Editor’s Note: This is an interview courtesy of the Nations’ roving Russian Reporter Andrey Osadchenko (@aosadchenko)
The best part of your season production-wise so far was probably November and early December. Why would you say your production went downhill since then?
I don’t know if it went downhill. I wouldn’t put it that way. Obviously, I was up and down. My production hasn’t been constant because I wasn’t in the same league. I was just playing simple, tried to get some pucks deep and also getting bounces. As a hockey player sometimes you can do things right and not score. And then you would all of a sudden have a great game and product 4-5 points. It definitely goes both ways.
Why did you get so many points in November then? Did it have anything to do with your mindset before the season?
No, in all honesty my mindset never changes. Whether I’d down here or whether I’m up, I just keep trying to work as hard as I can. Sometimes you’re getting the bounces that you need and sometimes you’re just not. And when you’re not you’ve got to work as hard as you can to get back to where you were. I played with some great hockey players and still am. I think maybe I should go to the net a little bit more. Maybe then I’ll get luckier.
Obviously enough, you’re still a young player. What was your objective going into this season? Was it more of a I-need-to-be-on-the-Leafs sort of mentality or you just hoped to get as many games in the NHL as you could?
Ever since I was drafted my mentality is to play in the NHL. That’s the goal. My goal is never accomplished until I’ve established myself as a full-time player in the NHLI mean, I just turned 21 a few months ago. Obviously, I’ve got to take some learning curves. And we got some extra bodies up there. I can assure I’m not going to be a disappointment. I’m going to be what everybody’s expecting.
How different is AHL Nazem Kadri from the NHL Nazem Kadri?
I don’t know if there really is much difference. Maybe I’m not touching the puck as much in the NHL. Up there the puck is never on my stick for more than 2 seconds. You get it and you’re getting right back. While here you can hold on to it a little more, try to make some plays and step up for your team. I really don’t think the things change so much. The fundamentals are still there. This is what they want to see when they’re calling me back up.
A lot of players say that they find it easier to play in the NHL because up there playing side-by-side with some elite pros they know exactly what they need to do, while in the AHL everything tends to be more spontaneous.
Very true. I think in the NHL everyone is just in the right spot in the right time. It’s almost like you don’t have to look when you pass the puck. You just make the play. Sometimes you don’t even pay attention and the puck ends up on your stick because everyone makes the right plays. Down here it’s a little bit harder. It’s more of a grinders game, I guess. More chirping the pucks, more forechecks… It’s just something you have to adapt to and I’ve done a pretty good job so far.
Did you have to adjust somehow to come out and play against such players as Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeny Malkin, Sidney Crosby, etc? Or that sort of thing just came to you naturally?
It’s huge playing against those guys. I’ve been watching them forever – since I’ve been wanting to play in the NHL. And then you line up against them, you across the face-off circle with them… it comes as a little bit of shock at first but you’re end up getting used to this. You just have got to focus on your game. When I’m on the bench I’m always trying to watch better players. I’m trying to see what they do well just in case I can take a few pointers from them.
Is there a player on the Leafs that you look up to like that?
They’re all good players, I think, really. Obviously, the most skilled guys that I think I model my play after are Lups – he’s a big presence, can handle the puck and shoot the puck, he’s got good vision – also Phil…These are just 2 great players that I try model myself after. Like I said, you learn not only when you’re not playing. When you’re on the ice, you’re into the game, you’re watching what’s going on. Sometimes they make plays that definitely catch you off guard and you kind of just go ‘Wow!’. That’s what I’m going to try to be. I know what I’ve got to do. I’ve got to watch and learn.
You recently played against Evgeny Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins. What was that like? Is he really the best player in the world right now?
He’s definitely right now. Hands down. I’d say for sure. This game in Pittsburgh was kind of a freak accident. We dominated most of the game and kept them off the score sheet. We contained them for about 55 minutes and in the last 5 minutes he found a way to score a goal, even the game up and sent it to overtime. That’s what great players do. Even though the first 55 minutes of the game didn’t go their way, they bounce back and come out to be a big part of it.
You weren’t sent down for the first time. Is this time any different?
Not really. I’m getting used to the feeling. Obviously, it’s not the feeling that I enjoy. I understand I think better than anyone else that my future is bright. I think the management realizes the potential. I understand. It’s just business. It gets complicated. I know I’m still in their plans so I’m going to work as hard as I can to be the best player as I can.