Sokolov could be the scorer Wild have been looking for
ST. PAUL—Dmitry Sokolov is something of a mystery to pretty much everyone within the Wild organization.
As pure a goal-scorer as there is in the farm system, fresh off a 50-goal campaign in the Ontario Hockey League, the young Russian also has never fully committed to getting himself into shape.
"We aren't quite sure what to think of him," director of player development Brad Bombardir said.
"I've known him for a few years now. He's got an incredible ability to score goals. It's uncanny. He's a smart offensive player. He gets open. He finds spots where the puck is going to go. ... And when the puck is on his stick, it's on his stick and off his stick quick."
In that same breath, however, come the reasons why Sokolov, 20, might never reach his full potential.
"The only thing with him, and it's always been a challenge for him, is he's got to dedicate himself to a higher fitness level — especially at the next level because it's a whole different animal," Bombardir said. "We need him to really dedicate himself to getting in great shape and finding that fitness level where he can operate at the next level."
Sokolov could provide the Wild with the sniper they've lacked since before Marian Gaborik left as a free agent in 2009.
He's been impressive during Wild development camp this week, showcasing the world-class finishing ability that has the front office salivating about the game-breaker he could become.
In fact, Sokolov has shown such a good touch around the net that it's almost surprising when he doesn't pot Grade A scoring chances.
"We had a small-ice game and he was sitting on the back door and he missed," said former Iowa Wild coach Derek Lalonde, hired as assistant coach in Tampa Bay on Tuesday.
"We were all over him like, 'C'mon. Let's go.' He does have a special skill set. He loves scoring goals. He wants to score goals. It's our job to get the rest of his game up to par."
Taken by the Wild in the seventh round of the 2016 NHL draft, Sokolov has never had trouble finding the back of the net. In three seasons in North America, playing in the major junior Ontario Hockey League, he has amassed 128 goals and 92 assists.
He's had more trouble learning English, picking up bits and pieces from English-language movies.
"I feel comfortable right now," he said. "Just the language."
The next challenge will be proving that his skill set can translate to the professional ranks. He understands that just because he has scored at every level so far, doesn't mean he's automatically going to dominate at the next level.
"The game is a lot faster," Sokolov acknowledged, emphasizing that he needs to improve his speed before next season. "That's the biggest thing for me. I need to work on that."
As of right now, the plan is for him to start next season with the Iowa Wild in the American Hockey League (AHL) so the Wild can keep a closer eye on him.
"We would love to get our hands on him and have him with us because we can be with him every day," Bombardir said. "We will get him there. We will get him where we want."
"It's going to be a big jump for him," Bombardir added. "You're taking the best of the best out of those leagues and putting them together. We will see if he can do it."