Archive for the Category ◊ NHL draft combine ◊

05 Jul 2010 Exclusive: Chatting Up Newly Crowned King Maxim Kitsyn
Maxim Kitsyn

Maxim Kitsyn stops to shake a fan's hand after his name is called at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

There’s an old saying in Russia that if you’re promised something, you will have to wait three years to get it (if at all).   Yet when I contacted Maxim Kitsyn — a Russian and the Los Angeles Kings’ 6th-round draft pick — for an interview I got a quick response. An enthusiastic “yes,” followed by immediate action. I sent him questions, and less than 24 hours later I had his answers — all this while he was participating in the Kings’ prospect camp.

This was just my first insight into Kitsyn’s maturity, responsibility and dedication to play in North America.  It is clear that he takes his career very seriously.

In speaking with him prior to the interview, I found him to be a very gracious and courteous person.  As you will see, he is also well spoken (his answers were sent back to us in Russian and translated by Goddess Thorkhild). Though he replied in his native tongue, he does like to practice his English whenever he gets a chance.

HockeyGoddesses: Since you don’t play in here yet we’d like to let the fans in Los Angeles and North America get to know you personally.

What did you do in Los Angeles during the draft? Had you been in North America before? How did you like it?

Maxim Kitsyn: I came to Los Angeles with my parents, and there was one more Russian on the plane — Stas Galiyev [Stanislav Galiev, who was selected by the Washington Capitals in the 3rd round].  He was with his mom too.  So we didn’t have time to get bored.  And during the draft my parents, my agent, his daughter and our lawyer went somewhere each day.  We either went shopping or went to the ocean. We didn’t manage to go to Hollywood.  There were terrible traffic jams that day.

HG: Have you always wanted to play in the NHL?

MK:  Yes, of course.  I don’t know any young hockey player in Russia who wouldn’t like to play in this league.

Maxim Kitsyn

Maxim Kitsyn dons his new colors.

HG: What players did you admire growing up?

MK: If you name any NHL player of this time I’d say I liked his game. I cannot distinguish anyone specific.

HG: What do you like to do in your free time during the season?

MK: I don’t have much spare time, but when I do, I like to have a good rest. I also like to spend time with my friends, but we don’t meet often. I see one of my friends only once a year, though we live just a five-minute walk from each other. And, of course, I love to be with my girlfriend; we just go for a walk or sit somewhere in a cafe, for example.

HG: What do you do in the off-season?

MK: Usually I rest a little.  Last year I was in Turkey, and before the camp of my KHL team I go train in America or Canada. This year our playoffs were over at the end of April and the tests [the NHL Combine] before the draft were just a month away.  All of the guys from my team were resting, and I had to go to the rink everyday to keep up my physical conditioning.  I wanted to go somewhere to vacation between the NHL Combine and the draft, but my family had a lot to do this summer, and I didn’t manage to leave. Now, the Los Angeles Kings have chosen me, and our [development] camp started earlier than all others — just four days after the draft. So I am spending my holidays this way. :)

HG: Who has had the greatest influence on your career? What was his or her best advice?

MK: My parents.  They often sacrificed themselves to help me and my brother (he is three years older).  They did everything for us, so that the only thing we had to do was to go on the ice and play hockey. For example, in the hockey school I went to, every age group had the year when training started at 7 a.m. in the morning.  At 6:15 a.m. you had to be in the dressing room, so at 6 a.m. you had to leave home. Mom got up at 5 a.m. to start cooking for us. I am very grateful to my parents. Me and my brother still play hockey. But if not for them we wouldn’t have achieved anything.

HG: When do you think you will come to play in North America?

MK: In fact, I have wanted to come to play in the Canadian Hockey League, but I have a contract with a Kontinental Hockey League club [Metallurg Novokuznetsk], and no CHL team previously wanted to take a risk by picking me in the draft. But this year, Mississuaga has chosen me.  If everything is worked out and I can come at least by the end of the year to the Ontario Hockey League, I’ll be very happy.

HG: There are many great Russians playing in the KHL that we, here in North America, have never seen. Who is the best player in the KHL that nobody in North America has heard of?

MK: I don’t know who you have heard about and who you haven’t, but I can say that there are very many players in the KHL who could become leaders in the NHL.

