From Russia, with question marks: Coyotes surprise many with top selections in NHL Draft

Daniil But, left, and Dmitri Simashev are not only friends and teammates, but were also the Arizona Coyotes’ top two selections in the NHL Draft. (Photo courtesy of Arizona Coyotes)

PHOENIX – Leading up to the 2023 NHL Draft, Arizona Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong suggested fans should “expect the unexpected.”

He wasn’t joking.

With the No. 6 pick, the Coyotes selected Russian defenseman Dmitri Simashev, and then took fellow Russian left winger Daniil But at No. 12. Neither was projected to go that high on the majority of analysts’ draft boards

“We call him the unicorn in the draft,” Arizona Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong said about Simashev. “They’re hard to find, guys who can move and skate like that for a big man. We got to know him a little bit. We kind of fell in love with his personality on the ice but also off the ice.

“He’s got leadership capabilities, a very intriguing prospect at that size. You can’t trade for a defenseman like that in the National Hockey League.”

Simashev played 29 games in Russia for Loko Yaroslavl in the Molodyozhnaya Hokkeinaya Liga. He had a standout defensive season and was able to pick up his offensive play in the playoffs, finishing with six points in 10 games.

Meanwhile, But, known for scoring goals, also played for Loko Yaroslavl, burying 15 in 26 games. He followed up his impressive regular season with nine points in seven games in the MHL postseason.

(Graphic by Spencer Durose/Cronkite News)

(Graphic by Spencer Durose/Cronkite News)

The uniqueness surrounding the two players was the challenge of seeing them live due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Armstrong did reiterate that he was able to see both play in person, although he did not state where or how.

“You have to weigh that risk and for us, sometimes for us there is risk in human nature, sometimes players get injured,” Armstrong said. “Our thing was to take the two best players that we thought would fit our culture. Those were those two players that we selected. Size, skill, (competitive) and they’re workers. Those guys come to the rink everyday to make a difference.”

The two Russian prospects both have elite size, with Simashev standing at 6-foot-4 and But at 6-5. The Coyotes have drafted several players in the past few years with impressive size, including Maveric Lamoureux and Conor Geekie, who are both over 6-3.

Both But and Simashev have two remaining seasons on their contract in Russia. They are unable to participate in the Coyotes’ upcoming development camp and won’t be able to sign an NHL contract until 2025.

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“We spent a lot of time going through the family process and understanding the players as people, the families as people,” said Ryan Jankowski, the Coyotes Associate Director of Amatuer Scouting. “We think these kids are hockey players and we don’t right now feel that there is any issue with them doing what they need to do to play in the National Hockey League.”

The Coyotes for the second year in a row passed on a high-profile prospect, not selecting Matvei Michkov Wednesday after passing on Shane Wright last year. PHNX Sports reported that Michkov wanted nothing to do with the Coyotes organization.

Armstrong has continued his pattern of selecting the players he believes are the best fit and not looking into projections or rankings.

But and Simashev were not projected lottery selections. Craig Button ranked But 30th and Simashev 49th. Bob Mckenzie ranked Simashev 19th and But 22nd.

Regardless of the ranking, Armstrong suggested the team landed its targeted players.

Daniel Pike dan-yul pike
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Daniel Pike expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism, a minor in history and a certificate in sports ethics and diversity. Pike is the station manager for Blaze Radio and an intern for KTAR News in Phoenix.

Spencer Durose spen-sir doo-rose (he/him/his)
Sports Digital Producer, Phoenix

Spencer Durose expects to graduate in December 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Durose, who is assigned to Cronkite Sports this semester, will be interning with the AIA next Fall in video production before graduating from ASU.