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Houston’s Opponents Have A Problem

by Staff Writer / Minnesota Wild

Rob Daum isn’t easy to impress. When you have been around hockey players as long as the Head Coach of the Houston Aeros has, it takes something to leave more than just a faded memory.

Roman Voloshenko has made Daum take note. The Wild’s second round pick, 42nd overall, in the 2004 NHL Draft is the type of player you can’t help but notice.

As far as Daum is concerned, it said a lot about Voloshenko as a person when the rookie arrived in
 Voloshenko and his linemates, Erik Westrum and Kirby Law, all rank in the top 10 among AHL scorers. (courtesy: Kirk Sides)
Houston with more than just a rudimentary grasp of English. That spoke well about the character of the prized prospect and it made the transition from Brest, Belarus to Houston via a couple of years in Moscow to go really well.

“He has a real neat personality. He is a very likeable, enthusiastic. happy type of person and he always has that demeanor when he comes to the rink,” says Daum.

Next on the list, and not in any particular order, is the fact that Voloshenko is hard-working, consciences and easy to coach.

Then there was the package of offensive skills Voloshenko brought to the rink every night, whether at home or on the road. Daum thinks Voloshenko has NHLer written all over him.

“He has excellent offensive instincts and he does things with the puck and he moves into key areas to score,” says Daum. “He has an excellent shot and as time progresses he will be able to make things happen and from anywhere in the offensive zone. Right now his instincts to get to the open ice are what separate him.

“He sees the ice well and he anticipates the plays well and he is always going to areas where the puck is going to come to,” continues Daum. “Then around the net when he gets the puck, he is very good as well, not only from a scoring perspective . . . if he is not the best person to get the shot away, he can find other people who are in a better spot than he is. I would not consider him strictly a scorer.”

Voloshenko plays on a line with Eric Westrum and Kirby Law. The trio were all in the AHL’s top 10 scorers as this was being written (Westrum was second overall with 24 points, Law was fifth with 19, and Voloshenko was 9th with 15). Houston was the only AHL team with three players in the top 10 scoring leaders.

Voloshenko became the first Aeros player to record back-to-back hat tricks in consecutive home games and the first to record two in a season since Hnat Domenichelli did it on Jan. 22 and 29, 2003. After recording a hat trick in his first game at Toyota Center on opening night, he scored another hat trick a few nights later.

But this should come as no surprise. When he played on Russia’s national teams as a teenager, Voloshenko was consistently among the top scorers in pressure tournaments like the World Junior Championships and the World Under-18 Championships.

But that’s not to say Voloshenko doesn’t have a few things to work on, such as his skating and the defensive side of the puck.

“His skating has been questioned by many but I do not think it has been a big a deterrent as people think. He gets to places quickly enough and he still has to work on that part of his game and he does work at it. He has made strides in becoming a better skater,” says Daum.

“His play without the puck is something that he really has to concentrate and get better at. If he wants to play at the next level he will have to do a better job without the puck, both from a defensive perspective and also offensively,” continued Daum. “When he does not have the puck he has to be a person who not also benefits from other people’s hard work but also can work hard and make things happen by putting quick pressure on the fore- check and those types of things.”

Those shortfalls can be applied to a vast majority of the teenagers taken in the draft over the years, however.

Daum is encouraged that Voloshenko understands what needs to be worked on.

“He gets the picture and some guys they tell you that but I know he is sincere about that and he is not paying lip service,” says the head coach.

Daum was asked to put himself in Voloshenko’s shoes, to step off the plane and be a stranger in a strange land. Daum is from the Canadian prairies and he found the move to Houston sometimes tough to handle.

“What I have gone through personally, having gone from Canada to Houston has been a huge change for me and I can’t imagine when someone comes over from a different country and does not have and understanding of the culture,” he says. “And to adjust is dramatic, and especially so for someone of a very young age. He has done a quick job of become used to the pro lifestyle and the city of Houston and the culture. He has embraced it and he is anxious to learn about it. He did whatever he could to fit in as quickly as possible and because of that, instead of wondering about things and whether he should do this or that, he has been very outgoing trying different things.”

There was a time when players coming to the NHL from Russia were basically on their own when they landed on this side of the Atlantic. Some harsh lessons were learned and clubs were quick to grasp they have to offer support.

“You have to be aware of that and support is important. We helped him getting a place, open a bank account and get social security number. He lives in an area where a number of the players are staying and it is a good group to get to games and practices.”

It’s not a stretch to project Voloshenko as a player who when he makes the jump to the Wild could play on the top two lines. He has the offensive upside and once he adds a defensive dimension to his game, he should play at the next level.

“His strengths, which have got him to this point, are his offensive skills, which makes you believe he will be a guy who will fit into the top two lines.”
Daum was asked whether any highlight stood out over the others, be it a spectacular goal or a shot that made his jaw drop in amazement.

“He has a heavy shot, quick release and he has made my jaw drop a couple of times and more so with the way he sees the ice. He is not a guy who will beat you one-on-one. But he made a pass the other night. . . wow. He had a chance to shoot and he slipped it over to a teammate. Great pass, great player.”

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