Dmitri ‘Dima’ Samorukov comes across as more California surfer dude than tough-as-nails Russian hockey player.
His easy-going nature and quick wit don’t seem like they belong to a player with a penchant for driving his shoulder through the sternum of opposing players with the force of a jackhammer.
He’s as tough as they come, perhaps a credit to his hometown of Volgograd, Russia.
Volgograd used to be known as Stalingrad before a name change in 1961 and was home to one of the bloodiest battles of World War II, where the resilience of the Russians defending the city became a thing of legend.
Last week Samorukov suffered a broken nose and 10 stitches after his face hit the ice in London following an illegal check to the head.
The next night he was recording three points in a win over Erie.
Didn’t he want to sit one out?
“I like to play hockey, right?” was his reply, as if that explained everything.
Oozing with potential when the Storm made him the second overall pick in the 2016 CHL Import Draft, Samorukov has emerged as one of the better two-way defenders in the OHL.
His 41 points this season are a career high and put him in the top 20 for defenceman and his plus-36 rating is the fifth highest among OHL blueliners.
The Edmonton Oilers third round pick is averaging a point a game since returning from the World Junior tournament, where he was one of the best defencemen.
“He’s not easy to play against and he’s certainly got a bright future ahead of him,” said Storm coach George Burnett.
“I think we saw that with the dominating performance at the World Junior Championships against the best players in the world.”
Burnett said Samorukov always had some offence to his game, but as with most successful junior defencemen, he’s developed the other tools that will take him to the next level.
“He was an offensive guy when he first got here and he’s still an offensive guy, but he’s doing the other things that are going to allow him to play pro hockey successfully much sooner,” Burnett said.
“I hope he becomes a scoring guy, but he moves the puck well, he defends well, he’s strong, he wins a lot of battles and those are going to be the things that allow him to play in the American Hockey League successfully and then the National Hockey League.”
Injuries and the trading of Ryan Merkley have given Samorukov more opportunity to collect points since Christmas, and Burnett said he is definitely capable of creating offence. It just shouldn’t be the focus of his game.
“As long as that’s not his first priority, I think he’s much further ahead,” Burnett said.
“He’s a smart guy, his compete level is off the charts and his strength,skating, toughness and all those things are all tremendous and he doesn’t mind paying the price.”