"He's very competitive. He hits. You see him get edgy on the ice and go play the body on somebody. He plays physical, too. Doesn't shy away, he goes into corners. He's not afraid to play in the high-traffic areas." -- Todd Watson on Ivan Telegin
When Saginaw Spirit coach Todd Watson was asked what it took to lure Ivan Telegin to the team from Russia, he said simply, "It was a lot of work."
So far, Telegin is proving to have been worth the effort.
The 6-foot-3, 185-pound center leads all Ontario Hockey League rookies with 18 goals and 31 points. He was OHL Rookie of the Month for October and November, and was ninth in NHL Central Scouting's preliminary ranking of OHL skaters.
"He is a big guy who uses his size very well," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "He is most effective when he is taking the body and separating opponents form the puck. … He has been used both on the power play and penalty kill units this season in Saginaw. He has a very good wrist shot. He has been adjusting to the North American game very well."
Watson has watched that adjustment first-hand.
"He's very competitive," Watson told NHL.com. "He hits. You see him get edgy on the ice and go play the body on somebody. He plays physical, too. Doesn't shy away, he goes into corners. He's not afraid to play in the high-traffic areas."
"I am somewhat surprised at my goal production," Telegin told NHL.com through an interpreter. "I am very happy that I have played well so far and look forward to better things in the future."
Playing on the smaller North American rinks for the first time, as well as getting used to a tough, 72-game OHL schedule, has been a challenge. But Telegin says the off-ice issues have been just as challenging.
"The biggest thing was food," Telegin said. "As to hockey, I had to start thinking quicker on the ice. Smaller ice surface required some adjustments as well, but I think I have done that and feel pretty comfortable now."
Watson now feels just as comfortable with Telegin. It took a while, though, because prior to Telegin's arrival in Saginaw, Watson hadn't seen him play. Rather, he trusted the team's Director of Scouting James Paliafito, who encouraged the club to draft Telegin with 42nd pick of the 2009 CHL Import Draft.
"Jim was so confident. I didn't know who he was, that his guy would be there," Watson said. "We didn't take him until the second round. If I knew what I know now, I never would have waited. (Paliafito) worked on this for a while and it was a great pick."
It took a lot of negotiating with Telegin's Russian team, Metallurg Novokuznetsk, but it didn't take Watson long to realize the fruits of all that labor.
"I think it was in the first regular-season game," Watson said. "You could just tell in his play -- he hustled, he was aggressive, he hits, he competes hard. He's got a scoring touch."
Away from the ice, the development hasn't been as smooth, but it's coming along. Telegin speaks almost no English, but he is taking lessons.
"It's slow," Watson said. "It's just OK. I'm not saying he's resistant, but its going slow."
It's made communication challenging, but Watson said some hockey language doesn't really need translation.
"You do a lot of drawing on the grease board," he said. "You do it that way, you talk to him. Video is the best probably to show him stuff. It's something … just little bits and pieces of everything. There's nothing set that's the best."
"I rarely speak with anyone because my English is pretty poor, although in a team environment I have no trouble understanding," Telegin said. "When a coach needs to explain something, he uses a board and I get it. Overall, when it comes to hockey, I think it goes pretty good. At the rink I understand everything I need to know."
Talking with his teammates can be an issue as well, but Watson said so far things look to be fine.
"He understands what you're saying," linemate Josh Shalla said. "He just has a harder time saying it back to you. It gets done. Slowly, but it gets done."
Telegin has translated his game quite well, even convincing Watson to change a few of his own plans.
"When he started here we put him on the goal line on the power play and he couldn't speak any English at the time and he'd point to the front of the net that he wanted to play in front of the net," Watson said. "At first we did what we thought was best and then he kept going there. We figured we might as well let him go there. He likes the traffic, he likes the rebounds, he gets loose pucks. He's done a little move where he'll spin off the defenseman in front and get a pass and tap one in."
Telegin currently is playing at the World Junior Championship for Russia. After that, he'll return to Saginaw, where he'll continue seeing the OHL's best checkers and defense pairings on a nightly basis.
"When he started you could put him out against the second or third defense pairings and no one really knew him," Watson said. "Now he's checked more closely, he's the focal point of other teams. … There's no surprising anybody any more."Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com