The seventh round of the draft is often the time for teams to mine for hidden gold and pluck that prospect other franchises didn’t know about. When you hear the story of how defenseman Dmitry Sinitsyn found himself taken 183rd overall in 2012 by the Dallas Stars, you’ll understand why.
Sinitsyn is instantly intriguing for more than just his 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame – he’s also a Russian kid attending the University of Massachusetts-Lowell who didn’t play a game for the River Hawks last year, but has already lived in Dallas. Shall we back up?
Sinitsyn was raised in Moscow and played for the famed CSKA (Red Army) program from the ages of seven to 15, though his progression was far from easy.
“When you’re seven, you just screw around with the puck,” he said. “But when I was nine, the coach didn’t like me. I was on the sixth line.”
Sinitsyn languished on the bench until he was 12 and then steadily climbed up the depth chart thanks to a new coach. At 15, he heard about the Dallas Jr. Stars under-16 team from buddy Dmitry Maximov, so Sinitsyn made the decision to tackle North American hockey. Right away, he noticed a difference in culture.
“Moscow is a megapolis,” he said. “There’s public transport everywhere, you don’t even need a car. In Dallas you have to drive, but the good thing about it? There’s like, 10 days of winter.”
Sinitsyn’s play in Dallas (where he was close to a point-per-game player in two seasons) caught the eye of the Green Bay Gamblers, who selected him in the fifth round of the 2011 United States League draft. But when one of the Gamblers’ designated European imports didn’t leave as expected, the team had to deal Sinitsyn away to Sioux Falls, where a visa snafu left him unable to play in America.
“From April 2011 until January 2012, I was sitting in Moscow doing nothing,” he said. “The only way I could get to the United States was to get a student visa.”
And that’s where Norm Bazin’s crew came in. The coach of the UMass-Lowell River Hawks had heard about Sinitsyn through staff members familiar with the Dallas Jr. Stars. Competing in the tough Hockey East conference, the River Hawks were getting a lot of potential in the youngster (who did end up playing seven games in the Russian junior league last season).
“He’s an interesting defenseman because he has some size and offensive flair to his game,” Bazin said. “The upside is substantial.”
Of course, by the time Sinitsyn got on campus, the River Hawks had only a dozen games left, so there was no point burning a year of NCAA eligibility. Instead, the big blueliner redshirted, which meant he could practise with the team, but wouldn’t play any games. Sinitsyn also got a chance to focus more on university courses taught in a language he’s still mastering. His coach believes that time was well spent.
“We saw a tremendous amount of growth in terms of maturity,” Bazin said. “Just adapting to the rigors of academic life and the compete level of older kids on the ice was a big adjustment.”
And while Sinitsyn admits he had a hard time writing his first college essays, his education on the practice rink was invaluable towards understanding the NCAA game.
“First, you have to make decisions quicker,” he said. “There’s a big emphasis on odd-man rushes and the skill set is much higher.”
A big fan of Soviet legend Vladislav Fetisov, the youngster believes he can be a solid contributor to a River Hawks team that also boasts incoming goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (taken 130th overall by Winnipeg in 2012) and returning Hockey East rookie of the year Scott Wilson, a Pittsburgh Penguins prospect.
“I can manage the puck pretty well,” Sinitsyn said. “If it goes in my zone, I can take the puck away. I like to take one-timers on the power play and I can see those back-door passes.”
He still wants to work on his explosiveness and stride, but if all goes well, the Dallas Stars may have just snuck one in the back door on the rest of their NHL competition.
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