The first time Boris Dorozhenko, the Scottsdale-based NHL skills coach who came to fame for developing Auston Matthews, started working with Danny Zhilkin, he decided by the end of their skate together that the 17-year-old would begin his training in what he calls “the top league stage.”

There are levels to Dorozhenko’s aptly-named Next Generation Hockey training, and teenagers normally begin a level (or two) below his most difficult regiment.

But when Zhilkin came to him during the OHL’s 2020-21 season shutdown looking for new insight into his development and hoping to make the most of an otherwise-lost year, it was clear he was ready for the challenge.

And so they got to work, pushing through daily two-hour sessions that stripped Zhilkin of pucks and looked to hone his speed, agility, weight transfer, and even his shooting and puckhandling. This was done through focused training of new habits for his hips, balance and core.

“He was a very strong skater. We just added new things to his package of tools and he showed real improvement. My program is not easy even for pro players, but he did it really well and every single moment in the program he was involved in, he was trying to analyze. He was ready for it,” Dorozhenko said on a recent phone call. “My impression of him was very good. I think he’s a very solid hockey player and he’s got a great work ethic. He’s a smart and serious hockey player who is a very analytical player and has a great sense of where he’s at. ”

A year later, where he’s at is on the cusp of being picked in the NHL Draft.

When the hockey world gathers in Montreal in the first week of July for the 2022 draft, Zhilkin, a 6-foot-1, 189-pound first-line centre of the Guelph Storm, is expected to be selected in its first two rounds (maybe as high as the late first).

Just like Dorozhenko discovered, Zhilkin and his game have both always been advanced — always one step ahead of his peers on the ice with his skating and physical maturity, and an equal step ahead off of it, as he has made Canada his home and a career in the NHL his mission.