His new teammates insisted that he lead the stretch at Monday’s practice in St. Louis and forward Viktor Tikhonov obliged.
“That was a nice little welcome home present,” said Tikhonov, who played 61 games for the Coyotes in 2008-09 in his only other NHL season before this one. “… I know it’s been five or so years but it looks like no one has aged at all. It’s crazy. It’s kind of like I’m going back in time a little bit and … it’s good putting on the jersey again.”
The Coyotes claimed Tikhonov off waivers on Sunday for depth at forward, specifically right wing. He said his multi-year stint in the Kontinental Hockey League served him well and prepared him to play on the top two lines in the NHL or the bottom two.
“I can really fill in any spot,” Tikhonov said. “I’m just anxious to get back on the ice anywhere I get put in and give it 100 percent, learn the system as quick as possible and start helping this hockey team.”
The Coyotes selected Tikhonov with the 28th overall pick in the 2008 NHL Draft. He played one season and then eventually opted to play in the KHL after spending time in the American Hockey League. He’s expecting to make a smooth transition back to his first NHL franchise from the Chicago Blackhawks, for whom he played 11 games this season.
“I was a little nervous - you never know what's going to happen - but when I heard Arizona picked me up it was all joy,” Tikhonov said. “I know it’s going to be a good transition because I know the area, I know the players, know the organization and the fans. I was all smiles when I heard.”
Tikhonov got lots of ice time playing for St. Petersburg SKA in the KHL, and he said it enabled him to develop into an all-around hockey player. Last summer, at age 27, he decided the time was right to give the NHL another shot.
“The NHL, honestly, has been in my mind ever since I left,” Tikhonov said. “It’s a childhood dream, just like any guy in this locker room would say. It’s always been my goal to play in the NHL. It just happened that time wasn’t exactly right in between contracts. It’s always tough to get the timing down but this was finally the year everything kind of clicked. It’s time for the comeback.”
Tikhonov is playing for the Coyotes under a one-year, one-way contract. He is hoping it leads to a longer deal.
“Long-term I want to stay in the League and if it’s with Arizona that’s even better,” Tikhonov said. “That would just be icing on the cake. For me, the goal is to play in this league and play against the best players in the world and try to prove myself. That’s kind of the goal going forward.”
Head Coach Dave Tippett is eager to see what Tikhonov can accomplish.
“We can give him opportunity,” Tippett said. “ … If he grabs it and runs with it, that will be a good situation for him and a good situation for us.”