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Anton Slepyshev making a name for himself with Edmonton Oilers
28 2017 . Edmonton Journal

ANAHEIM, Calif. You just get the feeling Anton Slepyshev is going to make himself a story before this playoff run is over.

It could be a page-turner. Its got conflict: Top-six skill great wheels and a heavy shot and bottom-six minutes. Its got real life drama: A personal angle that makes his emergence in his first playoff run that much more impressive.

He wont turn 23 until May 13. His wife, Julia, and two-year-old son, Miron, are living in the Russian city of Novokuznetsk where Slepyshev first played in the Kontinental Hockey League as a 17-year-old and have been there for most of the last two hockey seasons. His parents still live in his hometown of Penza. He and all he knows are separated by thousands of kilometres and a handful of time zones.

Its so difficult. Last year, I was by myself and this season is the same, Slepyshev said Thursday. I am sent to the minors and my family doesnt have a U.S. visa. So the decision was made to go back home and wait for me. Next year, we will do a U.S. visa. Next season, we will be together for sure.

Next season, he might not need that U.S. visa, since another trip to Bakersfield isnt necessarily in the cards. He is impressing head coach Todd McLellan and his Edmonton Oilers teammates with a dedication to the game and the team under trying circumstances.

Hes coming out of his shell a bit, said Mark Letestu. Hes a quiet guy, the lone Russian. He doesnt have somebody to bring him along. Hes had to come out on his own. But you can tell in his play now, hes getting more comfortable with us. Hes speaking in the room more. Its comfort. Hes making some plays now. Hes starting to be an impactful player for us. Its nice to see.

Slepyshev draws comfort from his teammates, but first from his family. Skype is a godsend for any long-distance relationship, so they talk constantly.

My parents watch every game and my father calls after game, says what I do good, what I do bad. My family supports me so well. My friends call me every day from Russia.

And he makes the best of a difficult situation by working hard on his craft and showing up like he did here Wednesday. He powered down the Honda Center ice twice in Game 1, cutting to the net in front of defenceman Shea Theodore each time. He was stopped on the first attempt by goalie John Gibson. The second strafing run resulted in a penalty, when he couldnt put the brakes on fast enough and bowled Gibson over.

Hes got some speed and we talked about it as a group after the game, actually in between periods, that youve got to be mindful of him, said Anaheims Josh Manson. He may be in the bottom six but hes a dangerous player. Hes strong, he goes to the net and hes got skill. He can take you on wide as we learned last night.

Oilers fans havent learned much about Slepyshev yet. And hes anonymous enough that a national broadcaster called him Slepnikov during the San Jose series.

He doesnt appear on a Wikipedia list of the most famous Penzans Penzanians? a list that includes a utopian socialist, a diplomat, a poet, an Alaskan explorer, a silent film actor, an avant garde artist and eight hockey players.

Hes building a nice little highlight reel in these playoffs, so his profile will get a boost. He scored a breakaway goal in the San Jose series and showed all kinds of drive here in Game 1. Letestu called him a ballsy player, for his willingness to go hard to the net. And there is plenty of reason to believe Slepyshev is just scratching the surface of his skill set.

Im happy, he said when asked about his performance. Of course, I think every player wants to play more ice time and on the power play. But as I say, I do my best. So I get what I deserve. I try to work more, work harder. And it will be better.

I just have to show my best and fans will know about me.

They know hes a work in progress. And they saw him take a lazy hooking penalty at the end of the first period in Game 1. Ryan Getzlaf scored on the ensuing power play and Slepyshev took the skate of shame.

I was very worried.

McLellan still gave him his 10 minutes. What hes been able to do with it is impressive. But he has the pedigree, so it really shouldnt come as a shock.

He was captain of a world junior team for Russia. He has plenty of international experience on U17 and U18 teams. He was the first pick in the 2011 KHL draft and played parts of five seasons. And the Oilers drafted him 88th overall in 2013.

He owes it all, he said, to his father, Vladimir, who coached him.

All his life is hockey, said Slepyshev. What I learn to do, it is all from him.

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