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Gavrikov adds depth to Blue Jackets blue line

Russian defenseman excited to arrive in Columbus

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

Vladislav Gavrikov needed little introduction when he took to the ice Saturday at Nationwide Arena for the first time with the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

First of all, he's an accomplished player in his own right, having won an Olympic gold medal in the 2018 Winter Games. Second of all, he's been a Blue Jacket since the team drafted him in the sixth round of the 2015 draft. 

Plus, the native of Yaroslavl, Russia, knows his countrymen Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin, so introductions certainly weren't necessary there. 

On the other side of things, Gavrikov is well aware of both what the Blue Jackets have done this postseason as well as his new teammates, as he's been following the team ever since he nearly signed with Columbus two seasons ago.

Video: Gavrikov comments on joining the team

"We are watching highlights always, watching the games, so everybody knows about this league and knows the guys," Gavrikov said after taking part in Saturday's practice, one day after he arrived in Columbus with his wife Anastasia. "I followed this team for (the past) two years, so I've been watching the highlights of the games. I know the guys. I know Panarin and Bobrovsky, too." 

As for the team's postseason run, Gavrikov already has a sense of what it means for the franchise and city to have dispatched Tampa Bay in the opening round. 

PLAYOFF CENTRAL: Your one-stop location for news, notes, videos, and more

"It's so nice," said Gavrikov, who has learned English with help from Anastasia. "It's so fun, so crazy. It's good for the city, good for the fans. 

"I'm so excited. I'm so proud to be here. I met the guys, the coaches and all the staff, so it's a big moment for me." 

As for whether Gavrikov will hit the ice any time soon, that remains to be seen. The Blue Jackets are certainly shorthanded defensively, with Markus Nutivaara joining an injured list during the opening round that already had included Ryan Murray (out since Feb. 18) and Adam McQuaid (out since March 28).  

That led to increased roles for Dean Kukan, Scott Harrington and Adam Clendening in the sweep of Tampa Bay, and Gavrikov now brings more depth to a team that can use it. And much like the example of forward Alexandre Texier, head coach John Tortorella has shown he won't be afraid to use the defenseman if he thinks he can help the team win. 

"I understand this Gavrikov is a really good player," said Tortorella, who has been briefed on the defenseman's game by general manager Jarmo Kekalainen. 

"I'm not sure where it all goes. I weigh that vs. the chemistry of the team in winning the first round. I have to weigh all that stuff, but as I said in putting in (Alexandre) Texier, it's the time of year where we have to put our best lineup out there. Especially in our back end, we're banged up so much, we bring in a defenseman that is the quality of this guy from the reports I get from Jarmo, that does nothing but help this hockey club." 

Gavrikov, now 23, has risen in prominence after being taken 159th overall by the Blue Jackets in the 2015 draft. Since then, he has become a mainstay with the Russian national team, won the Olympic gold medal and been one of the steadiest defensemen in the KHL. 

Over the past two seasons with SKA St. Petersburg, Gavrikov totaled 10 goals, 24 assists, 34 points and a plus-69 rating in 110 regular season games. This year, he led the KHL with a rating of plus-48 while posting a 5-15-20 line for a SKA team that advanced to the Western Conference final before losing in seven games to Russian power CKSA Moscow.  

He profiles as a big-bodied, steady blue liner with a bit of offensive upside.  

"He looks like he moved well," defenseman David Savard said. "He's only going to get better, get to know the guys and feel better on the ice. He's a big guy with some presence. We'll see what he can do." 

Gavrikov nearly signed with the Blue Jackets two seasons ago as a 21-year-old but chose to stay in Russia for two more years, both to get more seasoning and to get a chance to compete in the Olympics. 

Both of those goals have been accomplished, and the 6-3, 205-pounder is a stronger presence now. Just when he'll be able to use those skills in a game for the Blue Jackets remains to be seen, but in the meantime he'll just keep working in an effort to be ready if needed. 

"I don't care now (if I play right away)," said Gavrikov, who is also under contract for next season. "I need to work harder and harder every day, and we'll see what happens. I need to work more before I am going to play here. It's the next level for me." 

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