Special to floridapanthers.com
For Evgeni Dadonov, the Panthers 3rd round pick in last years draft, getting to the World Junior Championships representing his homeland, Russia, in the Czech Republic has been a long time coming. The 18 year old winger has been slowly but surely making a name for himself in the Russian elite league.
However, making a name for himself on Russia’s U20 squad has been a little more difficult. One of the world’s traditional hockey super powers, Russia challenges for the World Championship every January. This tournament is not just a grouping of the best players from one league or one country, but rather it is comprised of the best players from around the world. Dadonov’s improved play has gotten him included in this elite group on the world’s biggest junior stage.
Last season, Dadonov made his way to Russia’s biggest stage in their Super league – the top professional league in the mother land. In limited time in 24 games, Dadonov managed to put up a single goal and assist. It was a year spent learning the league, the style of play, his teammates, and more importantly: himself. It is normal for younger players to total marginal numbers in their first season or two with the bigger and stronger opponents.
This season, his second suiting up for Chelyabinsk Traktor, Dadonov has been able to make more of a name for himself. He has already quadrupled his point totals from last year – he’s got 8 points thus far in the same amount of games as last season.
Getting playing time on Russia’s deepest and most talented junior team has been more of a challenge for Dadonov. While he has dressed in every game thus far in the tournament, he has only seen limited fourth line action. Only halfway through the tournament, Dadonov definitely realizes a difference in style of play between the international and Russian elite league levels.
“I haven’t played too much so far in the tournament, but you can tell that the play is much faster. It’s tougher to make decisions when you have the puck,” Dadonov said following one of Russia’s practices in Liberec, Czech Republic.
Just making it to this level is an honor for Dadonov, who has taken six shots on net thus far in the tournament.
“I want to do anything I can to help my team win this tournament. On a personal level, I want to score as much as possible, but the team comes first,” he continued.
His team, which many predicted to get to the gold medal game, has captured the silver medal in each of the last three years – but has failed to beat Canada to win it all. Russia last won the tournament in 2003, which was their second consecutive tournament victory. This year, Russia dropped their third game to the United States, who was the winner of their preliminary group. This pits Dadonov’s squad against the host nation, the Czech Republic, in the quarterfinals tomorrow afternoon in Pardubice.
Dadonov, a smallish but crafty forward, is a hard worker who is not afraid to take the body. He loves to bring a physical edge to the game. He will battle through everything to get to the puck and doesn’t back down to anyone despite his 5’10” 178 lb. frame. His coach, Sergei Nemchinov, a 13 year NHL veteran, has nothing but praise for Dadonov.
“He is a good two way forward, he can score and he can do almost anything on the ice. He can play in any position and we can put him with any players. He has great quickness,” Nemchinov said. “He has the skills [to get to the NHL] but he needs to get stronger, like most players here,” he continued.
Dadonov needs to add at least 15 to 20 pounds in order to get to NHL playing shape, but he also needs to make some improvements to his game. None the less, Dadonov was thrilled to be drafted by Florida.
“It is a great feeling [to be drafted]. I want them to know that I am willing to help whenever they call me,” Dadonov said.
Dadonov said that he is in constant communication with Vadim Podrezov, who is Florida’s Russian scout. The two talk very often and Dadonov said that Podrezov is always giving him tips and advice on how to best navigate the Super league waters.
With Dadonov growing and developing so much in just one season of Russian super league play, don’t be surprised to see him in North America in the next few seasons. Hopefully when he arrives he will make a splash in a Panthers jersey.
NOTE: Panthers prospect Sergei Gayduchenko
, a 7th round pick, was listed as a third goaltender for the Russian team but he did not make the trip over to the Czech Republic. He stayed to play for Novokuznetsk Metallurg in the Russian super league. He is a huge goaltender: 6’5” 222 lbs, and he is only 18 years old.