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Rambler's Top100

5 2009 . 
Artyukhin Growing Into Expanded Role // Tampa Tribune

Erik Erlendsson. 

Nov. 5--NEWARK, N.J. -- When Evgeny Artyukhin arrived in the NHL as a rookie during the 2005-06 season, he attracted plenty of attention from the referees.

Now, he is attracting the attention of players on the opposing bench every time his shoulder is tapped.

"I'll tell you, when Arty goes over the boards, guys on the other team know it," Lightning coach Barry Melrose said. "You can see them elbowing each other as Arty goes over the boards, and they know that they don't want to play against that guy, and that's good. He's going to be rewarded."

The reward hasn't come in the form of offensive production yet, but he is being rewarded with an opportunity to play more.

Part of that comes from his ability to keep himself out of the penalty box, which allows Melrose and the coaching staff to keep putting him on the ice. As a rookie, Artyukhin amassed 90 penalty minutes in 72 games. During the preseason he had 12 penalty minutes in four games.

Through 10 games, he has been whistled only twice. With the ability to stay nearly penalty free early in the season, the 6-foot-5, 256-pounder has seen his confidence grow. Blessed with a skating ability that belies his size, Artyukhin is able to leave many fleet-footed defensemen in his dust as he charges toward the net with the puck.

And though he doesn't possess the natural abilities of a goal-scorer -- he had only four goals as a rookie and has none this season -- the tide is destined to turn with the opportunities he continues to create.

"In my mind, I feel like I can be a better player, score and help the team win games," Artyukhin said. "I feel like right now I'm picking up my game because the coach is giving our line more ice time."

The physical side of Artyukhin's game remains his strength, and he leads the team with 31 hits, including six in Saturday's victory against Ottawa. Opposing defensemen tend to treat the puck like a hot potato when they see Artyukhin coming on a forecheck.

As long as that continues and Artyukhin keeps staying out of the penalty box, the rest of his game will come.

"I think he's getting more confident," Melrose said. "I think he's starting to realize what we expect out of him, and he's getting rewarded with ice time for the way he's playing."

Reporter Erik Erlendsson can be reached at (813) 259-7835.

Credit: Tampa Tribune, Fla.

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