On Oct. 21, 2022, the Minnesota Wild reassigned left wing Vladislav Firstov from its’ AHL affiliate in Des Moines, Iowa to the KHL’s Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo in Western Russia.

Many Wild fans within the State of Hockey wondered what that meant for Minnesota’s 2019 second round pick (#42 overall). This move evolved into a critical stop in Firstov’s hockey journey, one that could lead him to the NHL.

“I just wanted to be back home and get better,” said Firstov.  “I think it was a better place for me because all my family was there. I wanted to spend time with them and work on my game.”

This makes complete sense for a young man that left his hometown at age 17 to chase his dream of playing in the NHL. “Vladdy” initially left Russia for the United States in 2018 and was gone for a total of four years.

During that time, he played one season for the USHL’s Waterloo Blackhawks, scoring 58 points over 62 games. The draft eligible Firstov was selected by Minnesota the following summer.  To acclimate to the North American style of play, he enrolled at UCONN for three years, which included shortened seasons due to COVID.

At the end of his junior year as a Huskie, Firstov turned pro, joining the Iowa Wild for the final eight games of the season in the spring of 2022. He returned to Des Moines the next fall, but after one game, Firstov was headed home with no timeframe for a return.

His comfort level and confidence simultaneously blossomed upon returning home to play in the KHL. Firstov joined the Torpedo for the final 47 games of the 22-23 season, posting 11 goals and 26 points.

“It's a fun style of hockey,” Firstov explained about the KHL. “It's also hard hockey too. Some teams are so skilled and fast. The ice is bigger. It's such a great league with so many good players, especially imports who played in North America. Many imports played in the NHL. It's pretty unbelievable.”

Firstov was even better this past season, tying for third on the club with 35 points and 17 goals in 67 games played, all career highs. Former Detroit Red Wings and Russian hockey legend, Igor Larionov, was his head coach in Novgorod. The highly decorated and offensively gifted former forward had a knack for creating offense, something Firstov was able to learn from.

“I think I have more skill and vision, while learning to move the puck pretty well,” added Firstov. “Our coach was Igor Larionov from Detroit’s ‘Russian Five.’ The way he played was unbelievable. It’s everything from how they moved the puck and how they skated. They were physically on or around guys, and hard on the puck. It was important for me to learn how to play without the puck.” 

The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder knew to achieve his NHL dream he needed to return to North America and show off his upgraded skillset. On Mar. 17, just days after concluding his second KHL season, Firstov found himself back in the lineup for the AHL’s Iowa Wild. 

Just like his KHL numbers, the young winger improved in the AHL from his prior stint. In his first nine AHL games, he set up two goals. This past spring, Firstov scored his first two AHL goals and totaled four points in ten games. His AHL coach believes the left wing has made big strides.

“A lot of us really like him”, said Iowa Wild Head Coach Brett McLean.  “He's a lot thicker than I remember. He's grown into a young man now. He was more a kid when I saw him last.

“I’m real impressed with his awesome demeanor. He is happy all the time and very open to communication. I've been happy with him, and he's got a great skill set.  It's been a quality re-entry for him back into our organization.”

With one more year remaining on his contract, Firstov knew he would be back in North America for the final year. Despite starting his hockey season in August and playing a full season in the KHL, he knew how to make an impact in the fall of 2024, he needed to return to show his best hockey.

“I think that's why this experience is so valuable for him,” added McLean.  “To come over here and see how we do things and how we expect him to play. When he comes to training camp in the fall, he can hit the ground running.

“Obviously, we've got a lot of forward prospects with that kind of same skillset. There's going to be healthy competition with these guys. Vladdy's got to come in and have a very good fall, followed by a very good season next year to make his stamp where he sits in the pecking order within the organization.”

Firstov knows where he stands and the importance of his summer as he prepares to return to Saint Paul in the fall. Vladislav plans to practice hard and work on his NHL dream by breaking into the organization that drafted him 42 overall in 2019.