Archive for the Category ◊ NHL draft ◊

18 Jun 2012 NHL Hopeful Nikita Jevpalovs Ready to Shine

Nikita Jevpalovs

Jevpalovs is ready for his closeup.

Nikita Jevpalovs will not be on many fans’ radar on June 22.  That is because the young Latvian was not even ranked in the NHL scouting report until January, when he made a big splash at the IIHF World Junior Championships.

Not even 18 years old, he is one of the youngest ranked players in this year’s draft.  But don’t let that fool you.  His rise up the list of top-ranked European prospects for this year’s NHL Draft is the result of a quickly maturing young man.  He has skill, drive and hockey sense well beyond his years — something that has not gone unnoticed by scouts.

Jevpalovs first began to turn heads in this year’s World Junior Hockey Championships where, despite being the youngest player on Latvia’s squad, he was the team’s captain and leading point getter.  Scoring at crucial times — such as the game-winning overtime goal against Denmark to keep Latvia’s position as a top-tier country in the World Junior ranks — he proved he can not only rise to such challenges, but thrives on them.  He has a nose for the net, yet is known as a solid two-way player, playing what many would consider “North American style” hockey.

In spite of his recent success, he is skeptical he will be drafted this year.

“I really, really hope I do,” he said eagerly.  He was quick to add that he knows not playing in North America is something of a disadvantage.  Playing far from the eyes of most scouts, he has not had the exposure many others have gotten.

Perhaps it is not his time — yet.  Already a big boy, chances are he is still growing.  Already 6’0″ and 181 lbs, he almost certainly would come into the 2013 draft bigger still.

Those worried about the “Russian factor” can relax.  It is not an issue for Jevpalovs.  Born and raised in Riga, Latvia, he is part of a new wave of talented Latvians who are far more European than Soviet.  Although he speaks both Russian and Latvian, he is also fluent in English, picking up the language quickly during the year he spent in Toronto where he played for the South Muskoka Shield of the GMHL (Greater Metro Jr. A Hockey League).

Though he returned to Latvia to play in the MHL, the Kontinental Hockey League’s Junior development league, he said the move was a practical one — giving him the best opportunity to develop his skills.   But back in Riga, North America was constantly on his mind — especially Toronto, which he called his “favorite place in the world.”  He said he has no desire to play in the KHL, as Russia is as foreign to him as it is to most North Americans.

He stressed that while he knows he isn’t ranked as high as many other Europeans, he holds out hope that he will be drafted so he can return to North America and live his dream of one day playing in the NHL.

Given his age, Jevpalovs is the best of both worlds.  He has the finesse of a European skater and the tenacity of a North American.  He already possesses an amazing amount of leadership ability and talent and has only just begun his development.  Combine that with a humble, positive and eager outlook, Jevpalovs just may be one of the draft’s dark horses.

Photograph:  Courtesy of Nikita Jevpalovs


27 Jun 2011 Avs Report: The Good, the Bad and the Potentially Ugly

Well, the 2001 draft has come and gone and this goddess has some mixed feelings about her hometown Avalanche. This is actually good —  for the first time in a number of years they’ve done some things that have needed to be done and I’m not left swearing off hockey for a couple of months while I accept the fact that the Avs will suck yet again.

First and foremost, the Avs picked a solid, scoring winger that is ready to play in the NHL right now.  How many years in a row have I bemoaned the fact that the Avs have become a holding ground for a homogenous group of North Americans, waiting for them to develop, fall out of favor or be traded?  How many drafts have I anxiously awaited the arrival of a skilled European to give us the diversity every team needs to succeed?  Well, we finally got it with the big Swede Gabriel Landeskog.  I’m not alone when I say that the Avs desperately needed this piece of the puzzle – a big left winger with wonderful hands.  And don’t forget our second pick Duncan Siemens who they’re calling a “throwback defenseman” for his stay-at-home, crushing mentality.  Goodbye Liles, hello real defense!

