photo of Kirill Kaprizov, photo credit – Андрей Чудаев
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Aivis Kalniņš of HockeyBuzz. Kalniņš is a Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) columnist/insider and is a great follow for insight on players and prospects across the pond.
In my interview with Kalniņš, we touched on many topics including North American players adjusting to life in the KHL, Kirill Kaprizov (Minnesota Wild prospect), Vasili Podkolzin (Vancouver Canucks prospect), Ilya Sorokin (New York Islanders prospect and more.
Let’s check out what Kalniņš had to say.
Josh: Many hockey fans in North America don’t really comprehend why the KHL is relatively low-scoring compared to the NHL. Can you talk about the style of play in the KHL and why the league is considered a low scoring one when you compare it to the NHL?
Aivis: It’s mainly because of the rink size. Puck gets overcarried a lot. Players try to make fancy plays. It’s just a whole different game over here which unfortunately affects goal scoring. However, the league is set to slowly switch to North American sized rinks as IIHF is working on doing the same across all European pro leagues.
Josh: Ilya Sorokin is coming off of a great season with CSKA Moskva. What are the attributes of his game that you like the most and what do you believe that he still needs to work on?
Aivis: Ilya is a super athletic goalie and he knows how to use that. His reflexes are at an elite level, his movements are very steady, especially when moving side-to-side in the crease. He could work a little more on puck tracking. He’s often caught making those desperation saves just because he sometimes loses the puck.
Josh: Nikita Gusev had an outstanding season with SKA St. Petersburg. He led the KHL in points. Do you believe that his offensive production will translate well to the NHL?
Aivis: I do believe that his production will translate well to the NHL. He’s one of not many players from KHL that can actually make the jump, adjust and make an impact. Gusev, Dadonov and Panarin have all been THE players that from the start to the end of their paths to the NHL have had me convinced that they are going to be big name players even in North America. You can look at Panarin – everyone loves him on and off the ice. Dadonov is also loved and is performing exceptionally well in a market like Florida so he’s a little underrated. Gusev has the same future ahead of him.
Josh: Kirill Kaprizov of CSKA Moskva is looking like the best drafted prospect in Russia. The Minnesota Wild are patiently waiting for him to come to Minnesota. If you had to compare Kaprizov to an NHLer (current or former), which player would you compare him to and why?
Aivis: I don’t think Im going to say that he reminds me of player X or Y. He’s a goal scorer, he’s fast, he can play along the boards. He’s a very well rounded player. Can play in both ends of the ice. He hasn’t even played a single game in the NHL but I already read him as an 80+ point guy in the league and that says a lot about him.
Josh: Miro Aaltonen had a great campaign with Vityaz Podolsk. In your opinion, does Miro look like he improved since his days with the Toronto Marlies or is he relatively the same?
Josh: What are your overall thoughts on Vasili Podkolzin?
Aivis: Canucks make the right choice. I had spoken to a few scouts and people in both KHL and NHL and heard that he was probably a top 3 prospect in the draft if it wasn’t for his KHL contract with SKA. NHL teams are scared because of the ”Russian” factor. Podkolzin is very similar to Alex Radulov but much faster. Very bright future for this kid.
Josh: Who are some KHLers that NHL teams might try to bring to North America next year? Are there a few KHLers that fans in North America should pay special attention to?
Josh: We’ve seen a lot of Americans and Canadians come play for KHL teams. Does it seem that it’s relatively easy for these players to come to the KHL and get used to living across the world? Do the players begin to learn the local languages (i.e. Russian, Finnish, Latvian)?
Aivis: It depends on where you sign. I’ve heard so many stories from so many players. The European based teams (Riga, Helsinki, Minsk) are usually more pleasant for the so-called import players. There is not as much of a culture shock. You’re not thrown into bear fights or whatever. It’s never easy to move to the other side of the world. Often players don’t see their families for months because of how hard it is to travel. Some players don’t even want to bring their families along. Traveling in KHL from city to city is a nightmare – you can never get used to that. There are cities in Russia that players absolutely hate to even be in but sometimes they offer the best money. I think all the players try to learn local languages to an extent, especially all the simple phrases and things like ”Hello”, ”Goodbye”, ”How are you”. There are some that love Europe and money so much that they change their hockey passports and move to these countries and even represent them in the IIHF competitions.
Thank You Aivis
Thank you Aivis for taking the time to speak with me. Look forward to interviewing you again in the future.
featured image photo credit – Андрей Чудаев, Wikipedia Commons (License Info)