During the World Cup of Hockey 2004, Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Nikita Nesterov was an 11-year-old schoolboy in Chelyabinsk, Russia. He doesn't remember much about the tournament to the point where he's not sure he watched the games at all.
That won't be the case this year. Following an adjustment to Team Russia's roster, Nesterov will be playing in the World Cup of Hockey 2016.
Nesterov, 23, was in his hometown Monday when he received the news that Team Russia coach Oleg Znarok chose him to replace defenseman Slava Voynov. Voynov was named to Team Russia on May 27, but the NHL deemed him ineligible because he is serving an indefinite suspension stemming from his arrest on felony domestic violence charges on Oct. 20, 2014. That decision opened the door for Nesterov.
"Of course, I am excited to play at the World Cup," Nesterov told NHL.com. "[I] feel for Voynov, that's for sure, but this is life."
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Nesterov has never played for Znarok, but they faced each other in the Gagarin Cup Finals in 2013. Znarok's Dynamo Moscow defeated Nesterov's Traktor Chelyabinsk in six games to win the Kontinental Hockey League championship.
Team Russia opens training camp in St. Petersburg, Russia on Sept. 4. The World Cup runs Sept. 17 to Oct. 1, with all games to be played at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Games will be televised on ESPN in the United States and Sportsnet and TVA Sports in Canada.
Team Russia will be in Group B at the World Cup, with Team Finland, Team North America and Team Sweden. Its first game will be Sept. 18 against Team Sweden.
That schedule doesn't give Nesterov much time to prepare for the World Cup and the regular season with the Lightning, but he said it's not an issue.
"In general, the plan is right there where it had been before," he said. "I am [going] to California [to train] on July 25 and will be getting ready for the season. And now for the World Cup too, of course."
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In 57 games for Tampa Bay last season, Nesterov had three goals and nine points. He had an assist in nine Stanley Cup Playoff games during the Lightning's run to the Eastern Conference Final. Tampa Bay lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games. Nesterov has five goals and 16 points in 84 NHL games, all with the Lightning.
A restricted free agent, Nesterov hopes a good showing in the World Cup will lead to more playing time and success with the Lightning this season.
"No question, I'll be looking forward to winning the World Cup with Team Russia and then coming back to Tampa to prove myself," Nesterov said. "What I really want to get is coach [Jon Cooper]'s trust that translates into time on ice."
Nesterov, a fifth-round pick (No. 148) by Tampa Bay at the 2011 NHL Draft, is hoping to get a contract done soon with the Lightning, who this offseason have signed key players including captain Steven Stamkos, defenseman Victor Hedman, forward Alex Killorn and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to long-term contracts.
"It's not something I am involved with on an everyday basis," Nesterov said. "My agent's working on that, and I do hope to see any development as soon as possible. I really like to see the leaders being re-signed by the club. If I am staying in Tampa, it will be great to play alongside them."