|Vladimir Nikiforov |
Long Islander Vladimir Nikiforov is making his own American Dream. Despite the fact that it's been an uphill battle, the tenacious forward has been turning heads ever since he began his playing days in Huntington.
Listed at 5'8," Nikiforov-or Vlad to his teammates-is quiet and reserved off the ice. During practice, it is clear that he is a student of the game. His eyes don't just follow the puck, they seem to predict its movements from stick to stick. On the ice, few players at camp have shown better vision. His ability to find space, even on the smaller-than-regulation practice rink, sets him apart from the competition. In just his first scrimmage at camp, Nikiforov made scoring look easy as he buried one of his team's three goals. And, he still wasn't satisfied.
"I'm trying to do everything at camp. Scoring is great, but I really want to be a complete player," Nikiforov said. "I'm trying to be physical, and skate, be in the right place. I want to put it all together. I know what I can do on the ice, but I know that I can improve as well. I don't want to be cocky ever, but I am definitely confident in my ability to play the game. I know that I can play this sport at a higher level, and this week I'm here to show the coaches that as well."
Growing up, Nikiforov has always had doubters. His size leaves many skeptical, but, the more people hesitate, the more he proves them wrong. Take this past season, for example. Despite failing to be drafted, Nikiforov's production in the OHL was undeniable. In 36 games with the Barrie Colts, Nikiforov scored 21 goals and 32 assists, totals that left him second on the team in goals, first in assists, and second in points-even though he played in 32 games fewer than the team's leader in goals and points. His production was so impressive that the Sarnia Sting, the team of 2008 first overall draft selection Steve Stamkos, traded for Nikiforov to help add production to their playoff run.
Nikiforov didn't disappoint. In his first two games with Sarnia, he recorded six points on six assists. Nikiforov made an impression on his competition, and seemingly on the Islanders, as his play earned him an invite to the Islanders' Prospects Camp.
Nikiforov isn't the only Sting player attending Isles camp. Rather, as Nikiforov pointed out, all but one member of the Sting's power play is skating for the Islanders this week.
"It's awesome coming here knowing that you have some friends here," said Nikiforov "Between, DiBenedetto, Martin, Katic and me, we have the whole power play minus Stamkos. They're all great players and hardworking, and I love playing with them."
Part of what makes Nikiforov's attendance at Iceworks so special is that he has landed back on Long Island. Since the age of seven, Nikiforov has been a Long Island resident and big-time New York Islanders fan.
"I moved from Lithuania when I was seven," Nikiforov said. "My parents left my sister and me there with my grandma when I was four, and came here to make a better life. At seven, I moved here too...ever since I've been an Islanders fan. I've gone to many games, and always loved watching. My dad actually worked for Gerry Hart, so I've known him for a long time. I've known Bobby Nystrom also for a long time, back from when my dad was a coach for the junior Islanders."
This week, Nikiforov is practicing just minutes away from home. And his play has shown that he is more than comfortable playing with any competition. For Nikiforov, this week has just been another opportunity to showcase his talent and hope for the best. Somewhere in the near future, don't be surprised to see him skating on the big rink under the bright lights. Nikiforov's talent is undeniable. But it's his cool confidence that makes his NHL aspirations even more realistic. He may not make it to six feet tall, but the kid has a heart that goes on for miles. From the way he has attacked practice all week, his heart is set on making your New York Islanders.