A year ago, seemingly no longer willing to play in the AHL, then 22-year-old Russian defenseman Denis Grebeshkov turned down
the New York Islanders' qualifying offer in 2006 and headed to his native Yaroslavl to play for Lokomotiv in the Russian Super League.
Now armed with a new one-way contract from the Edmonton Oilers, the soft-spoken, offensively-gifted Grebeshkov is saying that he wants to build on his past experiences in North America with his mind set on succeeding in the NHL this time, in an interview that was posted yesterday by the Russian site Sports Daily
.You're planning to make your career in Edmonton?
Those are my thoughts, yes.Are you bringing any family with you?
Well, since I'm not married, I have no family to bring with me. (When Alexei Mikhnov tried to make the Oilers in training camp last season, he brought his wife with him to help adjust to life in a new country.
)What have you seen about your new team?
As far as I know, the team has been nothing special in recent years-- the days when Edmonton had players like Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, defeating all others-- are long gone. Now, they're a fairly average NHL team.How have you learned about your new club?
Last year, I played on Lokomotiv with (former Oilers) Igor Ulanov and Alexei Mikhnov. They told me about the city, and about the team. Judging from that, Edmonton is a good working town, with a lot of oil industry workers. The winters are cold, with the snow not leaving until May, but the team is good. The people who work with the team are very friendly, and the ice in Edmonton is said to be the best ice in the NHL.
To be honest, (for Russian players) it's not very desirable to live in America. They only go there to play hockey. There's a completely different mentality. Although, in general, Americans are very decent and helpful, perhaps because life has been easier on them.When you first left to try the NHL, the best league in the world, you were young-- only 19 years old. Apparently it wasn't easy for you.
Like many, I ran into a language barrier. I couldn't understand what I was being told. Only after a year was I able to answer clearly. However, the other players were very supportive. There was one Frenchman, especially, with whose help I rented an apartment.
As far as a way of life is concerned, there weren't any major problems. Certainly, though, it was impossible to avoid making mistakes. For example, when I first came to America, I figured that the NHL teams would prepare for the season just like in Russia: after you arrive in camp, you train gradually, and slowly bring yourself up. It turns out that, for NHL training camp, you're supposed to arrive completely prepared. I didn't know this, so I missed out on that. Now, I will show up and be ready immediately to show my best.A lot of young Russian players, upon arriving in the NHL, return home quickly. Why is that?
Probably, there's an unwillingness to play for the farm team. But I don't see anything terrible about this. For me to play in the minors was for my own good. Last season I could've willingly played on the farm team, but I made the decision to play instead in the Super League.Russian players are often criticized for not playing within the team.
I think that all players can get caught up in the individual game, regardless of nationality. There isn't a player who as a youngster didn't dream of taking the puck and rushing to the net, skating through all the other players. On the other hand, Russian players are well-known for being good passers.So then, all the talk that Russian defenseman in the NHL play without hard contact, is that mostly false?
This problem does exist. Russian defenseman are more technical, thinking defenseman. However, in my case, I also enjoy playing with strength.And what about fighting?
Not my style. I've never had a reason to drop the gloves in the NHL, but the rugged play and the hard checks, that's what I want to see.The new rules, which are very strict, are not to your liking?
The new rules aren't good for our type of hockey. We saw this at the World Championships.In the semi-final match with Finland, when they were mowing down our players as if by machine gun (sending off Andrei Markov), is it worthwhile to respond in kind-- to take out a couple of the key players on Finland's team?
There may have been thoughts, but you have to chase them away. It's important to send a message, of course, but it must be done within the rules, in order to not be penalized. To take your stick against someone's head has no benefit. I think that injuring another player is low. This would not have helped us in the game against Finland, anyway. We still didn't beat them.
Winding up for a slap shot vs. Dynamo
In the post-script to the interview, the writer for Sports Daily floats a couple of interesting rumors. In discussing Grebeshkov's past history in North America (going back-and-forth between the NHL and the minors) and his current contract with Edmonton, which is said to be a one-way, NHL-only deal, the writer adds: "This is the opposite case for Kiril Koltsov, Grebeshkov's teammate on numerous Russian junior national teams. Vancouver offered a million dollars and an NHL roster spot, but Ufa (Salavat Yulayev) gave him twice as much. So, America can forget about Koltsov, at least for one more season.
"The same decision is also involved with Ilya Nikulin, who will try in Atlanta, but does not intend to be sent to the farm club. If he isn't sucessful overseas, he will return to Russia, most likely with Kazan or Ufa."