FARMERS BRANCH, TX – After he poured in some extra shooting work at his first full National Hockey League practice, out in suburban Texas, Semyon Der-Arguchintsev nearly floated off the ice.
His 22-year-old dream is one sleep away from reality.
“It feels unreal. I’ve been waiting for it my whole life. Just an incredible feeling. I can’t explain how happy I am,” Der-Arguchintsev said Monday. “That was my goal — to get called up this year.”
A happy combination of factors has led Der-Arguchintsev and the Toronto Maple Leafs here, in Dallas, where the club originally drafted the skillsy, undersized right shot in the third round of 2018. (He was the youngest member of the entire draft class.)
Forward Calle Järnkrok’s groin injury opened a big-league spot. Denis Malgin — set to serve a third straight healthy scratch — has slipped out of coach Sheldon Keefe’s good books. The Maple Leafs have dug into a comfortable standings spot, one where they can afford some lineup experimentation and reward promotions. And the upbeat kid with the long odds and long, seven-syllable name they simply call “Semmy” or “SDA” has rounded his two-way reliability to the point of a peek in the show.
“He’s great,” Auston Matthews beams. “He’s just a little ball of energy out there. He’s extremely skilled, and you can just see that he’s not afraid to make plays and play his game out there. He’s really nice, he’s quiet, and he works hard. I’m sure this is really exciting for him to get the call up.”
Following Saturday’s loss to Syracuse, Marlies coach Greg Moore pulled Der-Arguchintsev into his office and told him that he needed to join to the big club in Big D.
Der-Arguchintsev rang up his dad to relay the good news.
“Just incredible,” he says.
Unfortunately, because they don’t have U.S. visas, Der-Arguchintsev won’t have any family at his debut, but they’ll be watching from home in the wee hours of the morning.
Der-Arguchintsev — mature beyond his birth certificate — is accustomed to figuring things out on his own.
SDA was 13 years old when he hugged his family goodbye and flew across the world to live in a country with two official languages he couldn’t speak a lick, and one in which he was fluent: hockey.
Imagine how Der-Arguchintsev felt packing a suitcase and his trusting parents’ support, then jetting from Moscow to Ottawa to pursue his dream at the same age most kids are barely allowed to babysit or mow the lawn.
The day he was drafted to the Leafs from the Peterborough Petes, Der-Arguchintsev sat inside American Airlines Center with a cheering section comprised of one — his agent.
“My family couldn’t make it. It’s too far,” Der-Arguchintsev explained. “It’s still shocking for me. I was pretty nervous, I’m not going to lie. I was just hoping for the best. My agent was like, ‘Relax. Don’t be nervous.’ But you can’t listen. You’re nervous. Is anyone going to take me?”
As the natural playmaker built his strength, patiently hoped for physical growth, and devoted himself to the defensive side of the puck, he looked to Mitch Marner as an inspiration.
“He’s such a good player. He’s not very big, but he plays big. He’s strong on the puck. He wins puck battles. He plays hard. I really like that,” Der-Arguchintsev said in an early interview.
“It gives you more hope that if you’re not the biggest guy, you have a chance of making it. You have to understand that you have to work hard. I’ve talked to some people about him, and they all say he worked really hard to get there. That’s what I’ll have to do as well.”
Like Marner, Der-Arguchintsev is a versatile skater who tends to think pass first — but one who has pushed himself to become a shooter, too. He has 19 goals and 35 assists through 77 career AHL games.
A Marner-like work ethic isn’t an issue for SDA. When he arrived at Rockland, Ont.’s Canadian International Hockey Academy eight years ago, he devoted himself to his craft and to his English studies. And when he had time to kill at his billet home, he’d toil away on his stickhandling in his bedroom.
“I was homesick my first year,” admitted Der-Arguchintsev. “I just practised, went to school, had hockey. You try not to think about it much, so it wasn’t too bad.”
At the farm, SDA has been pushed to sharpen his work habits, ramp up his competitiveness, and improve his positioning and anticipation without the puck.
“All the things we’ve been asking him to do for quite some time now, the reports are he’s delivered on that,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe says.
“He’s different, right? He’s certainly not the traditional hockey player that you encounter. He’s a very unique guy. He’s got a unique skillset and plays the game in a unique way as well.
“Part of his growth is finding that balance of using the skill and the slower, more methodical game that he plays but also being able to compete in the high-paced, physical, competitive game that is the NHL.”
We’ll get a glimpse of how far Der-Arguchintsev has developed Tuesday against a hard and structured Dallas Stars squad.
One-Timers: Here’s a fun fact. Mitchell Marner’s Leafs versus Jason Robertson’s Stars Tuesday marks the first head-to-to clash of two players on an active point streak of 18 games or more in NHL history…. Healthy scratches: Malgin, Wayne Simmonds and Mac Hollowell. After Saturday’s defeat in Tampa Bay, Hollowell (5-0-1) is no longer undefeated in the NHL…. Toronto’s revamped second power-play unit features Marlies grads Nick Robertson and Der-Arguchintsev on the flanks, Pierre Engvall in the bumper, Michael Bunting net-front, and newbie Timmins running point. “Looks good,” says Justin Holl. “He took a one-timer at practice the other day, and it was one of the hardest shots I’ve ever seen.”… Matt Murray starts Tuesday. Ilya Samsonov gets the nod Thursday at home versus Los Angeles.
Maple Leafs projected lines Tuesday in Dallas
Bunting – Matthews – Nylander
Robertson – Tavares – Marner
Kerfoot – Kämpf – Engvall
Aston-Reese – Holmberg – Der-Arguchintsev
Giordano – Holl
Sandin – Liljegren
Mete – Timmins