That is the good.

The bad?  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that ol’ Kroenke clearly meets the  criteria for that role – especially when you have a team that is costing you $28 million in salary and you are $36 million under the cap.  That’s right, folks.  The owner of the NHL Rams, soccer legend Arsenault, the Pepsi Center and numerous other teams and business ventures, can’t seem to spend any of his hard earn cash on the team that has given so much to him and his fortune.  It might be excusable if he were struggling for cash flow but the money is there in abundance.  So why is Kroenke refusing to open his wallet?

That, my friends, could be the ugly in all this.  The Avs have money.  The Avs need a goalie.  There are no legitimate goalies available (I will shoot myself if we get another struggling goalie such as Vokoun as people are speculating) and the Avs’ don’t even have a semi-developed goalie ready to step in.  This may mean that the Avs are banking their money and a couple of stellar players for a trade to acquire a big time netminder.  Ugly because while they desperately need a bona fide goalie, I’m not sure I’m ready to say good-bye to Stastny, Duchene Johnson, or whomever else it would take.

The solution?  With the CBA ending this year and next year being a potential strike year, maybe they just call up one of those youngsters and give them a shot. If they’re lucky, they end up with an up-and-coming breaking out into the league.  At this point, they’re better off going with an unknown than with a mediocre known quantity.  If it doesn’t work out so well, they can snag a well-known name after this year.  Lord knows there will certainly be enough cash flow for it.

Unfortunately, this seems to be the best way out of the pickle the Avs have gotten themselves into.  So maybe we can end up with The Good, The Bad and – the Not So Ugly.  Could be worse, I guess.

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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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04 Jul 2010 Alexander Burmistrov ‘So Happy’ to be a Thrasher

Alexander Burmistrov

Alexander Burmistrov shows off his new jersey.

Budding Russian star Alexander Burmistrov, who was drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers admitted he was very happy with this.

“I’m so happy,” he told Russia’s SportExpress.ru.

With their selection of Burmistrov in the first round, the Thrashers once again dip into a pool of extremely talented Russian players. The organization, no doubt, hopes Burmistrov can blossom into goal scorer, like his predecessors Ilya Kovalchuk and Maxim Afinogenov. So who is this newest Russian to join the Thrashers? We know he was taken in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft (8th overall pick). We know he is smallish — at just 5’11″ and 157 pounds, but that is sure to change as he grows and gets older. Some quotes from the man himself might help illuminate his character. (Quotations translated from Russian by Goddess Thorkhild.)

I knew that Atlanta was interested in me. We had interviews both in Toronto, and already here. But I was quite agitated. Since the very morning.

Question: What do you know about Altanta?

It’s very hot there. This city is called “Hotlanta,” isn’t it? By the way, the first NHL game I saw live was Toronto-Atlanta.

Question: Are you going to seek advice from [former Thrashers] Ilya Kovalchuk or Slava Kozlov?

No, why? I will go and see myself.

Question: If you can’t manage to crack Atlanta’s first team, what are you going to do?

I won’t come back to the Kontinental Hockey League for sure. The KHL is a good league, but I’m in the mood to play here [in North America] and I don’t want to take steps back.


Alexander Burmistrov

Alexander Burmistrov wearing No. 10 for 2010 (but does Bryan Little know he's got his number?).

Burmistrov also gave an interview to the AllHockey.ru. Here are the most interesting bits.

When I went to the stage [at the NHL Entry Draft] I didn’t understand anything, I was in a coma-like state. When I was on stage, [NHL Commissioner] Gary Bettman welcomed me, then I started to recover.

I had my parents, my brother, two agents, the agent’s daughter, and Vanya Telegin [Ivan Telegin, whom the Thrashers selected in the fourth round] with his mother and parents with me. We are on good terms, so we sat in one sector. And I’m very glad Atlanta selected him too.

I was rather surprised during the photoshoot. When they were taking a photo of me standing with a puck, they told me, “Show us who you are.” I thought it was rather strange.