HG: What advice can you give young players? How can a player achieve the highest level of hockey?

MK: To listen to the coach and to keep doing your business as a professional. There are moments when you feel you can’t manage to do anything and want to leave it all, but then you remember what goals you have and understand that you must keep going.

HG: Do you have any training secrets?  How do you psychologically prepare for games?

MK: Those I keep to myself ;).  I’ll say one thing:  Each hockey player and sportsman in general have their little secrets. :)

Photos: Maxim Kitsyn and fan by Goddess Sasha. Kitsyn in Kings jersey by Getty Images.

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24 Jun 2010 Stanislav Galiev has one goal: The NHL
Stanislav Galiev

Stanislav Galiev and his mom have the NHL set in their sights

Call me a bit biased, but there is no better wisdom than a mother’s.   And it could be that very wisdom that makes Stanislav Galiev the best Russian a team could place their pick on this draft.

While other picks are surrounded by drama and uncertainty, Galiev has been quietly absent from controversy.  He doesn’t have a strong willed father or an uncontrolled ego.  Instead, he has his widowed mother who has been  protective while promoting what she thinks is best for her son.  She moved to the US after Stanislav’s first year here, then to Canada when he was drafted by the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL.

Both she and Stanislav have been very clear that his ultimate goal is the NHL, something that is strongly supported by his move to play in the USHL at only 16 years of age.  No games, no posturing:  Just honest sentiments from a family who has many reasons to want to live in the United States.  It’s good both for mom and son –  Stanislav, who can play in a league that suits his North American style, and for his mom as the quality of life for a single woman is by far superior in North America.

On the playing front, Galiev may not be as big as Burmistrov, may not have as much flair as Tarasenko or may not have the touted talent of Kabanov, but he isn’t far behind in any of those categories.  Best known for his creative play and intelligence on the ice, Stanislav models himself after Alexander Semin.  His style of play, strength and power all lend himself to such comparisons.  However, most scouts have noted his exception defensive play, leading them to comparisons to Pavel Datsyuk.  Although he’s still physically young, needing to fill out, he’ll do so naturally as he progresses as an athlete.  With his talent and potential, there’s no rush as his 6’1” frame will gain the necessary mass.

Playing in the shadow of Burmistrov, many people will be surprised to find that he’s ranked just eight spots behind his fellow Russian in the North American rankings at 20th and will most likely go in the first round.  His steady play, natural talent and gregarious and easy-going personality have placed him higher than many people had initially anticipated.  Yet make no bones about it, this kid is incredibly talented and is maturing as a player every day, having the potential to be one of the best in the best league in the world.

So while this somewhat dark horse of a draft pick, like all Russians, is no guarantee to stay in North America and play in the NHL, if he listens to his mom, chances are pretty darn good.

Photo:  Stanislav Galiev at Indy.com.

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12 Jun 2010 NHL Prospect Zaytsev not so ‘Green’
Nikita Zaytsev

Russia's Nikita Zaytsev is wowing NHL scouts.

He’ll never be an Alexander Ovechkin or an Ilya Kovalchuk.  Heck, he won’t even be a Maxim Afinogenov or a Ruslan Fedotenko.  After all, in 40 games for Sibir of the Kontinental Hockey League he had no goals and just one assist.  But given a chance, he just might just join the ranks of Slava Fetisov and Sergei Zubov.  That’s because Nikita Zaytsev is a defenseman.

Amidst all the hype of the Russians in this year’s draft, baby-faced Zaytsev has flown under the radar of most fans.  In fact, even sports writers have misrepresented him.  One article from NHL.com headlines a story saying that he patterns himself after Mike Green, based on Nikita’s statement that he thought Green was one of the most exciting defensemen to watch.  Certainly not something many of us who value defensive defensemen find all that appealing.

However, one only needs look at his international statistics to see what kind of player he really is.  A +7 with 5 points, 4 being assists, at the U18 Worlds a year ago show the caliber of Rob Blake, rather than a Mike Green.  Talk to his teammates and opponents both internationally and in Russia and they will tell you that his defensive zone play is impeccable.  His speed, skill and hockey intelligence are already proving him to be one of the top in the KHL, making him a tough opponent — all this from a kid who is only 18 years old playing against men twice his age and with the twice the experience.  I know, what else would you expect from a Russian-lover like me?  Still, I’m not the only one excited about him.  He may be flying under the average NHL fan’s radar, but the scouts are definitely talking.

