The Tips feel good about their selection, “though when you're dealing with Euros, you really don't get a chance to totally put your eyes on these guys,” Everett general manager Garry Davidson said.
But after gathering information from various sources, the team felt confident “that he'd do very well for himself playing major junior hockey over here,” Davidson said.
Zhebelev, who turns 17 Saturday, played last season for Dynamo of Moscow, where he had 27 goals and 27 assists in 41 games. He was also a member of Russia's U-17 national team, and had four goals and one assist at the 2014 World U-17 Hockey Challenge in Nova Scotia, helping his team to the bronze medal.
At 5-foot-11 and 187 pounds, “he's a strong kid ... (and) a very good player for his age,” Davidson said. And although the Tips need to see Zhebelev play in person to be sure, “you're always hoping to hit a home run (with a European draft pick).”
Still, there is no certainty that Zhebelev will play in Everett next season, or that he will even show up for training camp. He also was a second-round draft pick of HC Admiral Vladivostok of the Kontinental Hockey League, which includes teams in Russia and several other Eastern Europe countries.
“We don't have a 100 percent commitment from him yet,” Davidson acknowledged. “But he's dealt with an agent who we have good relationship with, and (the agent) felt very positive that (Zhebelev) was coming. ... So we feel fairly confident that we'll see him here for training camp in August.”
Ironically, Zhebelev was one of four Dynamo players chosen in the import draft, and all were picked by Western Hockey League teams. The others were winger Nikita Milekhin, taken third by Lethbridge, defenseman Sergey Zborovsky, drafted 39th by Regina, and defenseman Marsel Ibragimov, selected 58th by Edmonton.
By rule, the Tips can have just two European players on their roster, but they were allowed to draft a third because one of the two, defenseman Mirco Mueller, is a first-round draft choice of the NHL's San Jose Sharks. If Mueller sticks with the Sharks in the coming season, Zhebelev could play in Everett along with the team's other European player, Russian forward Ivan Nikolishin.
However, if Mueller ends up back in Everett, the Tips would have to part with one of their three European players.
At that point, Davidson said, “we'd have to make a decision about which two we're going to keep.”
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