Nikolai Zherdev never really wanted to go back to Russia for a year, after playing five seasons in the National Hockey League. There was one specific positive development from the situation, however.
“I found my wife. So, I missed a season in the NHL, but I’m happy right now,” he said, after recently returning from his honeymoon.
Zherdev, 25, was drafted fourth overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets – the same draft that produced Flyers Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Braydon Coburn
, and is regarded as one of the strongest classes in recent NHL history. With 239 points in 365 career NHL games, Zherdev clearly has the tools to produce offensively. His best season came with the Blue Jackets in 2007-08, when he had 26 goals and 35 assists for 61 points while appearing in all 82 games.
|Nikolai Zherdev's best season came with Columbus in 2007-08, when he tallied 61 points in 82 games. (Getty Images) |
He admitted he only went to Russia after the lack of offers from NHL clubs when the Rangers walked away from a salary arbitration ruling last summer. (“I [didn’t] have any benefits to return for one year in Russia. It was just to play hockey,” he said.)
Zherdev seems excited to get back to the NHL after signing a one-year contract with Philadelphia on June 9. He will likely get the chance to play on the wing with one of the Flyers’ top three centers in Richards, Carter or Danny Briere
, to give the team a deep offense to go along with one of the best defensive groups in the league.
“I’m very happy to be back in the NHL,” said Zherdev, who had 58 points in 82 games for the Rangers in 2008-09, his last in the NHL. “I had some difficulty last season signing a contract in the NHL, and I made the decision to stay one season in Russia. Basically, my goal is to come to the NHL and be one of the best players and play every night, and show everybody I’m ready and that I’m an NHL player.”
In today’s NHL it’s now imperative that although a player may have some offensive flair, being defensively responsible is also a requirement. Zherdev, who was criticized for his defense in the past, thinks he is a more complete player now than when he last played in North America.
“I’ve changed my style and tried to play more in the defensive zone. I think right now I’m a two-way player,” he said. “Before I was probably more of a forward, more in the attack zone, but right now I think the last couple [of] seasons I’ve played more in the defensive zone, too.”
The conference call on Wednesday morning through a Russian translator also allowed Zherdev to address accusations that his work ethic has been lagging during his brief NHL career. Suffice it to say, he is ready to turn the page and begin a new chapter.
“First of all, I don’t pay much attention to the people who write about me, about bad things or good things,” he said. “Sometimes the media has different opinions about different players. Right now, my goal is to come to Philadelphia and prepare for the long hockey season. I’d like to play hockey right now.
“For me, it will be new. It’s a new team, new teammates, a new coach, new organization and a new city. I still have my tools, and I’d like to show everybody I’m still a good hockey player.”