Not only does he have the skill and speed of a seasoned professional, but he is quickly adding size and strength to his overall resume.  Despite only being 176 lbs at 6’ 1”, he scored in the top six at the NHL combine in both jump tests and bench press (including the push test), demonstrating all-around power and strength.  Not bad for a skilled, agile defenseman who still has some growing to do.  These numbers, no doubt, did not go unrecognized by many of the organizations.

As a Colorado Avalanche fan I can only dream of landing such a fantastic prospect.  Unfortunately, though, the Avs will probably be drafting another tiny offensive defenseman.  It’s really too bad, because this kid has all the tools to become one of the great all-around defensemen in the NHL.

With Rob Blake retiring this year, someone needs to step in and be that type of player in the league.  Nikita Zaytsev just might be the one.

Photo: Nikita Zaytsev by Elena Rusko (rusko.fishup.ru), Copyright 2010. All Rights Reserved.

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01 Jun 2010 Kirill Kabanov: The New Tsar of Russia?
Kirill Kabanov

Kabanov from his photo site in which he adds the tongue-in-cheek title, "Kirill Kabanov the new tsar of Russia."

As promised, it’s time to start highlighting some of the Russian prospects you may not have heard much about –guys who will be available for this year’s draft.  And since it’s the first of several posts, we might as well start with the most controversial Russian eligible for the 2010 NHL draft to pique your interest.

Kirill Kabanov is riddled with controversy.  Google his name and you’ll find rumors that make Alexander Semin’s early NHL drama seem like kids play.  I won’t bother to take up room with extensive details, but after a buyout with the KHL, he came to Moncton of the QMJHL this year only to run back to Russia for the under-20 World Championships when faced with little playing time in Moncton.  When the coach there didn’t like what he saw, he was essentially cut from the Russian team and left in limbo.

The details are sketchy and rumors abound.  Some say his dad is controlling and forced him to abandon Moncton and go back to Russia.  Other say Kabanov’s cocky and needs to be brought down a notch.  Still others, like his coach in Russia, say that he thinks he’s better than he really is and needs to learn a lesson.  Whatever the truth, his stock in this year’s draft has declined greatly.

However, at this year’s combine, Kabanov gave one of the most impressive interviews I’ve ever seen from a guy his age.  Maybe he was groomed for the interview by his father or his agent, but it’s hard to pull off sincerity in a foreign language unless that’s exactly what it is –- sincere.  Take a look at the interview and I think you’ll see a humble, intelligent and honest 17 year old who seems wise beyond his years. Let’s not forget — he’s just a kid!

He admitted he made a mistake leaving Moncton and that he was stupid.  He emphasized that point with a Russian proverb, which personally I found quite thoughtful and endearing.  He declared his intention to play in the US, wherever that might be.  I know we’ve all heard that before, but there was no attitude in his voice, no sneer on his face.  He said it all with a genuine smile and the heart of someone who reflects on their mistakes and tries to become a better person for it.

I admit I’m biased.  I love the Russians.  But I’m also a chronic cynic and have found nothing but honesty and maturity in this kid.  Whatever he has gone through this year, he has grown tremendously and will be far ahead of many other picks in that respect in this year’s draft.  And let’s not forget, Kabanov is smart, both on and off the ice.  Yeah, I know I’ve said I love the personality and cockiness some of these guys bring to professional hockey, but in this case, I’ll take him just the way he is.

Good luck to Kirill in this year’s draft. The goddesses will be wishing him the very best.  I predict he will become a star in the NHL and sooner, rather than later and it’s a savvy team that takes a chance on him.

Photo: Kirill Kabanov from his own photo-sharing site at flickr.com.

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27 May 2010 New Wave of Russian Talent?
Nikita Zaytsev

Nikita Zaytsev is an exciting young Russian prospect. Look for him at this summer's NHL draft in Los Angeles.

The 2010 National Hockey League Draft Combine is underway in Toronto and the Goddesses are following the news closely. “What is this combine she speaks about?” some of you might ask.  Well, for those unfamiliar, it is the annual pre-draft evaluation of NHL prospects.  The top 100 prospects are invited for fitness evaluations, testing and interviews with general managers and scouts.

