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Leafs hope Russian skills aren't lost in translation
12 сентября 2015 года. McGran, Kevin. Toronto Star

LONDON, ONT.-Rinat Valiev can smile.

That smile he can flash indicates Valiev, a highly regarded Maple Leaf prospect on defence, is probably the most North American-ized of a handful of Russians the team has at its rookie camp.

Russians, he says, don't smile. At least not as much as North Americans.

"There's a different mentality in Russia, people are different in North America," Valiev says. "People smile a lot here. It's not a Russian thing to smile. People here are more friendly, I found."

Valiev was selected by the Leafs in the third round, 68th overall, in the 2014 draft. He was one of the top Russian defencemen at the world junior championships last year.

"I try to play any game," he says. "Sometimes, if I have the chance to hit the guy, I'll hit the guy. But I can play a skilled game. I'm an offensive defenceman. I like to join the rush as the fourth player."

Valiev, who missed most of last year's rookie camp with an injury, played mostly with Matt Finn on the first-defence pairing Friday night against the Ottawa Senators. Valiev picked up an assist in Toronto's 5-4 overtime loss that featured 3-on-3 overtime. William Nylander led Toronto with two goals and an assist.

Valiev came to North America in 2012, playing his first year with the Indiana Ice of the USHL, then two years with the junior Kootenay Ice. His three years in North America mean he is part-cultural ambassador, part-translator for the Leafs' five-man Russian contingent at rookie camp.

The Leafs, like many teams, had eschewed drafting Russians in recent years, in part because it was difficult to be certain players would choose the NHL over the KHL.

But two things have happened: The Russian economy has faltered and some KHL teams are suffering, and the Leafs have talent-loving Mark Hunter as assistant GM, and he appears to care more for skill than size or citizenship.

The Leafs drafted two Russians this year: Dmytro Timashov from the Quebec Remparts, and Nikita Korostelev from the Sarnia Sting. Both are at this camp, and both are likely going back to junior.

But the Leafs also signed two Russian free agents: Nikita Soshnikov from Atalant and Nikolai Skladnichenko from Mettalurg.

Both are wild cards as far as where they fit on the Leafs depth chart. Both are 21. Soshnikov considers himself a playmaker (14 goals, 18 assists in 57 games in the KHL), one of the top young players in the Russia-based league. He is beginning a three-year, $2.21 million deal with the Maple Leafs.

"It is my dream to play in the NHL," he said, with Skladnichenko doing the translating.

Skladnichenko likes to score. He was in just 16 KHL games last year getting four goals and one assist.

Valiev, Soshnikov and Skladnichenko will likely all be teammates this year with the Marlies. Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe expects Valiev to be a big help.
"Valiev has a little more experience and I'm sure will help those guys along," said Keefe. "I don't expect too much (from Soshnikov and Skladnichenko), just easing them into it here, which is a lot."

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