января 1999 года.
Antropov's skating needs to improve or he's
By AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun
WINNIPEG -- The reason scouts flock to a tournament like the world junior
championship is that it's a rare opportunity to see the best play against
In some cases, you discover that a prospect can hold his own at any
level. In other cases, however, you find that a prospect doesn't measure
up to his elite peers.
In one extremely important aspect, that is the case with Toronto Maple
Leafs draft pick Nikolai Antropov. He simply doesn't skate well enough.
Last night, as Team Canada breezed to a decisive 12-2 win over Kazakhstan
to earn itself a place in the semi-finals, Antropov tried his best to help
his teammates make a respectable showing.
BUT HE'S SMART
Once he gets rolling, he's excellent. He has tremendous hands and a
brain to match. He sees the ice well and is positionally sound. But there
is no way to sugar-coat the fact that his skating is nowhere near the calibre
required for an NHL star.
Once he stops, he takes a while to get going again. He has to pump
his arms to build momentum, like one of those cartoon characters whose
legs churn wildly while his body stays in place. In the NHL, where skating
is the single most important attribute and speed is the aspect that separates
the major-leaguers from the minor-leaguers, Antropov will be in over his
Not that his skating ability had a lot to do with Khazakhstan's fate
last night. Team Canada clearly was pumped for this one and needed only
142 seconds to open the scoring. At that point, all five Canadian skaters
sprinted to the bench to breeze past their teammates, touching gloves as
they went. Then they all whizzed down to goalie Roberto Luongo to bang
his glove as well.
By the time the sixth goal went in, the charge to the bench was more
like a saunter and only two players bothered to go to Luongo. On Goal 7,
Luongo had one visitor and on Goal 8 he was left on his own.
Meanwhile Antropov, to his credit, continued to try his best -- which
was not the case with all the Kazakhs. He clearly was disgusted with the
work of backup goalie Alexander Koluzhnyy who allowed three goals on three
shots, and he continued to try to make plays.
On the first Kazakh goal, he did well to control a bouncing puck, then
make a perfect pass to set up Nikolai Zarzhytskiy who beat backup Brian
So, in many aspects, Antropov has what it takes to get to the NHL.
But his skating is definitely going to be a project.
It's not that it can't be done. Boston's Jason Allison, for example,
had similar skating problems -- although not quite as pronounced -- when
he was a junior. By the time he was 22, he had progressed to the point
that he had become a solid NHL player.
So, the question facing the Leafs now is how they should handle Antropov
to maximize his improvement.
The majority opinion in the NHL is that the Leafs already have made
a mistake by insisting that he play in Russia. Of course, most NHL people
aren't as smart as the Leafs' management.
But the widespread feeling is that the Leafs are hoping that Antropov's
hockey future will be in North America, so he should be playing here, learning
not only the NHL style of hockey but also other important factors -- language,
customs, mores, traditions and so on.
In Russia, Antropov is getting fine coaching from Zinetula Bilyaletdinov
and although Leafs associate general manager Mike Smith might not share
the opinion, there are some good coaches in Canada, too.
If Antropov is going to play junior hockey in Canada next year, then
it won't do him any harm to be in Russia this year. It's a long way --
in every sense of the term -- from Khazakhstan to Toronto and a stop in
Moscow might smooth out the youngster's path.
HAS TO COME HERE
But it would be a major mistake to leave him in Russia for a second
year. He is going to have to come to Canada at some point and it might
as well be next season.
That will be his last year of junior eligibility and, since his skating
deficiencies almost certainly will prevent him from playing in the NHL
as a 20-year-old, it makes sense to have him learning the North American
game at the junior level rather than in the American Hockey League.
It is clear from watching Antropov play at this level that the NHL
scouts were right when they said he was a gamble. If his skating develops,
he might be a great player.
But if his skating stays as it is, he will never crack an NHL lineup.