Russian Rookies Set for NHL Pre-Season Debuts in Philadelphia

The NHL pre-season gets underway tonight with nine games on tap around the league. One that we are keeping our eyes on tonight is the New Jersey Devils vs. Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center which will feature the debuts of Devils winger’ Alexander Vasyunov and Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. Vasyunov was selected to travel with the Devils for their first game after netting the over-time winner in yesterday’s scrimmage.

The 22-year-old Yaroslav native who spent last season with the Lowell Devils where he scored 15 goals and added 13 assists knows head coach John MacLean sees potential in his game as MacLean coached the farm club before being promoted this summer to the NHL. Vasyunov admitted he was nervous in his first appearance with the team that drafted him in 2006, telling beat reporters “before the game, maybe 30 minutes. Especially then I will be nervous.” Vasyunov has twice represented Russia in the World U18 Championship and the World U20 Championship in 2006 and 2007 respectively.

At some point in the game, Vasyunov will try to score on fellow compatriot Bobrovsky who will relieve Michael Leighton as the 22-year-old Novokuznetsk native is vying for the back-up spot with the Flyers. Like Vasyunov, Bobrovsky has represented Russia in both the revival of the Summit Series between Canada in 2008 as well as the U20 World Junior Championships.

Bobrovsky told Dmitry Chesnokov his intentions in North America saying, “I came to North America to play for the Flyers, not in the AHL,” adding, “I must do everything I can to make the team. There is always a chance.”

After finishing his five-year contract with Metallurg Novokuznetsk, which he signed at 18-years-old, Bobrovsky then signed an entry-level contract with the Flyers in hopes of cracking the squad. However it is very rare to see a goalie come from Europe and just pick up where they had left off abroad and thus flourishing in the NHL. Such as the case with Bobrosvsky who did not have a goalie coach with his Russian club nor was he required to move side to side as much as he will in the NHL.

As much as we here are for Russians making a name for themselves in the NHL it might just be a bit too soon for Bobrovsky to get the no.2 spot in Philadelphia especially with Brian Boucher still showing he has potential to step up when needed. While Flyers execs see a bright future for their new goalie I believe it’ll take some time for him to be considered for the starting gig.

Another problem is the language barrier as the goalie does not have full command of the English language quite yet, admitting to Chesnokov that “It is especially evident during games when I cannot communicate with our defensemen,” adding. “I just shout things in Russian to them. They don’t understand me yet [laughing]. I just try to say something, tell them where I want them to be and what I want them to do, but I just can’t do it yet.”

Semyon Varlamov, who is two years Bobrovsky’s senior spent at least 27 games in the AHL before eventually becoming a regular fixture with the Washington Capitals and if this is something to follow when it comes to young Russian goalkeepers the same will be done in Bobrovsky’s case.

Vasayunov is also unlikely to crack the Devils squad with the team still being nearly $3 million over the cap thanks to the NHL’s punishment over the Kovalchuk debacle. Could Vasayunov be called up during the season? This is how Vladimir Zharkov made the team so it’s certainly a possibility. Although the team is loaded with wingers so barring some unforeseen injury or trade it looks like Vasayunov will be in the AHL for at least another year.

The game will be televised on the NHL Network at 7 pm. However those in the New Jersey area are subject to blackout restrictions and will have to find other methods to watch.

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