Evgeni Nabokov arrived in the United States for his first Sharks development camp without even a pair of goalie pads.
“When he first came over to a goalie camp, he wasn’t allowed to bring his gear with him,” said Sharks Vice President and General Manager Wayne Thomas, who has worked with Nabokov, along with the great Warren Strelow, throughout his time in America. “Warren knew an equipment rep in the area and we threw a bunch of gear on him. He didn’t even miss a beat.”
Now Nabokov is preparing to play in his 500th NHL game. That contest will likely be this week in New York and during his 11 years wearing teal, Nabokov has set the bar far higher than any of his predecessors. He owns virtually every Sharks goaltending record, whether it’s for a season or a career.
With his three early season victories, Nabokov, who is due to play on the Russian Olympic in February, has passed Johnny Bower and now sits tied with Frank Brimsek at 36th overall with 252 victories. Next in his sites is Ken Dryden who is 35th with 258 victories. A third consecutive 40+ win campaign would propel Nabokov into a tie for 27th all-time. Names he could surpass this year include Felix Potvin, Kelly Hrudey and Bernie Parent.
With several more strong years, aligned with a potent Sharks club, it is possible Nabokov could reach the top 10 in the NHL wins category.
Almost as amazing as Nabokov’s durability in the pipes to win so many games is his tenure with the Sharks, as he ranks fourth all-time in wins for a player who has played his entire career with one team. Those ahead him, include Martin Brodeur, Turk Broda and Ken Dryden.
“It’s a testament to him,” said Wayne Thomas. “He’s had choices along the way and he’s continued to be a Shark. The Sharks have been good for him and he has been good for the Sharks.”
When Nabokov first arrived in San Jose for a complete season, he won the battle to be Steve Shields backup netminder. Shields was fresh off winning a Game 7 against St. Louis, but he suffered an injury and Nabokov seized the reigns.
“He was given the opportunity and he grabbed it,” said Thomas. “It was due to Steve Shields injury.”
Nabokov was a late round pick. To be specific he was a ninth round pick and that doesn’t even exist any more. That is not to say Nabokov wasn’t highly thought of though when he jumped to North America.
“When he first came over here, he had already had success in the Russian Elite League and in the European club championships,” said Thomas. “He had the pedigree before we brought him over.”
Nabokov has the ability to play any style necessary on a given play. He is so technically sound that he avoids a lot of the highlight reel saves. However, when the time comes, he is as acrobatic as anyone in the league. When he first played in Lexington (with the Sharks AHL affiliate Lexington Thoroughblades), he had to adjust to the new rink size and the requirement to handle the puck. That proved to be a quick fix for the talented youngster.
“When he started here he didn’t handle the puck much, but he became better at it and now he is one of the better guys in the league at handling the puck,” said Thomas. “He’s made all the adjustments.”
That Nabokov can adjust should not be a surprise. His father was a goaltender in Kazakhstan and the son has picked up tips from everywhere along the way. Whether it was his dad, Strelow or Thomas, Nabokov is ready to learn.
“He is a student of the game,” said Thomas. “He asks questions and wants answers.”
Nabokov did not become a full-time starter until he was in his mid-20s and that patience may have played a role in his continuity the past 11 campaigns.
“He wasn’t being asked too much too soon,” said Thomas. “I think we were patient and let John (an early nickname) develop. He was 25 by the time he took over the number one job. A lot of guys get thrown in too early and are not allowed another chance.”
The Sharks have always been a defensively aware club during Nabokov’s time in the crease, but he has adjusted to three separate coaches (Todd McLellan, Ron Wilson, and Darryl Sutter) in the time period without missing a step.
“He is very aware of what he needs to do (within a defensive scheme) and that has helped him,” said Thomas.
The veteran goaltender is also part of the veteran leadership group on the Sharks and is looked to postgame by the media for his perspective.
“I think all number one goaltenders need to bring leadership,” said Thomas. “Their play dictates how you are doing. You don’t want them to have to win every game because that means you’re not playing well. You do want them giving you a chance every game.”
And Nabokov has been doing that for more than a decade.
Dany Heatley, Dan Boyle
, Patrick Marleau
and Devin Setoguchi made a group appearance at the NHL Store today while in New York City.
Shark Byte, a monthly half-hour San Jose Sharks magazine show hosted by Sharks television color analyst and Emmy Award-winner Drew Remenda, will debut on Saturday, October 17 at 7:00 p.m. following Sharks Postgame Live (Sharks/Islanders) on Comcast SportsNet California.
The season premiere of Shark Byte begins with a sit-down interview with Sharks executive vice president and general manager Doug Wilson as he discusses the end of 2008-09 season, the season ahead, and the changes the team made during the off season. Newly acquired forward Dany Heatley joins the program and shares his thoughts on the Sharks, while coach Todd McLellan, center Joe Thornton
and Sharks radio play-by-play announcer Dan Rusanowsky talk about Heatley’s game and what he brings to the team.
After the October 17 debut (7:00 p.m.), Shark Byte replays on October 20 (10:30 p.m.), October 22 (7:30 p.m.), October 24 (7:00 p.m.) and October 25 (3:00 p.m.). Visit CSNCalifornia.com for additional air dates and time and information on upcoming episodes of Shark Byte.
The Sharks will visit the New York Islanders Saturday in a 4 p.m. PST affair that will be available on CSN California, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.