During my time in Los Angeles I went to a beach, to Universal studios. It was fantastic, I can’t explain it with words. Then I went to Disneyland. When my agent and I walked around the center, I suddenly say a man in white running towards us. When he reached us, I knew he was Sidney Crosby! Simply running in the center of L.A. He was the only celebrity I saw there.

* For more on Alexander Burmistrov, be sure to check out Goddess Kaatiya’s pre-draft profile of him.

Photos: Alexander Burmistrov draft day portraits from Getty Images.

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28 Jun 2010 Draft Day – Perspective From a Goddess

Team scouts fill the floor of the Staples Center on draft day.

Well, it’s been a whirlwind two days for this goddesses, with non-stop draft action.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  This is by far my favorite NHL event.  To see these young kids having their dreams come true is just awesome.  Sure, some will make it to The Show, others may not, but this weekend, those that are selected by an NHL organization have every chance to play professional hockey.  My only regret is that goddess Kaat was not here to share in the excitement.

Mr. Goddess and I went down the hotel lobby just before noon to see an anxious Pierre McGuire.  Most of the media were already checking out, as they would only be there for the first day.  Mr. Goddess approached him and asked if he was ready for a big day.  He responded with “It’s already been a big day.”  By then, rumors of a Ballard trade with the Canucks were widely circulating.

While the draft didn’t start until 4PM local time in Los Angeles, doors opened at 2PM so we went down to Casey’s, an Irish pub and bar just down the street from the Biltmore.  More agents and consultants were on hand, trying to get a bit to eat.  Phones were ringing and guys were looking stressed out.  I noticed they all ordered salads.  Ah, the joys living on the road and eating the food that goes with it.

Just before 2PM we hopped on one of the buses that the hotel was providing for the Biltmore and Hilton.  Just a few staff members were on the bus, as well as a handful of Russians that I assume were team staff as well.   Upon our arrive to the Staples Center, we began to see prospects and agents filing in.  Most of the scouting staffs were already set up and were already at work.

Finding a seat wasn’t bad even though we were relegated to the 3rd level with the rest of the commoners.  Going to see the NHL draft on a beautiful Friday evening in LA isn’t a big attraction for most Californians.  However, I was disappointed that they didn’t at least have a flyer with the final prospect rankings to give the fans.  Although I followed many of the prospects closely, I hadn’t memorized the rankings and it would have been nice to give people something to look off of – at a small cost.

Taylor Hall becomes an instant celebrity after being chosen first overall

We watched with great anticipation for the first pick.  It was no surprise that Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin were picked one and two.  For most, seeing the first pick is the highlight of the day.  Instantly, Taylor became a celebrity and had a small mob following him around, asking for autographs and photos.

I’ll talk about specific picks in a follow-up post, but suffice to say there were some surprises, including Stanislav Galiev not being picked in the first round.

The pace of a professional draft is slow, so the NHL tried to show general profiles of the kids and some other little snippets of interviews.  These were actually very entertaining, and there certainly would have been plenty of time to show perhaps a more detailed profile on each pick with interview clips and narrated highlights -  a thought for future drafts.

The interviews were short compilations where they would ask kids a question and show several answers.  It was a great way to get to know these prospects and I found myself pulling for a couple of kids based on their answers.

The newly dedicated "Rush" star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame - Maybe Alex Petrovich visited it too.

One such interview clip asked the question “If you could play in any band, what would it be?”  Alexander Petrovich, who was eventually taken by Florida (man did they have a lot picks this year) said “Rush!”  It warms me to see the younger generations discovering such a classic group.  Oh, Alexander, you have a couple of fans for life in the goddesses.

Another “awww” moment came when prospects were asked what was one thing they couldn’t live without.  Among the “iPod” and “xbox” answers was Phoenix Coyotes pick goalie Louie Domingue’s awesome response.  “My cats,” he said. “I love my cats.”  He has officially earned a spot in my heart.  Who doesn’t love an emo French-Canadian boy?

