Maksim Zhukov, or Maxim (depending on who you talk to) was the Vegas Golden Knights’ seventh NHL Entry Draft selection (96th overall) and their first drafted goalie. While drafting in the fourth round is typically a roll of the dice, so are goalies as an entity. Busts are aplenty in the early rounds, and undrafted studs like Sergei Bobrovsky come around every now and again. So while Vegas does not quite know what they are getting in Zhukov, the data available at the moment looks quite promising.
He has been tracking upward over the past year-plus, and nothing is more evident of this fact than his performance at the previous two Under-18 World Championships. In 2016, Zhukov saw the net twice, and would probably wish to forget his .830 save percentage and 8.21 goals against average. He then turned in a stunning display of netminding at this year’s WJC-18, posting the highest save percentage (.926) among any player with at least three games played, taking home the award for top goaltender.
Zhukov’s success was not limited to the international stage. Unlike most Russian players of his age, Zhukov plied his trade stateside this past year, suiting up for the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League. He wasted no time getting acclimated to the league, leading the USHL in wins (19) for a first-year player and 12th in save percentage (.913) among players with at least 30 starts.
Gregory Balloch, a goaltending analyst, tweeted his approval for the pick and elsewhere on social media, Las Vegas Review-Journal beat writer Steve Carp noted that the 18-year-old played even larger than his 6-foot-3, 187-pound frame.
Below, you will find some highlights from a game this past fall. While watching a six-minute clip of goalie footage from one contest may not be your cup of tea, zero in on the 0:50 mark. Zhukov shows tremendous poise in the face of a partial breakaway and does not break form until the save is made. That is a skill typically reserved for goalies with a bit more seasoning than that of those born in 1999.
Zhukov is primarily a butterfly-style goalie who relies on his agility and height to cover a large portion of the net. While his rebound control and vision could use some polishing, he is decidedly ahead of typical goaltender development. His angle work is quite strong, and not dissimilar to two-time Stanley Cup Champion Matt Murray, albeit on a smaller scale. Zhukov is not afraid to challenge shooters and refuses to stay in the crease if he feels he can put the shooter at a disadvantage.
If the above has yet to drum up a little excitement, Zhukov himself mentioned to Gary Lawless that he wanted to be picked by the Golden Knights heading into the draft:
Gotta love a company man. And for those of you worried that Marc-Andre Fleury’s job may be in jeopardy, relax. In a best-case scenario for Zhukov, he would not reach the NHL for at least another three or four seasons.