As I write my weekly prospect updates its very easy to equate a prospects performance and development based purely on statistics and the number of points that they have produced. But a prospect's development is far beyond simply numbers on a spread sheet and the number of goals and assists they have scored. They may play a part but it is not the central factor to measure a prospects development and potential.
It was a fascinating article by Hockey's Future on Dmitry Sinitsyn that made me think about this. Obviously, updating weekly stats for prospects and writing how well they have performed has given me a more in-depth knowledge of how a prospect develops from week to week. Dmitry Sinitsyn has zero points, at the point of this writing, something which I felt was underperforming. He has some high end skills and I had hoped, and foolishly expected, him to be putting up a reasonable number of points. I was wrong to think this.
Dmitry Sinitsyn is a 18 year old playing in the NCAA first division; he was youngest NCAA player in history when he signed for U-Mass Lowell at the end of last season after finally sorting out his student visa issues. Unlike the major juniors the NCAA tends to have players much older than those who have just been drafted. Its not uncommon for a NCAA team to have a vast majority players who are all at least 20 and more often than not older. In the CHL there is a cap on the number of players who can be ‘overage,' that is to say 20 or over. Each team has a cap of three overagers meaning most CHL teams are between 17-19 years old. Playing against opponents who are your own age is a lot different from playing against those who are older and more physically developed.
Looking just at the U-Mass Lowell roster, it could be significantly different than most NCAA rosters but I doubt it; the average age of the entire team, including Sinitsyn, is 21.32. It would be a relatively safe assumption to assume that most NCAA teams have an average age at around this level, at least between 20-21. Their defensive group, excluding Sinitsyn, has an average age of just over 21 years old. Dmitry Sinitsyn's defensive partner is 22.
These figures show why its unrealistic to expect Sinitsyn to put up significant points, no matter how talented he may be, during his freshman year. He is playing against competition that is on average three years older than himself. A CHL team only has three players who can be over twenty on their rosters, let alone a whole team of them. Though the talent level and style of play will be different between the NCAA and the CHL it can still be boiled down to a simple statement. Dmitry Sinitsyn is getting regular ice time on U-Mass Lowell's third defensive pairing against teams that are on average three years older than him and have three years of physical maturity on him.
But now to Dmitry Sinitsyn himself. Before this season in the NCAA he had only played 7 games in the second division of the Russian junior league. To put it bluntly, he missed out an entire season due to visa issues and when he did play it was in Russia on a completely different ice surface and a completely different level of play. His last full season was the 2010-2011 season when he played for the Dallas Stars U16. To say he's likely to take a while to get back used to playing a regular season while also adjusting to the different dimensions of the ice would probably be an understatement. The ice he practiced and played on in Russia last season is longer and wider than the North American ice rinks. Angles are important and he has to relearn the angles and also adjust to the pace of the game. It's a step up going from a regular season in the U16s in Dallas to playing in the NCAA division 1.
There is no doubt in my mind that Dmitry Sinitsyn has got the raw potential to make the NHL. Its incredibly positive for him to be even on the ice for U-Mass Lowell. Though other 18 year olds in the NCAA, like Jacob Trouba, are putting up points (Trouba has 6 through 5 games for Michigan) the difference is that Dmitry Sinitsyn hasn't played for a season and had been practing on a larger ice surface in Russia while Trouba dominated the USA Hockey programme last season.
Dmitry Sinitsyn, despite yet having registered a point, remains a deeply intriguing and talented prospect for the Dallas Stars. As his coach said in the Hockey Future's article:
But that is a maturing process. You have to give the guy time. Some people play junior (hockey) for three years and this is really his junior experience in a sense."
In the words of his defensive partner:
"He's got such offensive upside and raw talent," Suter said. "His potential is unbelievable with his age and he is playing against guys as old as 24 and 25 and he just turned 18. You can see the sky is the limit for him."
There's no way that Sinitsyn is a bust for not having registered a point but he hasn't yet proved he can reach the levels that he has the potential to reach. He has many years in the NCAA to mature physically and develop his play. He wants to don the Dallas Stars jersey in the future and is determined to reach the NHL. To me its clear: The best is yet to come from Dmitry Sinitsyn.