After everyone had been picked, we sneaked down to speak briefly to Ron Delorme, old friend and chief scout of the Canucks.  The scouting staff had had a quiet day as they had traded their first round pick to Florida in a trade that gave them Keith Ballard.  Ron admitted it hadn’t been a very exciting day for the scouting staff and they’d do a lot of sitting the next day as their first pick now wasn’t until the 4th round.

Fourth overall pick Ryan Johansen outside the Staples Center

Leaving the arena, most people had left but we did run into Ryan Johansen, the 4th overall pick by Columbus.  He was still on an adrenaline high, so I stopped to chat for a few seconds and snap a picture.  He said he was super excited to be drafted by Columbus.   He had been courted by them and fell in love with the organization and said he was totally psyched to have been picked by them.  In fact, he was so excited he asked me to take a picture with him.  He really wanted to share his excitement.  What a great day for a great kid.

While waiting for the bus we saw another mob scene.  It turned out to be Sidney Crosby literally being chased by a large group of autograph seekers.  He was smiling, waving and signing as he rushed to his limousine.  It was oddly reminiscent of a movie star being caught outside a restaurant.  I’ve gotta give it to the kid – he’s got it down.

The ride back to the hotel was interesting, as I ran into Slava Malamud from Washington D.C.  For those of you who don’t know him, he’s the bald guy with glasses that interviews all the Russians in D.C. in the locker room.  He works for Sport-Express and was there for the first round before running up to San Jose to cover a fight.  We talked about Russia, Moscow and the Russian language.  I have to say, he was a great guy.  There was absolutely no pretense or attitude that many members of the media have and I really enjoyed our conversation.  No wonder he’s so successful.

After getting back to the hotel and downloading some pictures, an exhausted duo headed to dinner at an expensive seafood restaurant near the hotel, then back to Casey’s for a drink.  There, we saw three of the Thrasher’s scouting staff.  I stopped on my way back to our table that was right next to theirs and congratulated them on picking Alexander Burmistrov.  Maybe the day hadn’t gone how they planned, but they looked at me as if I was from Mars, arms crossed and sarcastic responses to my questions.  Maybe it’s because I was woman, and we certainly don’t know anything about hockey.  Or perhaps they’re such celebrities that they get bothered all the time and get tired of the attention.  Maybe, it’s because they’re the peons of the scouting staff.  Whatever the reason, my 30 second conversation clearly was something they had no tolerance for.  It’s too bad, because the Thrasher’s already have problems with getting fans.  You think they might at least humor one of their few supporters.

The night ended far too late as we had to get up and do it all again early the next day, but it was lots of fun.  So much so, I think I’ll try to do it again next year.  This time – with goddess Kaat in tow.

Photos:  NHL Entry Draft weekend by Goddess Sasha. Copyright 2010.  All Rights Reserved.

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25 Jun 2010 Scenes from L.A. — Draft Day’s Here

3 … 2 … 1 .. Action!

Good day. Kaatiya here, reporting for Goddess Sasha. Looks like the prospects and team personnel are gearing up for an exciting day. Goddess Sasha has checked in with a few of her snapshots from around the hotel where she is staying. It also happens to be the place were many of the prospects and team big-wigs are staying as well. Here are a few of the pictures our roving goddess captured.

A sign directs people to shuttle busses.

Thrashers president Don Waddell

Awesome devilish looking shot of D-Wad. (Goddess Kaat acknowledges he is a nice guy, and this was confirmed by Mr. and Mrs. Goddess Sasha. However, I don't care for his work with the Thrashers over their entire existence.)


Chatting in the lobby

Various people associated with the draft chat in the lobby.

NHL entry draft banner

A banner at the hotel welcomes NHL Entry Draft participants.

NHL Entry Draft

The lobby of the hotel where many draft participants are staying.

