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Zherdev happy to show he's complete player

by Mike G. Morreale
It appears as though Nikolai Zherdev is determined to make his second NHL tour of duty a memorable one with the Philadelphia Flyers.

In his initial conference call with the media Wednesday after signing a one-year deal with the club July 9, Zherdev fielded questions regarding his return to the League following a one-year stint in the Kontinental Hockey League.

"I'm very happy to be back in the NHL," Zherdev said via Russian translator Alexander Tyjnych. "I had some difficulty last season signing a contract in the NHL and I made the decision to stay one season in Russia. But 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. It's a new team, new teammates, new coach, new organization, new city, but I'm a hockey player. I still have my tools and I like to show to everybody I'm still a good hockey player."

The Columbus Blue Jackets made Zherdev the fourth pick of the 2003 Entry Draft. He had 27 goals and 54 points in 2005-06, his second season, and followed that with 26 goals and a career-best 61 points in 2007-08. After being traded to the New York Rangers that summer, he had a team-best 23 goals in his one season in New York. Following that season, an arbitrator awarded him a $3.9 million salary for 2009-10. The Rangers decided to pass, making Zherdev an unrestricted free agent. When no NHL teams made him good offers, he packed his bags to join Atlant Moscow of the KHL.

Last season, he had 13 goals and 39 points in 52 games. He was second on the team with 26 assists, third in points, and led the squad with 79 penalty minutes.

Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren is hoping Zherdev can return to the form that made him such a significant factor in the early stages of his NHL career. He has 29 power-play goals and 78 points on the man advantage in his five NHL seasons.

"I have skills, good puck control and hockey sense," Zherdev said. "It probably would be good for me, and if coach (Peter Laviolette) makes the decision, to play on the power play. I'm changing my style and trying to play more defensive zone. I think, right now, I'm two-way player. Before, I was probably more forward ... playing more of the attacking zone. The last couple seasons, I've been more defensive zone, too."

"I'm changing my style and trying to play more defensive zone. I think, right now, I'm two-way player. Before, I was probably more forward ... playing more of the attacking zone. The last couple seasons, I've been more defensive zone, too."
-- Nikolai Zherdev

That should be music to Holmgren's ears, since the knock on Zherdev was his carelessness in the defensive end. On top of that, the Zherdev signing could very well spell the end for Simon Gagne, the top-line left wing regarded as an excellent two-way forward. is reporting Gagne's agent has been allowed to speak with other teams regarding potential trades.

It'll be interesting to see where Zherdev is inserted into the lineup at training camp. If Gagne is traded, would Zherdev assume a top-line role alongside center Mike Richards and Jeff Carter? Or could he line up next to young forwards Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk on a highly offensive third line?

"I don't pay much attention to the people who write about me about bad things or good things," Zherdev 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."

Zherdev admitted he doesn't regret his decision to play overseas but, at the same time, didn't benefit from it either.

"I'm a hockey player and got a good offer from the KHL team and I knew some players and coaches from Russia, and I'm from Russia, so we decided to stay back one year," he said. "There were no benefits playing one year in Russia. For me, it was to play hockey."

Well, maybe there was one significant benefit.

"I did find my wife, so right now I'm happy man," said Zherdev, who was married in Moscow to his girlfriend of several years, Evgeney, on July 3. "I missed a season in the NHL, but found my lady."

Zherdev wouldn't elaborate on whether other teams were competing for his services; the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs were reportedly interested.

"I don't want to talk about other teams, but I'm happy being on the Philadelphia Flyers and I look forward to coming to Philadelphia and playing all year for the Flyers," he said. "This is more important for me now. This is a team that would like to have me and I made a choice to be in Philadelphia."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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