Oct 18, 2018

By Tom Witosky 

Follow @toskyAHLWild 

Dmitry Sokolov knew at a young age he was destined to be a professional hockey player. 

“I started skating at the age of four and my father always thought I could become a professional, if I put in the work,” the 20-year-old native of Omsk, Russia said. 

But it wasn’t until Sokolov’s mother, Zhanetta, allowed seven-year-old Dmitry to sleep in one morning and skip a hockey practice that the youngster made it clear what was important to him. 

“She just thought I was tired and didn’t want to wake me up,” Sokolov said with a smile. “But when I woke up and found out what happened, I got really angry. I never slept in and missed a practice again.” 

Drafted by Minnesota in the seventh round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Sokolov has already attracted a lot of attention not only as a prolific scorer, but as one of several Wild draft choices from Russia expected to have an impact on the NHL Wild’s roster in the coming years. Sokolov and his fellow countrymen Kirill Kaprizov, now playing in the KHL, and Alexander Khovanov, now playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for Moncton, are seen as a potential high-scoring line in the future for Minnesota. 

“I’ve heard some of that kind of talk,” said Sokolov, who has played with both Kaprizov and Khovanov before. “It is something that would be pretty cool, but there is a lot of work to do for all of us.” 

Tim Army, Iowa’s head coach, is just getting to know Sokolov and likes what he sees when the young forward is on the ice. At a recent practice, Army said Sokolov illuminated his scoring ability with a swift rush down the ice then crossing in front of the net to score a goal. 

“Not everyone can do that unless you have some quickness,” Army said. “You definitely can’t do it unless you have power, and you definitely can’t do it unless you have the skills. There are a lot of good things that he brings to the team and he is just going to get better.” 

Sokolov’s journey to Iowa began at 17, when he and his family decided that if he was going to play professional hockey, he should begin to learn the North American game as opposed to what is played in Russia. 

Up until then, Sokolov had been playing in the Russian Junior League for local teams in Omsk, a historic Russian city of 1.1 million in southwestern Siberia. In 2014-15, Sokolov attracted the attention of professional scouts when he scored 22 goals in 25 games for the Russian U-17 and U-18 international teams. Kaprizov, Minnesota’s fifth-round draft choice in 2015, also played on those teams. 

Sokolov said he spent much of his childhood simply working to improve his hockey skills. During the summers, he said, he could be found outside in the family yard practicing his shot almost every night. 

“After supper, my Dad and I would go outside to work on my shot. One summer I shot something like 50,000 pucks into the net,” he said. 

In deciding to leave Russia for North America, Sokolov confronted two questions. First, what team would he join? Second, how would he fair in a country when he didn’t speak the language? 

Ironically, Sokolov was drafted by the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League just three years after the team won the 2012 World Junior Cup title in a tournament held in Sokolov’s hometown. That familiarity helped assure Sokolov of his decision to leave his Omsk for Canada.

“I knew it was something I had to do and it was hard at first,” he said. “I was shy and I knew I was going to miss my family.” 

Moreover, he said, the language barrier was a little tough to overcome. 

“I almost starved the first few weeks because I didn’t know how to say I was hungry,” he said laughing.  

But Sokolov struck up a friendship with a Sudbury player, David Levin, who spoke Russian and became Sokolov’s interpreter as he learned to speak English.  

Learning English wasn’t all that easy, but Sokolov decided the best way was immersion – into television and movies.  

“We had a Polish player on the team back then who had to learn English so we went to a class once,” Sokolov said. “It was so boring I couldn’t stand it so I figured I’d learn it just by listening and asking others how to say things.” 

Today, Sokolov’s grasp of English is much like his hockey – strong, but improving. 

“He is still evolving because he is just a kid,” Army said. “Where he is now, I think he will be amazing at 23 or 24 years old. I think he is just a great kid who is learning a lot about a lot of things.” 

Army said Sokolov, who is the first Russian player to wear an Iowa Wild sweater, is much like other young top players from his country.  

Russian players have a high skill level,” Army said. “They can pass, they can handle passes, good hands. They are highly skilled players – that’s not uncommon and Sokolov has that as well.” 

Army said Sokolov needs to continue to work on conditioning and quickness, but that’s not unusual for a player at his stage of development.  

“None of this is uncommon for a young player,” Army said. “These are the things that all young players must improve if they are to make it.” 

But Army said one thing Sokolov provides the team is clearly an ability to score.  

He is a gifted goal scorer,” he said. “You can’t score 50 goals at any level and not be a gifted goal scorer. He just has that instinctiveness all goal scorers have.” 

Sokolov said he plans to continue to work on those areas while also learning to adjust to life in Iowa. 

“I’ve been staying around my apartment mostly because we have been practicing a lot and I’ve not had time to get some things done like getting a Social Security number,” Sokolov said. 

Now that’s been accomplished, Sokolov said he will begin exploring the Des Moines area, particularly when his girlfriend arrives from Russia. “She will want to see what it’s like here.” 

As for his hockey future, Sokolov said it will be all about doing the work. 

“I’ve learned it takes hard work to get to this level and I know it will take more to get to the next one,” he said. “But it’s what I’ve always wanted so it’s what I will do.” 

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