Don Waddell

D-Wad looking just slightly uncomfortable. (Goddess Kaat pleads with his image to ensure a great draft selection is made.)

Since we've spoken so much about Russian prospects on this blog, here's a perfect (!?) drink to toast them with?! Crazy! (Spied on a market shelf near the hotel.)

So there are just a few of Goddess Sasha’s pictures. I am sure she will have more as the day progresses. As for me, your humble Goddess Kaat, I have to miss the draft this year. My sister is having a baby and I am hopping a flight tonight. The newest Thrasher fan should arrive any minute now (and despite his being born in Raleigh, he will be a Thrasher fan or else!).

Signing off for now. Goddess Sasha takes over in earnest with live Tweets and blogging from the draft. Go Sasha, Go! (Other Goddesses may join in, as well as a surprise guest blogger, who will blog in my place.)

Let us know what you think. Your comments are always welcome and appreciated!



25 Jun 2010 Highly-touted Burmistrov a Wildcard or a Sure Thing?
Aleksandr Burmistrov

At 5'11" and tipping the scales at just 157 pounds, Burmistrov's size has been of concern to scouts.

Ah! The Russian prospects. They come with so many questions nowadays. One thing there is no question about is Alexander Burmistrov’s skill. The 5’11″, 157-pound prospect was unquestionably one of the bright lights of the 2009-10 OHL season, playing 62 games with the Barrie Colts. And like the brightest of stars, he dazzles all who observe him.  With his sparkling ability to dance with the puck, deke his opponents and score with incredible flair, he’s pure excitement on skates, drawing comparisons to players like Alexei Kovalev and Maxim Afinogenov.

E.J. McGuire, Director of Central Scouting imaginatively describes him thus:

He’s like a water spider out there on the ice. Light on his feet, but he’s got a venomous strike like a snake when he goes on the offense.

Wow! He sounds like my kind of player. Explosive. Dynamic. Eye-popping and heart-poundingly exciting.  As a devoted Thrasher fan, I say bring him on!

Burmistrov is probably the best-known Russian name in the draft, having showed his stuff in North America this year. He’s one of the most highly touted prospects overall and is at the top of every mock draft, but like every Russian in recent years, he comes with the unspoken asterisk. Will he play for whatever team drafts him? Will he stick it out in the NHL like his hero Pavel Datsyuk has? Or, like an increasing number of exciting Russian players, will he leave after a few years in favor of home cooking?

For what it’s worth, he seems sincere in his desire to play in the NHL one day. He is on the record as saying he wants to stay in North America, that the NHL is his dream and that North American hockey “is my type of game.” But, as seems to happen with all Russian players, rumors have surfaced in the run up to the draft that he might return to the KHL for a year or two. However, Burmistrov was quoted in May in the National Post saying it was the NHL do or die for him — money be damned:

The KHL [could] give me lots of money, but for me it doesn’t matter money, I want to play in the NHL. When I’m older maybe I move back, but now I want to play in the NHL and that’s my dream.

Alexander Burmistrov

Like all prospects, Burmistrov is a wildcard.

Scouts have knocked him for his size. One anonymous NHL scout quoted in The Hockey News 2010 NHL Draft preview issue grumbled, “I don’t care how dynamic you are, he’s 146 pounds and built like Gilligan.” Funny and honest, but a little unfair. He is, after all, only 18 and like most 18-year-old kids, he has a lot of growing to do yet.

The Russian factor seems to be the biggest deterrent to teams that would draft him. It’s popular now to stamp all Russians with the “wildcard” label. (Again, the unspoken asterisk.) This Russian, really, is no exception — though to a lesser extent than some since he’s developed cred, having played in Canada this year and having said all the right things to the media.

The asterisk I’d like to put next to every name on the board this year would say: ” * ALL prospects are wildcards.” None of us knows how any of them will turn out — no matter how highly they are touted. If you remember Alexandre Daigle or Rico Fata or Patrik Stefan (yes we Thrasher fans do), raise your hand. Going high is no guarantee of stardom. Conversely, going low is not a guarantee you’ll become a used car salesman in a one-horse town in Canada or a widget maker somewhere  in Siberia.

