Drafting players out of the Soviet Union has become the NHL version of a crapshoot. Many are drafted well below their ranking simply because of pressure put on in their home country to remain under the influence of the Kontinental Hockey League. While Andrei Markov and the Kostitsyn brothers have elected to do what it takes to play in the NHL, defenseman Pavel Valentenko and forward Alexander Perezhogin were defections and major prospects like Alexei Emelin, Konstantin Korneev, and Maxim Trunev have elected to stay home.
The story is familiar throughout the NHL and that is why the Canadiens were able to take the highly skilled rightwinger Alexander Avtsin 109th overall in the 2009 entry draft. He opted to play one more year in Russia but made a clear decision as early as last summer that he wanted to play for the Canadiens.
He’s in training camp and already demonstrating his raw ability (2 goals in two games) and will make his exhibition debut Friday night in Ottawa.
Gennady Boguslavsky of the Russian newspaper Sovjetskysport talked with Avtsin about his experiences in camp so far.
Q- You scored 9 (3 +6) points in 30 games, averaging 7.21 minutes per game with Dynamo last year. (Ed: He was also named KHL player of the week in late December) Not bad for a 18-year old boy! Montreal then offered you a contract?
Avtsin – We started to talk about it at the end of last season. I had to decide where to continue my career. I wanted to leave. . And thanks to the “Dynamo”, I was given the chance to try my skills in North America.
Q- Dynamo didn’t try to discourage you?
Avtsin – There was no pressure from the Dynamo. They said, “Decide for yourself. If you feel that you’re ready to break into the NHL – no problems. If not – stay with us.
– And what did Montreal say?
- The Canadians showed a lot of interest. They were in communication with my agent Mike Liut. They negotiated the plans and details. And I finally signed the contract.
- Q-Your two-way entry level contract calls for three years at a total salary of 1.82 million dollars. The money is guaranteed only if you make the Canadiens. If you go to Hamilton you will be paid $67,500 per season.
- Avtsin – I know that even the most promising players began with the farm club. If the coaches see that I am not ready – no problem. I will play in the AHL to learn North American hockey.
- Q- Defenceman Pavel Valentenko also came to Montreal in 2007 but was sent to Hamilton. In his second season he quit and went to Dynamo Moscow. His rights have since been traded to the New York Raners. Are you afraid of the same thing happening to your career?
- Avtsin – It was his own decision. I know him. A very nice guy. But there are many other examples. Tomas Plekanec had three for four season in Hamilton (Ed: three full seasons) Or Mike Cammalleri who played up to 3 years with the farm club before making the NHL. Anyone willing to wait will get his chance.
- Q-How do you imagine play in the AHL?
- Avtsin – Very physical. A faster game than the KHL because of the smaller ice. And that means you need to make quick decisions. In Russia you enter the zone and you have time and space to create a dangerous play. In North American you have to be ready to shoot or make a play immediately.
- Q-Your impression of your training camp so far?
- Avtsin – Decent. But the coaches understand that not everything is game preparation. For example, off the ice we’ve been working on technique. Better not to jump too high or far in exercise and risk injury.