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|24 июня 2013 года. |
THE RUSSIAN FACTOR: FACT OR FICTION? TEAMS MUST BE SURE A PLAYER FROM RUSSIA IS WILLING TO GO TO A STRANGE LAND, PLAY A DIFFERENT GAME AND COMMIT TO A SYSTEM THAT MAY BE FOREIGN TO THEM BEFORE THEY SPEND A DRAFT PICK ON HIM // Pittsburgh Post - Gazette
Maybe it's because Alex Radulov bailed out in the middle of his NHL contract and returned to Russia's Kontinental Hockey League in 2008.
Maybe it's because Washington can't persuade Russian star Evgeny Kuznetsov to leave the KHL for the NHL two years after being drafted, or that Alex Ovechkin can't manage to lead the Capitals to a Stanley Cup, or that the Capitals' Alexander Semin has a reputation of being a poor teammate.
A number of Russians were near the top of the NHL draft board for this weekend's NHL Entry Draft, but it's evident that many teams worry about what's been dubbed the "Russian Factor."
Teams worry that top Russian players either won't "buy into the system" or could be poached by the KHL. Because there is no transfer agreement between the NHL and KHL, technically a legal NHL contract isn't binding.
So during recent interviews at the draft combine, three likely Russian-born first-round picks -- top-rated Nail Yakupov, Mikhail Grigorenko and Andrei Vasilevski -- were closely questioned by teams.
"I think just about the NHL," Yakupov said he promised teams. "It's my dream to play in the NHL. My focus is just NHL."
Yakupov played junior hockey for the Ontario Hockey League's Sarnia Sting, while Grigorenko was with the Quebec Remparts in the Quebec League.
"Mikhail says, 'Do these people really think I actually had my mother leave Russia and live with me in North America for a whole year just to go back to Russia?'" said Grigorenko agent Jay Grossman.
Even Alex Galchenyuk faced the question, and he is an American of Russian descent born in Milwaukee.
But because the KHL is so aggressive in trying to lure players, teams want to make sure Russian players are truly committed.
"But why don't we focus in on the fact that Slava Voynov, who just won the Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings, played in (minor league) Manchester before," asked Craig Button, a TV analyst and former NHL general manager. "And you know darn well (KHL teams) were trying to get him to come back and play.
"It's not like the Russian players say, 'Play me in the NHL or else I'm going over to the KHL.' We have so many good examples of these guys who are willing to go through the developmental process to get to the NHL.
"Yakupov comes over from Russia to play in the OHL ... to ride buses! I mean, he could have made a million bucks in the KHL. Yet, he and Grigorenko come here to make $55 a week! Think these guys are now not coming to the NHL?"
Radulov's reputation is a big reason for the "Russian Factor," hockey folks say. It's not only that he left for the KHL. It's because he and Predators teammate Andrei Kostitsyn showed a lack of commitment and discipline by being out until the wee hours before a second-round playoff game. The team suspended the players two games.
Still, there are plenty of examples of Russians who fit in well.
Pavel Datsyuk of Detroit has won three Selke Trophies as the NHL's best defensive forward and four Lady Byng Trophies as the NHL's most gentlemanly player. Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh is another strong leader. Minnesota Wild assistant GM Brent Flahr says New Jersey's Anton Volchenkov, whom he was with in Ottawa, is known as one of the league's great teammates.
"If you're willing as a club to put the time and effort in to help these guys, the upside with some of these players provide you with is much greater than the perceived risk," said Grossman.
Grossman has been an agent for many Russians. He has seen firsthand the way the "Russian Factor" has affected some of his clients. Kuznetsov, the MVP of the 2012 world junior championships, fell to 26th in 2010. The late Alex Cherepanov, who died during a KHL game in 2008, fell to the Rangers at No. 17 in 2007.
But as Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said, "You can get players of any nationality that don't fit or are selfish. It's up to teams to do their due diligence and sort out the character issues the best they can."