Time will tell the tale. In the meantime, let’s cut the Russian players a little bit of slack and stop being so cynical. Let’s take Burmistrov at his word and imagine he’s the next Pavel Datsyuk. Not the next Pavel Brendl (a bust) or Alexander Radulov (KHL defector).

Photos: Alexander Burmistrov at combine from Getty Images; Alexander Burmistrov at World Championships from Wikipedia Commons.

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25 Jun 2010 I Love L.A.: Live from the 2010 NHL Draft

I Love L.A.!Well, day one of this goddess’ coverage of the 2010 NHL entry draft is over and the actual draft hasn’t begun.  It was a tiring day, after being up late last night, dealing with business this morning and then flying into Los Angeles and driving to our hotel downtown.

We walked into the [hotel name not revealed] to a lobby filled with prospects, agents, families and God knows who else.  By the front desk was a young Russian prospect, sitting on a couch with a teenage girl on each side of him and his father (presumably) on a chair next to them.  Had I not been totally haggard from a delayed flight from Denver and an hour drive from LAX to downtown during rush hour, I would have been bold and asked who he was and taken pictures.

Throughout the evening, we found ourselves in the company of team personnel, most notably the pack of Thrashers staff that we took the elevator with.  I was still a bit overwhelmed, so I was unable to come up with my usual witty one-liners to start a conversation.  Maybe tomorrow.

We must be staying at the host hotel, as there are NHL Draft banners throughout the building as well as a schedule for the shuttle to the Staples Center.  The draft starts at 4:00 p.m. PT and doors open at 2:00 p.m., so tomorrow we’ll probably just hang out tomorrow after sleeping in.  If we get there early enough, we’ll meet up with a an old friend who, incidentally, happens to be the chief scout for an NHL organization.

I’ll be tweeting from the HockeyGoddesses twitter account tomorrow as only a goddess can, so check it out at www.twitter.com/hockeygoddesses.

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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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22 Jun 2010 Vladimir Tarasenko: The Next Ovechkin?
Vladimir Tarasenko

Vladimir Tarasenko might be the best Russian you've never heard of.

Vladimir Tarasenko isn’t a household name -– yet.  And it still might be a while.

What? You haven’t heard of him either?

With the 2010 NHL draft just around the corner, other Russian names might stick out more.  The drama surrounding the former potential number one selection in Kirill Kabanov, or Barrie Colts standout Alexander Burmistrov, have thrust other Russian names into blogs and other news sources throughout North America.

Ironically, however, the first Russian to go in this year’s draft will most likely be someone who has never played in North America, and whom many people have never heard of.    That’s because Vladimir Tarasenko has been quietly tearing up the ice half a world away in Russia.  During his second year in the Kontinental Hockey League, he scored 13 goals and 11 assists in 42 games on a struggling team — HC Sibir Novosibirsk. Not bad for a 17-year-old playing in a league filled with seasoned veterans.

A young man in the KHL, Tarasenko has chosen to stay close to home.  Very close.  In fact, his father is also his coach in Novosibirsk.  Recognizing that his son needed the support and, presumably, the supervision of his family, Tarasenko’s father advised him to stay in Russia, play with men and have the support structure he needed to develop.   I’m sure many of you parents out there can relate.  The hesitation to send your child relatively unsupervised halfway across the world to a foreign country where he has no relatives seems like a rational, and even preferable decision.

Has this hindered his chances of a high draft spot?  To both Tarasenko and his father, such talk of draft placement is irrelevant. What is most important is the young Tarasenko’s development as a player and a professional, not what number he is selected.  After all, he is still under contract with Sibir next year and won’t be looking to move to the NHL any time soon.  The irony is, despite this casual approach to the draft, it just may manifest itself in Tarasenko being the first Russian to be chosen. He’s had both a great year in Sibr and at the World Junior Cup.

