The Washington Capitals
have had a number of high-caliber Russian stars the last few seasons, including Alex Ovechkin
, Alexander Semin
, Sergei Fedorov
and Viktor Kozlov
But for one young Russian prospect, he found a kinship with a player from a non-Russian in a country in which he one day hopes to ply his own world-class skills.
When Nikita Zaytsev, a promising defenseman who could hear his name called early at the 2010 Entry Draft, was asked what NHL player he most enjoys watching, his answer was Calgary-born Mike Green
"I like to be part of the attack," Zaytsev told NHL.com through a translator. "But as a defenseman, I don't want to forget my responsibilities (on defense), too."
That's something Green is starting to learn at the NHL level -- the 31 goals he scored last season was a career high, as was his plus-24 rating.
Zaytsev already seems to have the defensive-zone play down. He was a plus-7 at the World Under-18 Championship last spring, and scouts are enamored with the 6-foot-1, 176-pounder's own-zone play.
"He's very steady in his game," NHL European Scouting Director Goran Stubb told NHL.com. "He's a more defensive, stay-at-home type of player, but he's really solid in his game."
His all-round abilities were on display at the Under-18 tournament, as he led all Russian defensemen with 4 assists and 5 points.
"He's very fast and very good defensively," Vladimir Tarasenko
, one of the top Russian forwards eligible for the 2010 draft, told NHL.com. "One-on-one it's very hard to play against him because he always has the right position."
Tarasenko would know first-hand, as the two are teammates with Sibir Novosibirsk in the Kontinental Hockey League.
In 17 games, the 18-year-old has just 1 assist and a minus-6 rating in 7:47 of ice time per game. But he's the fifth-youngest player in the league, and he's playing against men, some of whom have played in the NHL. Also, Sibir is 21st in the 24-team league.
While some of his compatriots have migrated to the Canadian Hockey League, Zaytsev believes staying in Russia was the best choice for him.
Many will debate what's better for European-born prospects -- staying in their home national league, where they can play against men, or coming to North America and getting used to playing on the smaller ice surface. The best answer the scouts can come up with is that each prospect needs to make the decision they feel is best for them.
"I feel I made a good decision to play in Russia," Zaytsev. "If I want to come to the NHL I have to be older, stronger, bigger body, so that's the right decision for me, to stay in Russia."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com