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Gavrikov settling in as key part of Blue Jackets blue line

Russian defenseman adds first NHL goal to solid defensive play

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

More than most people, David Savard might be able to relate to Vladislav Gavrikov. 

They're both big bodies who are utilized as shutdown defenders in front of Blue Jackets goaltenders. They both are known to sport facial hair, making them the big, bearded defensemen who aren't afraid to put a little bit of their body into opposing forwards. 

And they both have a little more offense in their games than their reputations might expect.  

For proof of that, take a look at Gavrikov's first-ever NHL goal, which he scored Friday night in a win over St. Louis. The defenseman saw an opening and pounced on it after St. Louis defenseman Colton Parayko tried to clear the puck and instead saw it go sideways into clear ice. 

But it was the finish that most impressed Savard. Gavrikov skated onto it and quickly deposited the loose puck, with his backhand, into the top corner past the helpless Blues goalie Jake Allen. 

Video: STL@CBJ: Gavrikov backhands in first NHL goal

"I mean, it was pretty impressive -- backhand, one-timer, cheese," Savard admitted. "Hopefully he gets a lot more -- maybe not the same way; I'm not sure he's gonna get the backhand one-timers -- but he's really been looking good, and it's good to see." 

It went down as the 23-year-old Russian's first-ever NHL goal in his 18th game, but more could be in the offing for the Yaroslavl native. While he comes from Russia with a reputation for being a stalwart on the defensive side of the puck, he's shown a willingness to go forward in Columbus. 

In that way, he's much like Savard. While the wide-bodied, longtime Blue Jackets blueliner is himself known for his defensive prowess, he's also not been afraid to try to contribute on the offensive end, which is how he's totaled 40 goals in his 508-game NHL career.  

A scorer in juniors, Savard still has some magic in his gloves, as evidenced by the fact he potted eight goals a year ago then added one of the top goals of the year last postseason with his Game 1 deke past Victor Hedman and snipe that was a key part of the team's comeback win to kick off the sweep of Tampa Bay in the first round. 

Gavrikov, likewise, will always carry the mail defensively -- he and Savard have combined to be one of the best defensive pairs in the NHL at limiting expected goals, per -- but it's not a huge surprise to see him surging forward in the offensive zone or coming forward on the rush if the situation calls for it. 

"I think he's done a really good job of going on offense and creating chances, getting pucks on net, stuff like that so it's good to see," Savard said. "And obviously he plays really well defensively. He's physical. It's been great playing with him, so it's good." 

It doesn't appear Gavrikov will ever be a Seth Jones or a Zach Werenski on the blue line. He totaled a career-high five goals each of the past two seasons with Russian power SKA St. Petersburg, and in 222 career KHL games, he finished with 16 goals and 33 assists for 49 points. Meanwhile, he was a ludicrous plus-48 in 60 games last year with SKA. 

With that in mind, the 2015 sixth-round draft pick was bought to North America by general manager Jarmo Kekalainen to be a defensive presence, not to score goals. Any additions on the scoresheet will be viewed as a plus. 

"His main being as a defenseman is a more, stay at home, get the puck up to the forwards, be physical and take up time and space," head coach John Tortorella said. "But for him to kick one in for a team that hasn't scored many goals, it was really good. We're happy for him. 

"I listen to Jarmo about what he felt about him as a player. I hadn't seen him play (before he came to North America). I think it took a little bit of time for him to adjust to a small rink, and just the style that we play and with what we're looking for, but he's been very consistent as he's progressed here." 

In the aftermath of his first goal, Gavrikov said he hadn't gotten much ribbing from his teammates, but he was sure it was coming. He'll keep the puck for posterity and added he was pleased his initial NHL came in a winning effort as it did Friday night.  

"I feel so happy in this moment," he said postgame. "It's a great moment for me. (I've had chances) a lot of times, so I need to try to shoot more, every time, every chance." 

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