The Atlanta Thrashers and Washington Capitals don't know what the "Russian factor" is. Both teams selected Russian players, as did the St. Louis Blues with Vladimir Tarasenko, in the first round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
The Thrashers selected center Alexander Burmistrov from Barrie (OHL) at No. 8 overall. The Capitals picked Evgeny Kuznetsov, a center that played with Chelybinsk of the KHL last season, at No. 26 overall.
Two great kids, with the right attitude. I spoke with both of them after they were drafted, beginning with Burmistrov:
Q. Congratulations on being drafted in the first round and making it to the NHL. Did you think you were going to get drafted so high?
BURMISTROV: Thank you for the congratulations. As for being drafted, yes, I was waiting for it. I was waiting for the Atlanta Thrashers to pick me.
Did you know that Atlanta was going to pick you?
I didn't know it, but I was waiting for it.
Tell us what you felt when your name was called. This happens only once in a lifetime.
I honestly cannot describe this feeling to you. I had never experienced anything like that in my life: I was all excited, I was actually shaking like I was about to fall. I couldn't stop smiling when I was walking towards the stage. And then I stepped on the stage and that's it, I felt like I finally made it to the NHL.
Did it sink in?
Actually, it's still difficult to comprehend.
Did you get any hits from the Thrashers at the combine that they were going to pick you?
It was tough, but the most interest I had was from Atlanta. That's why I was waiting for them to pick me.
After that did you do your research on the Thrashers: the type of team they are, the style of play they have?
I actually knew a lot about them even before the combine. I know they are a young team, an ambitious team. I heard that Atlanta is a good city, it's warm there. I spoke with the head coach, with the general manager, with all the scouts. It was all very nice.
Did they tell you what they expect from you?
No one told me what is expected from me. I need to work very hard in order to get to play in the NHL. I am going to attend the rookie camp to start working.
Where will you spend the next season?
I will be here in North America. I don't need to have any agreements with the KHL because Ak Bars has already let me go. Everything is great and decided with Ak Bars. I do have a year left on my KHL contract, but this year does not matter. Ak Bars let me go. That's it.
That means we will see you playing for the Thrashers in September?
Well, I need to work really hard to make it happen. So, if I work hard and make the team, then you will see me playing for the Thrashers in September.
Do you feel Atlanta is a good fit for you and your playing style?
I hope so. I know that there are a lot of changes right now in Atlanta with the new general manager and the new head coach. We'll see. I don't know right now, I can't say. I know that with the changes every player will work hard to make the team. I am ready for it. There are no bad teams in the NHL.
Now, here is Kuznetsov, taken by the Capitals:
Q. Was it a surprise for you to be picked in the first round? Or did you expect it to happen?
KUZNETSOV: Actually no. I was waiting and waiting, and then after about the 20th pick I gave up my hope. I thought I'd have to come back the next day and then Washington picked me. I was waiting to be picked 15th or about there, and then when the 24th pick was traded, and then Chicago picked, I thought ‘That's it.' Players I had never heard before were being picked. I thought ