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|24 сентября 2004
Varlamov is under pressure to improve performance this season - Post-Dispatch
By TOM TIMMERMANN
The clock is running on Blues left wing Sergei Varlamov. And he knows it.
"I started out (camp) pretty slow and was not happy with the way I started," Varlamov said. "But the good thing is, every game I played, I improved a little. Hopefully, if they keep me around long enough, I can come to my best, my fullest.
"But I can't wait for that, so I'm going to be approaching every day of the rest of camp like it could be my last one here. I'll put pressure on myself and, hopefully, it helps."
Two years ago, Varlamov spent the whole season on the Blues roster and appeared in 52 games. Last season, he spent almost the entire season in the minors with Worcester, playing just three games in the NHL.
This season, with plenty of job openings at left wing, Varlamov has every opportunity to make the team and get back to the NHL on a regular basis. But through the first two weeks of camp, the assessment he has drawn from coach Joel Quenneville has hardly been flattering. "Varly's been OK," he said, which in Quenneville-speak translates to "plenty of room for improvement."
The left wing position for the Blues is wide open. Keith Tkachuk is tops at the position, and the play of rookie Peter Sejna seems to assure him a spot. Dallas Drake scored 20 goals last season playing on the right side, but the team has plenty of other options there and Drake can play on the left. After that, the choices include Varlamov, Mike Danton (who could also play center) and Eric Nickulas.
While Varlamov plans to put pressure on himself, the Blues would like to see him put pressure on others. "When he plays with intensity, more things are happening for him," Quenneville said. "I still think that he has significant skills when he plays and he's able to get that intensity. I think he could be more involved physically, whether with the puck or without the puck. He's got to have more emotion in his game to be effective."
"They wanted every shift to be the same, to have the same intensity," Varlamov said. "Some shifts go good and some shifts go bad. They tell me sometimes they see me for the whole minute I'm out there, and sometimes they don't see me for five minutes. That has to change."
Last year, the Blues were looking for Varlamov to play an increased role for the team, but his lack of aggressiveness and consistency ruled that out. (The Blues then went out and signed free agent Martin Rucinsky eight games into the season.) Varlamov went unclaimed in the waiver draft and was sent to the minors and, despite the long list of injuries the Blues went through, he was called up for just three games. He did well offensively in Worcester, leading the team in points (61) and assists (38), but the American Hockey League is not why Varlamov came to North America from Ukraine in 1995.
"I'm kind of thinking right now, between the NHL and AHL, I have to establish myself (in the NHL)," he said. "If I want to play in the NHL, I have to stay for a year and have a very good year."
The Blues had enough confidence in Varlamov to re-sign him in the offseason, though for what is likely one of the lowest salaries in the league at about $180,000 with a bonus for each game he plays.
"I'm not sticking around for the money," he said, "because I could make more (in Russia). I'm sticking around because I want to play in the NHL."