BUFFALO NY - JANUARY 05: Daniil Sobchenko #14 of Russia skates against Sean Couturier #7 and Cody Eakin #21 of Canada during the 2011 IIHF World U20 Championship Gold medal game between Canada and Russia at the HSBC Arena on January 5 2011 in Buffalo New York. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
It was unlikely the lanky, over-age Russian kid was going to be picked at all during the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and even less likely the team to select him would be the San Jose Sharks. Center Daniil Sobchenko wasn't even ranked among Central Scouting's top 140 European skaters and the Sharks hadn't drafted a player from a Russian hockey club since picking Andrei Zyuzin second overall in 1996.
None of that mattered. With the 166th overall pick in the draft, their first selection of the sixth round, the Sharks added to their organization Sobchenko who was coming off a season in which he played in 16 KHL games, tallied 20 points in 14 games for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl's minor-league affiliate and about half a year removed from leading Team Russia to an improbable upset over the Canadians in the gold medal game of the 2011 World Junior Championships.
The scouting reports described him as a two-way center with size and vision and Sobchenko himself talked about molding his game after fellow countryman and all-time great Sergei Fedorov. He added variety and skill to a pipeline of forward prospects in the Sharks organization that could use a bit of both. He already had experience as a champion, having led Russia to the aforementioned WJC gold medal, and was slated to be a more regular contributor to the flagship Lokomotiv club in the coming year.
Until all of that was tragically cut short one year ago today in the brutal plane crash that claimed the lives of 44 Yaroslavl players and team personnel on September 7th, 2011. The soaring career of a promising young man disastrously careened into a riverbank alongside the lives of his teammates and coaches. It was a tragedy that reverberated through every outpost of the hockey world, from St. Louis, Los Angeles, Vancouver and Minnesota mourning star center Pavol Demitra to Anaheim commemorating the loss of Ruslan Salei with sweater patches to Nashville, Colorado and Dallas grieving defenseman Karlis Skrastins to Carolina and Calgary proudly remembering the men who had helped deliver championships to their cities in Josef Vasicek and Brad McCrimmon, respectively.
But the loss was felt here in San Jose too. We may not have ever gotten a chance to see Sobchenko put on a Sharks sweater in game action but the odds are good he would have accomplished that feat someday. In an article published on Hockey's Future one day before the crash, writer Alessandro Seren Rosso discussed Sobchenko's chances of helping Russia hoist another gold medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and ended the article with the now-haunting line "...there is still plenty of time to accomplish this goal."
Life is fleeting. And while Sobchenko's may have come to an abrupt and cruel end a year ago, there's no question he spent his short stay on this planet living life to its fullest extent.