Kniazev moving quickly up ranks as NHL Draft prospect
Chicoutimi defenseman adept at adapting to North American languages, style of playby Guillaume Lepage @GLepageLNH / LNH.com Staff Writer
Every Thursday, NHL.com will look ahead to the 2019 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.
Artemi Kniazev was 5 years old when his minor hockey coach made a decision that would greatly influence the course of his playing career.
After his parents refused his wish to be a goalie, Kniazev then saw his dream of becoming a goal-scorer come to an abrupt end.
"I was a forward at the time, but my coach forced me to play as a defenseman," said the 18-year-old, a defenseman for Chicoutimi of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. "I remember crying about it because I always wanted to play forward and I liked to score goals.
"That's why I play an offensive style."
It's a style that suits him pretty well. The native of Kazan, Russia, has 26 points (10 goals, 16 assists) in his first 43 games in the QMJHL and has established himself as the quarterback of Chicoutimi's defense corps.
He has also made huge strides in his own zone and has gracefully adapted to the North American style of play. His intelligence, mobility and offensive instincts have earned the No. 40 ranking in NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of North American skaters eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver on June 21-22.
"He came here with a perfect attitude, especially his desire to learn," Chicoutimi coach Yanick Jean said. "Sometimes the young players who come here think they've made it, but he's really here to learn the North American style, to progress and get to play in the NHL someday.
"We worked a lot on his defense. In the first 10 games, he wasn't happy because it wasn't clicking. He knew he had to progress, and the improvement was dazzling."
Knianzev's progression is even more surprising because it has been concurrent with him trying to adapt to two new languages, French and English, and a city that bears no resemblance to the one he grew up in.
But he is driven by a desire to do things right in all aspects of his new life; it took him less than a month to be able to communicate with his coach and his teammates in English.
Despite all these changes and being far from his family, nothing seems to get to Kniazev. Except maybe one thing.
"The biggest problem is learning French," he laughed. "Our city is probably the most French-speaking in all of Quebec. I have started to learn some of the language, though I can't really speak it yet. But I understand a bit.
"My billet family is helping me a lot. It's a good league, I like the speed and I like my team and my teammates. Everything is going well. "
Though he was almost never able to watch a live NHL game as a child, Kniazev has pretty much always wanted to be a hockey player and made the decision to play in the Canadian Hockey League four years ago.
"We mostly saw NHL players in the world championships and watched the highlights on social media," Kniazev said. "This is the dream of all hockey players. I knew I would improve my game even more by playing here and moving closer to the NHL.
"It was tough the first three or four days. I obviously miss my family and friends, but I regularly talk to them by video call."
Since his arrival in Chicoutimi, Kniazev finally has the opportunity to watch NHL games on TV, but he rarely gets to watch his idol Erik Karlsson at work; most San Jose Sharks games begin after his curfew because of the time difference.
At the rate things are going, he may finally be able to admire him, but not too much, when they share the same ice a few years from now.
"He's going to play at the next level, I have no doubt," Jean said of Kniazev. "He has all the tools to succeed, including the toolbox. And the toolbox is his head."