While various prospects’ receive the notoriety amidst the Pens’ organization, there’s one forward who might be the biggest hidden gem of them all.
His name — Anton Zlobin.
Zlobin, 20, was selected by Pittsburgh in the sixth-round (173rd overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, and has most recently been moved from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League (AHL) to the Wheeling Nailers of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL).
Out of commission for a monthly stretch due to an upper-body injury, Zlobin only performed in one game for WBS and failed to register a point. However, in making his debut for Wheeling last night, Zlobin dished out three helpers and skated to a plus-2 rating — just a taste of what he’ll offer the team should he remain in the ECHL.
In the previous three seasons, Zlobin was playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) for the Shawinigan Cataracts and the Val d’Or Foreurs, where he compiled a total of 212 points (92G, 120A) in 186 games and skated to an astonishing plus-61 rating.
For the 2012-13 campaign with the Foreurs, the Moscow, Russia native finished ninth in the league for scoring (91 points) — 14 points behind Tampa Bay Lightning‘ 2013 third-overall pick Jonathan Drouin. In the season before that with the Cataractes, Zlobin led the team in scoring with 76 points (40G, 36A), and his 40 goals also led the way in that category.
And while those numbers promptly jump out at you, one has to wonder why a guy like him was drafted extremely late?
Standing at 5-foot-11 and weighing in at 198-pounds, Zlobin isn’t the stockiest hockey player to lace up skates, but he possesses great potential in being a long-lasting NHL forward. No stranger to the big stage, if you’re questioning Zlobin’s psyche, rethink your analysis of him because he’s as clutch as they come.
Potting the game-winning goal for the Cataractes in the 2012 Mastercard Memorial Cup, Zlobin’s tally came in overtime to beat Pens’ defenseman Olli Maatta’s team, the London Knights, 2-1. In fact, both goals were manufactured by Zlobin, and he helped Shawinigan capture it’s first championship in their now 45-year existence.
A bonafide scoring talent, soft hands, elusive playmaking ability, and a knack for coming through when a team needs it most — how could so many organizations’ pass on him? Understanding he still has a long way to go before he reaches the big leagues, should he develop a better all-around game — aside from being well-equipped offensively — General Manager Ray Shero will futher establish himself as the biggest brain in an NHL front office.
Signing him to a three-year entry-level contract last April, I don’t anticipate Zlobin staying down in the ECHL for long after the organization finds out what he’s capable of contributing. Not implying that they don’t already know, but perhaps he’s fallen a little under the radar because of his ailment that kept him out of Pens’ training camp and preseason.
I’d be shocked if he doesn’t make it back to WBS at some point in the near future. If he doesn’t, it’s either because he’s re-injured himself, or Wheeling won’t want to give him up due to his constant production.
Zlobin, undoubtedly, is the biggest sleeper inside through the Pens’ grapevine.
The Nailers play against the Elmira Jackets tonight at 7 p.m. — the same team Zlobin picked apart last night.