Vladimir Tarasenko

Vladimir Tarasenko impressed scouts at the WJC this year.

Ultimately, the big question in scouts’ minds will be what most of us wonder:  Will he take the big step to the NHL once his contract with Sibir is up or remain in the KHL like many kids these days?  The fact that he hasn’t exactly been beating down the door to play in North America may be a deterrent to many teams.

However, we have to remember that Vladimir’s father is a former Soviet professional hockey player who didn’t have the chance to play in the NHL.  He has coached Vladimir for a long time and knows that the best league in the world is the ultimate achievement in any hockey player’s career.  My thought is that he is right on track to produce a very successful NHL product and while it may be a year or two down the road, Vladimir Tarasenko will soon be one of those Russians that NHL teams will hate facing due to his propensity for exploding out of nowhere and finding the back of the net.  Given his talent and style of play, he is sure to be a fan favorite wherever he lands.

Take a chance on this Russian?  You bet!  The NHL will be a more exciting place the day Tarasenko joins the league.

Photos: Vladimir Tarasenko by Elena Rusko (rusko.fishup.ru), Copyright 2010. All Rights Reserved.

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17 Jun 2010 Prelude to NHL Free Agency
Jaroslav Halak

Jaroslav Halak will don the blue note this season.

It’s not even July 1 yet the frenzy has already started.  June 15 marked the first day teams could begin to buyout contracts, and indeed no time was wasted with Montreal buying out Georges Laraque.  And that’s not the only frenzy.  Teams are either signing or releasing prospects left and right, trying to make some financial decisions before free agency begins.

One thing none of the goddesses banked on was the potential for some big trades prior to free agency.  Yet that’s exactly what has happened.  I mean, who would have thought Jaroslav Halak of all players would be traded?  Being a restricted free agent, Halak was going to get a raise and playing in the salary cap era I guess Montreal figured he wasn’t worth it with Carey Price waiting in the wings.  In their defense, they got a highly touted Swedish prospect in Lars Eller, so perhaps it will prove to be a shrewd move.

As usual, the Avalanche have continued to offer one-year deals to no-names and mediocre prospects, so I’ll have to continue to live vicariously through other teams that are making real moves.  I can still pretend they’re going to go after Ilya Kovalchuk on July 1.

Speaking of Russians, there has been little news on other UFAs such as Slava Kozlov and Maxim Afinogenov.  Kozlov is rumored to have a KHL deal in the works, while Afinogenov has been mysteriously quiet, apparently refusing the one-year deal the Atlanta Thrashers offered him.  Of course, we have to remember they’re all still under contract and won’t be available until free agency officially starts.

And let’s not forget the NHL draft is now just a week away.  Not only are we looking forward to our teams drafting some hot prospects, but many a big trade has been made on draft day and we are hopeful that there will be some additional excitement.

So maybe it’s not July 1, but we goddesses are enjoying the little bit of foreplay before the main event.

Photo: Jaroslav Halak by Goddess Kaatiya. Copyright 2010. All Rights Reserverd.

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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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04 Jun 2010 The Saga of Taylor and Tyler

“Chiarelli needs to move heaven, earth and draft picks in order to get the player he values highest, and – if that means sending a fool’s ransom to Edmonton in order to make it happen – then so be it.

If Hall is the goal-scoring jackpot, then it’s time for Chiarelli to go all in for the good of the Bruins.”

– Joe Haggerty, CSSNE.com

Taylor or Tyler?

The scene: Several men in business suits sit around a long table in a boardroom. Empty pizza boxes and Chinese take-out cartons litter the room. The low hum of an air conditioner fills the air, its monotonous tones overridden only by the random taps of fingers on laptop keyboards, and the regular clink of a coin on the table.

