NEW YORK -- The early part of Artem Anisimov's career was all about finding a comfort level in the United States, with the language, the customs and, of course, the hockey.
Anisimov spent the first 19 years of his life in Yaroslavl, Russia, before leaving home to play two seasons for the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL. The Rangers' second-round pick in the 2006 NHL Draft arrived with an almost nonexistent ability to speak English, something he has worked to improve during his two years in Hartford and three years with the New York Rangers.
Making it doubly difficult for Anisimov is his introverted personality.
"I'm shy," Anisimov told NHL.com. "It would come fast, what people said. I had to get used to it. It's tough, because it's different mentality, different everything."
The 23-year-old still is uncomfortable speaking English with cameras around, but he's reached the point where having casual conversations while in the locker room isn't something he dreads. He's improved his English skills without the benefit of a tutor or educational cassette tape, instead picking up the language with the aid of television shows -- he enjoys the "Stargate" series -- and simple observation.
When locker neighbors Brian Boyle and Ruslan Fedotenko, who are also his linemates these days, hold court with reporters, Anisimov will sit in his stall while still in his skates listening to what his loquacious teammates have to say.
Fedotenko, a native of Kiev, Ukraine, said getting more comfortable in the United States is a major reason for Anisimov's steady progression into a player who has averaged 17 goals the past two seasons, but he also offered his own unique way of explaining why English doesn't need to be a player's native tongue for understanding coach John Tortorella.
"If I scream at you in Russian, you would know I'm screaming at you," Fedotenko said. "If he's screaming at you and you don't what language it is, you would know you screwed up."
The 33-year-old Fedotenko played two years of junior hockey as a teenager for the Melfort Mustangs of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL and his wife, Debbie, is American. Fedotenko said that made for a quick adjustment when he arrived in the NHL with the Flyers in 2000, a luxury the sheepish Anisimov lacked three seasons ago.
Fedotenko said he believes the work Anisimov put in to learning English has helped him become more comfortable, and in turn, a better player.
"Absolutely, for him," Fedotenko said. "I didn't have that problem understanding or being not as comfortable. My wife is American, so I speak English all the time. I had trouble once I got in the NHL to speak Russian to my parents because you talk once a month and I can't find the words. I can't relate to that, but I know for him it's better that way to get more comfortable with language with everything else with coaches and players."
Anisimov said the hardest time for him was his first year in Hartford, when the simple act of shopping for food was more stressful than it needed to be.
"In Russia, my hometown is a small town," Anisimov said. "If you go to the streets and walk out of my home, go to the grocery store, buy some food and go back. At Hartford, to the grocery store, 45-minute walk. It's crazy. I needed to drive all the time. I live downtown, close to the stadium. If I wanted to go somewhere, it's drive.
"First couple months, I didn't have a car. After that, it's what grocery story do I need to go? What I need to buy? It's a different product. You're like, whoa, what is it? You can find like 20 different sausages."
It wasn't until his second season with the Wolf Pack that life away from the rink became second nature to Anisimov. After a 16-goal, 43-point season in 2007-08, Anisimov exploded for 37 goals and 81 points the following season. Some of that is just the natural progression of a young hockey player, but Anisimov said a lot of it had to do with getting used to his surroundings.
"After a year, I started to feel more comfortable," Anisimov said. "I learned English, not everything, but I could say something. Now, I can get something new every day, some new words I can learn. Feds helped me. If I have some problem in life out of hockey, I can call Feds and ask him for some advice and help.
"Hockey stuff, I learn quicker. In personal life, no. My first year when coach write drills on the board, I get it. It's easy. When he speak, I was like whoa. I'd talk in the locker room and ask what he said. He would say, go play, don't worry about it."
That's what Anisimov has done this postseason, but that also required an adjustment.
After registering three assists in his first two games during the conference quarterfinals, Anisimov had just one goal in eight games and was demoted to the fourth line for a stretch. He bottomed out in Game 2 of the conference semifinals when he took just seven shifts and had 4:56 of ice time.
Since then, he has once again become comfortable and is back on the third line and playing significant minutes. He had an empty-net goal and a flashy assist in Game 1 of the conference finals against the New Jersey Devils on Monday night. He set up Chris Kreider's third-period goal that put the Rangers ahead 2-0, and has slowly won over Tortorella with his play of late.
"I mean, he makes a hell of a pass there to Kreider," Tortorella said. "That's why he was on the fourth line at a point in time. That's why he's been moved up. He's done some good things away from the puck. A lot of people don't realize some of the things he does. He's improved."
Anisimov is tied for fifth on the Rangers in postseason scoring with eight points in 15 games and is averaging .53 points per game, up from his regular-season average of .46 per game. It took him a while to learn about American culture, and now he's understanding the culture of the postseason.
"From the regular season to the playoffs, it's a different game," Anisimov said. "You need to be more focused on the ice with what you do, all the little things, like how you skate, where you skate, how your stick is on the ice, how you poke check, how you go into contact with an opponent. All the little things on the ice are big.
"You learn something new every day."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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