When the Buffalo Sabres signed Victor Antipin out of the KHL in the offseason, what we knew about the defenseman was mostly restricted to on-ice habits. We knew he was a fast, puck-moving defenseman, an ideal fit for a Phil Housley system.
Then, on Friday, Housley clued us into another intangible that Antipin has shown during his brief time in Buffalo.
"He's a student of the game," Housley said. "He really absorbs a lot, likes to watch a lot of video trying to understand our concepts. He's like a sponge."
Prior to camp, Antipin spent time with assistant coach Chris Hajt learning the subtleties of Housley's system and the North American game in general. Hajt said the sessions were arranged to prevent information overload once on-ice activity began.
"We identified it as something important for him, coming from Russia and making sure he understands what's going on so he can just concentrate on playing," Hajt said. "We didn't want him to see it for the first time on the first day of camp. It'd be very overwhelming. So we kind of got ahead of it and made sure to explain to him how we're going to play and his role within that system."
Antipin has seven KHL seasons under his belt, so of course there were some concepts he understood right away. Others required Hajt to break out the white board or pull up video, and in those instances he found he was dealing with an avid learner.
Hajt recalls trying to cut one session short after coaches felt they had given Antipin enough information for a day. The defenseman wouldn't have it.
"He was like 'no, no, no, more,'" Hajt said. "He's very keen. He cares a lot about the game and wants to put his best foot forward."
It's in that same vein that Antipin has taken on his assimilation into North American culture. Having been born in Kazakhstan and having spent his entire career in Russia, Antipin is brand new to the English language, yet he's insisted on working through interviews without the help of a translator.
He's found a teammate to lean on in Vasily Glotov, who moved from Russia himself to play in the QMJHL prior to last season. Glotov had more experience with English then than Antipin - he'd played in North American tournaments and taken classes in Russia - but even now, he's still adjusting.
"I was the same way. I was like, 'I do hockey' and stuff," Glotov said. "Now I watch TV shows no problem. But I'm still learning."
Glotov, 20, has served as a tutor of sorts for Antipin. He uses methods that helped him learn English, like writing down words and phrases to create visual memory.
"Let's say I say a Russian word, you're not going to remember it in two weeks," Glotov said. "But if you write it by yourself or if you see it on a screen a couple times, you'll remember it. Same for him."
Antipin has taken well to Buffalo, and said he's happy with how the opening of camp has gone. Hajt said he's improved each day at practice, and he's shown the speed and ability to move the puck that made him a star in the KHL.
"He's a real good kid," Hajt said. "He's very keen and very coachable. Going through video and talking with him, he wants to know everything that's going on and he wants to do things the right way. He's definitely has enthusiasm about the game where you can tell he loves the game and he loves playing it."
Scandella absent from practice
Video: HOUSLEY: After Practice
Marco Scandella took a maintenance day and did not practice Sunday. The defenseman underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left hip at the end of last season.
"He really went after it yesterday," Housley said. "Just testing it out he was a little sore, so no sense in rushing him back into play. He looked really good, I'm really happy with his effort. Just a maintenance day, we'll see after today what happens."
Lines at Sunday's practice
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
67 Benoit Pouliot - 23 Sam Reinhart - 52 Stevie Moses
49 C.J. Smith - 51 Kyle Criscuolo - 95 Justin Bailey
25 Seth Griffith - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 59 Cliff Pu
64 Vaclav Karabacek
45 Brendan Guhle - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
19 Jake McCabe - 27 Taylor Fedun
8 Casey Nelson - 38 Cody Goloubef
58 Austin Osmanski - 53 Devante Stephens
40 Robin Lehner
35 Linus Ullmark
34 Jonas Johansson
9 Evander Kane - 15 Jack Eichel - 29 Jason Pominville
26 Matt Moulson - 22 Johan Larsson - 24 Hudson Fasching
83 Vasily Glotov - 10 Jacob Josefson - 13 Nicholas Baptiste
44 Nicolas Deslauriers - 12 Kevin Porter - 46 Eric Cornel
62 Brendan Hagel
82 Nathan Beaulieu - 47 Zach Bogosian
41 Justin Falk - 93 Victor Antipin
4 Josh Gorges - 5 Matt Tennyson
79 Vojtech Budik - 54 Brycen Martin
31 Chad Johnson
32 Adam Wilcox
33 Jason Kasdorf