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Rambler's Top100

10 2006 . 
Zherdevs magical debut offers Jackets fans hope

BOB HUNTER

The symbolism was hard to miss. With Nikolai Zherdevs arrival, the new and improved Columbus Blue Jackets weve been hearing about for months were ready for public consumption.

The beta release of this supposed juggernaut that fans tried Friday night had a few bugs, but they worked some of them out Saturday in Chicago. So Zherdevs first skate and first start and Gilbert Brules first scratch of his life presented the image of a team every bit as deep and as talented as many think it is.

Whether Brule deserved to be scratched is debatable, and its not the point. Brule, though 19, is considered one of the four or five most talented players on the team. In the unforgiving world where the Blue Jackets resided for the past five seasons, a player of Brules talent would never have been scratched for any reason other than attempted murder.

Yesterday, Zherdev skated through a morning skate that Blue Jackets coach Gerard Gallant admitted even he could do, then was placed on the second line, bumping NHL veteran Anson Carter back to the third.

But lest anyone get too excited over that, this is worth considering: Zherdev scored a power-play goal 1:01 into the game. He skated the puck into the zone, fired a pass to Rick Nash and then scored on Nashs rebound. He scored another power-play goal in the second period, again skating the puck into the zone, passing to Nash and then tipping home Nashs pass into the slot.

Two goals without a second of training camp? It makes you wonder what in the world the teams brass was thinking a few weeks ago threatening to let Zherdev stay in Russia. It makes you think maybe all of the Blue Jackets should prepared for the season that way.

"He was playing in that Russian Super League," said Carter, who also had his first goal as a Blue Jacket, "so it wasnt like he was sitting over there eating cookies and bonbons all day."

Besides 20 games in Russia, Zherdevs training consisted of yesterdays morning skate and a 15-minute briefing by Blue Jackets assistant coach Gary Agnew, whose quick shot of wisdom with Zherdev and on the power play might already have him on some NHL teams prospective coaching lists.

Last night, Zherdev and Nash made it look easy; Nash had a goal and two assists and already has six points in three games.

"Nash is a very good player, so I dont think its a problem to play with Rick Nash," Zherdev said, through an interpreter. "Everybody can play with Rick. Hes an excellent player. And we play together."

They do, maybe for a long while. Zherdev apparently didnt take any of that early negotiating garbage about him not having "earned" a threeyear contract to heart he eventually got it, after all and he says he has no hard feelings now..

"I was thinking I would sign a contract sooner or later," he said. "I committed myself to playing for the Columbus Blue Jackets."

He was smiling while he said it, same as he was in his first trip through the Columbus locker room. So if Zherdev really is as "happy" as he says he is and the new Jackets are as good as they looked last night, this team might be as good as some think it is.

Three days after the Jackets left the ice to rare boos at home, Zherdev again showed why he has probably put more fannies in the seats than anyone other than Nash. While he is not close to being the most complete player on the team at this point, sometimes he wields his hockey stick as a magic wand.

"Its nice to score two goals," Zherdev said, "but its more important that the team win."

He mumbled something else, but the interpreter didnt pick it up. It might have been "Abracadabra." 

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