While the top North Americans are always discussed, many a Russian player has been neglected in recent years.  The fear of drafting a Russian who will ultimately decide to play in the KHL instead, as well as some general xenophobia, has contributed to this.  Unfortunately, this often leads to mention of our beloved Ruskies as a mere afterthought, with a simple glance at the “Top European Skaters” in the Central Scouting Final Rankings.

However, these journalists often forget to do their homework.  If they had, they would see that most of the top-ranked Russians are currently playing junior hockey in North America and don’t get ranked under the European category but are ranked with the other North American skaters.

The Goddesses will try to highlight the Russian prospects in the days leading to the draft with interesting anecdotes and details as these players don’t often get their fair share of publicity.  We believe this latest crop of Russian players are very talented and will make a huge impact in the NHL given a chance.

Alexander Burmistrov is one that has been particularly impressive and is currently ranked No. 11.  Others slated to go in the first couple of rounds are Stanisvla Galiev (ranked at No. 20 among North American skaters) and Kirill Kabanov (at No. 31).

Of course, we can’t forget those Russians playing overseas such as Vladamir Tarasenko and Evgeny Kuznetsov, ranked No. 2 and No. 3 among European players respectively.

As far as the combine is concerned, Russians invited to particapate were Burmistrov, Galiev, Kabanov, Tarasenko, as well as Nikita Zaytsev who is currently playing for HC Sibir Novosibirsk of the KHL.  Such talent has not been seen in some years and I will be excited to watch the draft in person to see where these young players are picked.

So stay tuned for more posts about these talented malchiki (boys).  We Goddesses think you might find them as interesting as we do.

Photo: Nikita Zaytsev from life.com.

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25 May 2010 Deja Vu All Over Again!

The Windsor Spitfires

Members of the Windsor Spitfires celebrate their second consecutive Memorial Cup victory.


The Canadian Hockey League crowned its champion on Sunday and the trophy doesn’t have to go very far. Bob Boughner and his Windsor Spitfires successfully defended their Memorial Cup championship with a 9-1 thrashing of the host Brandon Wheat Kings.

It was a really good tournament with Windsor going undefeated in four games, which included an OT tilt with Calgary. Calgary and Brandon both won twice; but poor Moncton went home with an 0-fer for the tournament. Oh well, at least they’ll have a shiny new QMJHL banner for their barn in the fall.

Also repeating is rumored No. 1 draft pick Taylor Hall as the MVP of the tournament. Master Hall is not only the first player to repeat as the most valuable player; but he scored nine points with five goals and four assists including three of those points in the championship game.

Speaking of the draft, the next thing on the junior hockey docket is the NHL Draft Combine that is being held this week in Toronto. The combine, which will run May 24-29, is an opportunity for teams to meet and interview prospects, which are the top 100 available in the world, as well as see them tested in an off-ice setting. And my boys have an attendee there: Goalie Kent Simpson who is ranked 83 on the list from NHL.com.

After the combine, we look to June and the draft, which will be in Los Angeles at the Staples Center; and I’m hoping I can somehow get there to see it. It’s so much fun to be there with a whole building of friends, families and fans to see these young men be chosen for a chance to play the greatest game in the world in the greatest league in the world.

So that is your update from the world of junior hockey … stay tuned for more.

Here are the awards from the Memorial Cup tournament:

2010 MasterCard Memorial Cup Awards:
Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy (Most Valuable Player) – Taylor Hall, Windsor Spitfires
Ed Chynoweth Trophy (Top Scorer) – Taylor Hall, Windsor Spitfires
George Parsons Trophy (Most Sportsmanlike Player) – Toni Rajala, Brandon Wheat Kings
Hap Emms Memorial Trophy (Outstanding Goaltender) – Martin Jones, Calgary Hitmen

2010 MasterCard Memorial Cup All-Stars:
Goaltender – Martin Jones, Calgary Hitmen
Defence – Travis Hamonic, Brandon Wheat Kings
Defence – Cam Fowler, Windsor Spitfires
Forward – Taylor Hall, Windsor Spitfires
Forward – Jimmy Bubnick, Calgary Hitmen
Forward – Matt Calvert, Brandon Wheat Kings

Photo: The Memorial Cup winning team by Getty Images via daylife.com.

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