Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, on the threshold of the NHL, awaits his call to the Leafs

Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, on the threshold of the NHL, awaits his call to the Leafs

On Saturday afternoon in Winnipeg, 24-year-old guard Dylan Wells blocked 12 of his 13 shots in the third period of a comfortable appearance with the Chicago Blackhawks. This was the seventh different jersey he has worn in just four years as a professional hockey player, and the third this year alone.

It was also, finally, his debut in the NHL.

Semyon Der-Arguchintsev knew how long Wells had been working at that moment, and even if he was a little late, he was planning to send a congratulatory letter. They have been teammates for two seasons with the Peterborough Bates, and while their career paths have diverged, they are no different.

At 22, Der-Arguchintsev has already spent about 20 percent of his life within the Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment empire. The Maple Leafs took him in the third round (#76 overall) of the 2018 draft, and while he’s navigating the final year of his entry contract, he’s still waiting for his NHL debut.

He’s been watching his former teammates while jumping, but not too closely.

“I’m trying to focus on what I’m doing on the ice right now,” Der-Arguchintsev said. “You know what I mean? I don’t want to get distracted when I get the chance. Because obviously I really want to get my chance, but I know I have to keep working hard, and I’ll have my chance when the time comes.”

The diminutive striker averages nearly a point per game with Marlies, the subsidiary of AHL in Toronto, and has won praise from his coach for improving on areas that don’t appear in any sortable stat column. It doesn’t know when the phone will ring, but it works to stay in the call list.

De Arguchintsev has one goal and eight assists in his first 10 games of the season, with Marles taking the lead early on. There is an argument that his success has come despite some bad luck around the net – his shooting percentage (4.8 percent) is lower than anyone who has had a goal with the Marleys this season.

He scored 17.6 percent in his first full season with the Marlies last year.

“This year has been quite impressive with his build and competitiveness,” said Marles coach Greg Moore. “He’s found a way to get the pucks back for our team with his skill set, and he’s starting to learn what it does for him.”

Last season, the coach said most conversations focused on playing everywhere on the rink, not just in the attack zone, where his natural talents are usually most visible. Moore said the staff stressed the importance of learning to use his small size as leverage in the defensive zone.

“There’s definitely a difference, sometimes perceptually, with guys who graduated freshmen compared to college,” Moore said. “In his first year pro, there might be a gap of three or four years in age difference there. So he still has a lot of time to get to that level.

“Based on the work he’s done this year so far, he’s on the right track.”

Arguchentsev Monastery was not big enough to drive when he moved to Canada for hockey. He was 13 when it was decided he was leaving Russia for the Canadian International Hockey Academy, in Rockland, Ontario, half an hour outside of downtown Ottawa.

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Bates coined it based on his skill and wished a slightly larger volume would follow.

“His hockey skills and his hockey IQ were,” said Mike Oak, Bates’ general manager.

“It was almost hard to pinpoint parts of his skill,” said Andrew Werner, longtime assistant coach at Peterborough. “He would go into the corner with a couple of monsters and somehow paint his way – like an animation – crawling between the men’s legs while they were still fighting.”

Sometimes the skill was beyond his attention to detail, he said, saying there were times when coaches had to explain why they weren’t put on ice during certain situations. If the opponent’s net was empty late in a single-score game, for example, they likely wanted someone committed to clearing the danger in the defensive zone before running too far to take a shot at goal.

“I think Sammy is a smart kid,” Werner said. “He definitely had visions of greatness early on.”

Verner and Oke both said Der-Arguchintsev is still in touch with his small team, sometimes to chat, sometimes for advice. Werner said Bates coach Rob Wilson would occasionally be asked for some comments on the game’s movie, knowing the response would be candid and direct.

Some of Peterborough’s reminders are closer than a phone call. The Leafs signed former Petes striker Pavel Gogolev to an entry-level contract last year, adding him to an organizational depth scheme that includes Nick Robertson. (Toronto drafted Nikita Korostelev—a fourth piece on the 2017-18 Bates roster—but he hasn’t found a home, and has since returned to Russia.)

Robertson made the jump and is trying to maintain a foothold.

“It’s the NHL. Everything collided much more,” he said. “Expectations. The responsibility and attention that the team gets, in addition to the salary as well. Everything is at stake here. It’s a lifestyle that I want to be a part of, and I want to be a part of for a long time.”

The Argochentsev Monastery could glimpse that life earlier this week. The Leafs were given a day off, and while Marlis was rehearsing, three front-office dignitaries were in the audience. President Brendan Shanahan, Assistant General Manager Hayley Wickenheiser and Special Assistant Jason Spiza sat in the stands, leaning on a railing for the better part of an hour while the team skated below.

At one point, the Vegas Golden Knights, in town early before the game, walked across planks on their way to off-day training in a nearby ice pad.

“I think everyone knows that I can do things with the disk,” Der-Argochintsev said. “It’s like maturing in important areas of the game – when it’s the third period, don’t flip it over, be over the players, over the disc.

“I think that’s where my main focus was last year, and this year as well.”

He said he was on the ice five days a week during the summer. Argochintsev monastery said he would rent snow while in Russia and would work on his shot for hours on end. He was taking a pass from different angles and shooting at the goalkeeper.

It was part of a commitment to move, finally, to the NHL.

Wells, the old Peterborough goalkeeper, has been trying for years. The Edmonton Oilers took him in the fifth round of the 2016 NHL Draft, but the vicissitudes of life in professional sports have taken him on a journey across the continent, from Wichita to Bakersfield, Norfolk, Indianapolis and Rockford.

Earlier this month, he signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Black Hawks. And when the team lost its third goalkeeper to injury, he scored his first 20 minutes in an NHL game of the regular season. (It was later placed on concessions, which is Survey earlier this week.)

“It’s good that he finally played his game in the National Hockey League, because I think he has some ups and downs in the pro,” Der-Arguchintsev said. “But I know his attitude: He’s always been professional.”

At 22, Der-Arguchintsev is still learning and yearning to be a professional who plays at this level.

“The only league I haven’t had yet is the NHL, and obviously I’m driven to achieve it,” he said. “I know it takes a little longer for some players, but I’m really focused and driven to get into the National Hockey League.”

(Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

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