The West seems to agree with Slava Demin.
The longtime Anaheim Jr. Ducks defenseman gained yet another potential opportunity to continue play hockey in the Western United States when the Vegas Golden Knights selected him with the sixth pick of the fourth round (99th overall) of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft on June 23.
In the spring, Demin helped the Wenatchee (Washington) Wild win the Fred Page Cup as British Columbia Hockey League champions as well as the Fred Doyle Cup for capturing the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s Pacific Region. He will play at the University of Denver next season.
Demin becomes the first Jr. Ducks player to be selected in the entry draft since the club added Tier 1 hockey five seasons ago.
“This is really special for Slava, and for the club,” Jr. Ducks Director of Coaches Craig Johnson said. “He’s a really great hockey player and a terrific young man.
“This is a thrill for all of us.”
Demin, a 2000 birth year, emerged as one of the BCHL’s top-scoring defensemen in his second season in Wenatchee. He put up 45 points in 57 regular-season games and added seven more points during the Wild’s extended playoff run, which ended in the RBC Cup, Canada’s Junior A championship tournament.
His season was less than a month in the rear-view mirror when the Golden Knights called his name at the draft in Dallas.
“It’s an unbelievable experience,” Demin told the team’s official website. “You only get this experience once in your life. So it’s pretty cool to go through it.
“(Vegas was) up there in the Stanley Cup Final, so it’s just super cool to be part of an organization that has done so well right from the get go.”
At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, he boasts size to go with an array of abilities, according to scouts, who often cite his fluid skating style, a high hockey IQ and excellent passing and shooting ability.
Demin said his years with the Jr. Ducks helped expand the foundation of his game.
“I think it really helped me because I was exposed to really good coaching and a program that was starting to put so much money into player development,” he said. “The Jr. Ducks program really did a good job in recruiting good players. Also being able to play against some of the top kids in the Tier 1 Elite Hockey League helped a lot.”
The coaching was a group effort.
“Eugene Kabanets did a very good job with Slava’s skill development,” Johnson said. “Playing for Sandy Gasseau helped him get to that next level because Sandy knows what it takes.
“And at 16s, Alex Kim helped him get closer to his immediate and future goals. All three coaches did a great job, and Slava put in a lot of work to get to this point.”
Demin played for Team USA at the prestigious Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup last August. The tournament matches the top Under-18 players in the world against each other. That further enhanced his draft stock.
“Representing Team USA at the Hlinka really propelled him,” said Kim, who also is the club’s director of player personnel. “When you’re on the international stage, your blip on the radar grows.
“This is fantastic for his family.”
The defenseman elaborated further: “Both of my parents have been a huge impact in that aspect of my life. Both of them did whatever they had to do to make sure I was always having fun at the rink. They have sacrificed a bunch of hours and so much money to do what I had to do and help me get to this point. I wouldn’t be here without them.”
Demin next will turn his attention to playing college hockey as an 18-year-old for a Denver program that has made four consecutive elite eight appearances and two Frozen Four runs, capped by an NCAA title in 2017. He realizes the transition won’t be easy.
“Stepping into college you are playing against guys that are usually going to be older, bigger and stronger than you,” Demin said. “So being able to use your body more and defending better and not just relying on your feet (is important).
“I want to be a complete defender and round out my offensive game and just get better as a player, making sure I am doing everything I can to improve.”
Kim saw Demin’s commitment to improvement firsthand when he picked him as a 15-year-old to play on the Jr. Ducks’ 16U AAA team.
“Any time something like this happens it’s great news,” Kim added. “It’s great to have one of our players who came up through the club do so well for himself. Slava has a great work ethic and is very deserving of this.”