov out of Penn State University for the 2020-21 season.

Who is Denis Smirnov

Drafted: Colorado Avalanche, 156th overall in 2017
Age: Turned 23 on August 12th
Position: Winger
Height: 5’9
Weight: 185 lbs
2019-20: Penn State University of the NCAA (Big Ten), 31 games, 8 goals, 11 assists, 6 PIM, 7

Denis Smirnov is someone that jumps out to me as a very interesting prospect. After a solid USHL career, Smirnov had a spectacular freshman season with Penn State University. With 47 points in 39 games, a 19-year-old Smirnov led Penn State in points and assists, finishing second in goals. He was a key piece of the Nittany Lions in their journey to becoming Big Ten Champions. He tied for 15th in points in the entire NCAA and led all U20 NCAA players in points. His performance landed him on the NCAA Big Ten All-Rookie Team (beside guys like Ryan Lindgren, Trent Frederic, and Rem Pitlick). It also led to the Colorado Avalanche picking him as an overager in 2017.

It all went downhill from there, though. Smirnov’s offensive production dropped in every season since, dropping from 47 points in his freshman year to 19 in his senior year. Smirnov bounced around the Penn State lineup, playing on the first line, playing on the third line, and sometimes even being scratched.

It’s not like he’s gotten worse. Smirnov is an offense-first forward and he still does the same things he did before. He’s a great playmaker and most of his shot production comes from low-quality chances for rebounds. He finds the most success closer to the net, but he rarely goes there.

It just looks like he’s playing with less swagger and confidence. In his freshman year, he produced like a superstar and looked like one out there too. He just doesn’t have the same confidence in him after three years of dwindling play.

I think Smirnov can be one a very promising prospect if he develops properly. In an interview with PSU’s Daily Collegiate, Smirnov said: “Obviously it’s a complicated time right now, but I’m not turning down many options, any option is a good option for me right now, I’m kind of looking both sides of the ocean and see which one is best.”

He also went on to mention that he would like to be closer to his parents in Russia. Smirnov was picked 40th overall in the KHL draft in 2014, but his KHL rights currently belong to Amur Khabarovsk. Ideally, I’d like to see him get his confidence back in the ECHL and work his way up from there, but he’s someone that I think is built to be a star in the KHL.

As he joins the Grizzlies, he enters the Colorado Avalanche organization, likely with a goal to climb up. At 23, his route might be complex, but it could pay off for both sides.

Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images

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