The characters: Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini, hockey ops president Kevin Lowe, assistant GM Kevin Prendergast, assistant GM Rick Olczyk, director of player development Mike Sillinger, and coach Pat Quinn.

Kevin Prendergast: Heads Hall, tails Seguin. Call it.

Rick Olczyk: Tails.

KP: Heads!

RO: How about best 400 out of 700?

(General Manager Steve Tambellini enters the room.)

ST: Gentlemen! Today’s the day! Today we make our decision!

KP: Finally! These guys are starting to reek!

ST: OK, let’s go over it again, one last time.

(Loud groans)

RO: Not again! We’ve done this a thousand times!

ST: And we’ll do it once more. Let’s hear it.

RO: Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin. Both 6-1, 185. Seguin: 48 goals, 58 assists; Hall: 40 goals, 66 assists. Both can play all three forward positions. “I think they’re so close, they could be flip-flopped.” – E.J. McGuire.

ST: So you’re saying there’s no difference between them.

I see... Tyler Seguin

KP: We’ve been saying that for WEEKS!

ST: Duly noted. So who do we choose?

Pat Quinn: Seguin.

Kevin Lowe: Seguin.

Mike Sillinger: Hall.

KP: Hall.

RO: Hall.

ST: I vote Seguin. (sighs) Well, gentlemen, we’re stuck again. Put that loonie away, Prendergast! We’ll have to solve this the hockey way.

(Olyczyk and Quinn eargerly start to pull their suit jackets off.)

ST: What are you doing?

RO: You said the hockey way! Time to throw down!

ST: No, no, no! With logic and reasoning!

RO: (mutters) Since when is that the hockey way?

ST: Somebody convince me that Hall is the better pick.

MS: The fans want Hall.

ST: OK, you’ve convinced me. We’re taking Seguin. Thank you, gentlemen!

(Tambellini’s cell phone rings.)

ST: Hello? Oh, hi Peter! What can I do for you? (covers phone) It’s Chiarelli!

(The room falls silent.)

ST: What’s that noise, Peter? What? Your office is surrounded by a mob of angry fans demanding Hall? Did you lock the door? They’re breaking it down? Send Neely out there! Isn’t that why you hired him?

"I need Tayor Hall!!"

(Tambellini pauses, listens.)

ST: You’ll give us ANYTHING to switch draft spots? Well, sure, Peter, hold on a minute, OK? (covers phone) It’s Christmas! Who do we want?

KL: Bergeron! Oooh, ask for Bergeron!

KP: No, Krejci! Hell, I’ve give anything to have that kid at center.

MS: Rask! (the others stare) Hey, he said anything!

RO: He’s got a crapload of draft picks and prospects, remember. Ask him for Toronto’s second this year, Toronto’s first next year, Caron, and Krejci.

PQ: The picks, yes. But not Krejci. Ask for Lucic.

(The room falls silent. All stare at Quinn.)

ST: Lucic? Peter will never give up Lucic. He’s a monster. He’s only 22. And the fans love him.

PQ: No they don’t. (looks at laptop) Check out the Internet posts: “Lucic’s gone soft! Get rid of him! He SUX!”

RO: He was playing hurt! Are they insane?

PQ: I take it that’s a rhetorical question. Ask him, Steve.

(Eyes gleam around the room. Heads nod. Hands rub together. Tambellini uncovers the phone.)

ST: OK, Peter. Peter? Get under your desk if you have to! Peter, we’ll let you have Hall, sure. For Toronto’s second this year, Toronto’s first next year, Jordan Caron and Milan Lucic. Yeah, I’ll hold. (covers phone)

KL: I can’t believe he’s doing this. Has he lost his mind? All he has to do is pick second and he’s got a great player! No pressure at all!

ST: You’d lose your mind too, dealing with those nutcase fans and media. (uncovers phone). Yes, Peter! You say OK? Sounds good! You can fax the paperwork anytime. See you in L.A.!

(Whoops and shouts, high-fives and general hilarity. Fade out.)

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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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