Blue Jackets signing of center Dmitri Voronkov adds size and rumble to roster

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Blue Jackets right-winger Kirill Marchenko was trying to describe fellow Russian Dmitry Voronkov’s style of play, and he struggled to find the right words. It wasn’t just because of Marchenko’s understanding of a second language, either.

“How can I say that? says Marchenko. “I am a happy Russian boy. (Yegor) Chinakhov is a cute Russian boy. But (Voronkov) … he’s like a tough Russian boy.

When Marchenko said that last sentence, he groaned and flexed his muscles. Voronkov is a good skater with solid skills, but his height (6-foot-4, 192 pounds) and snarl stand out as his most notable traits.

The Blue Jackets made the long-awaited signing of Voronkov official on Thursday, signing the 22-year-old to an entry-level two-year contract that will almost certainly make him part of the roster next season. He was a fourth-round pick (114th overall) in 2019. The Blue Jackets can use his talent at center ice, sure, but they also desperately need more size and fighting spirit.

“Dmitri is a big, strong forward who can play center or wing and is coming off a stellar season in the KHL,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said in a statement. “He’s a skillful player who showed his ability to score goals while playing a physical two-way game.

“We think he has a huge upside and we can’t wait for him to join our group and continue his development as Blue Jacket.”

The contract includes an “escape clause”, which is not unusual for players making the jump to the NHL from another professional league. According to Voronkov’s agent, JP Barry, if Voronkov is not on the list until the end of December, he has the right to return to Russia from January 1.

The Blue Jackets don’t expect that to be a problem.

Voronkov is the first step toward what could be a major transformation of the Blue Jackets’ depth chart at center. On Monday, the Blue Jackets will learn if they have a chance of landing Connor Bedard or Adam Fantilli, the presumed No. 1 and No. 2 selections, respectively, in this summer’s draft.

These two are widely considered NHL ready and would immediately take a spot among the Blue Jackets’ top six forwards.

Voronkov has become a standout player this season with Kazan Ak-Bars, who lost a decisive seventh game in the KHL championship, the Gagarin Cup, on Sunday.

In 54 regular season games, he went 18-13-31 with 51 penalty minutes and a plus-13 rating. He led the club with five game-winning goals. He went 8-4-12 with 16 penalty minutes and a plus-6 rating in 24 playoff games.

This is the second straight summer the Blue Jackets have brought one of their drafted prospects from Russia to the NHL. Last summer, Marchenko — a second-round pick (No. 49 overall) in 2018 — left SKA St. Petersburg to sign with the Blue Jackets.

Marchenko set a Blue Jackets franchise record for goals by a rookie, scoring 21 goals in just 59 games this season. He started the season with AHL Cleveland, but was called up in December and never looked back, advancing to the top line against Johnny Gaudreau.

Voronkov could have an equally big but unlikely impact on the scoresheet.

Blue Jackets forward Justin Danforth played the 2020-21 KHL season with Poldosk Vityaz. He remembered Voronkov quite well, he said.

“Don’t shy away from contact, in other words,” Danforth said. “This league may be a bit different in that regard, but Voronkov plays a kind of style up front.”

The Blue Jackets said Voronkov was in possession of a visa that would allow him to travel to the United States. But we do not know when he will make his first trip here.

As with previous Russian players – Marchenko and Chinakhov – the Blue Jackets will connect Voronkov with former Blue Jackets defender Fedor Tyutin to help Voronkov, who does not speak English, acclimate to his new surroundings.

The first time he’ll likely be on the ice would be for the Blue Jackets’ development camp, which usually takes place right after the draft.

(Photo by Dmitry Voronkov: Mario Hommes/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

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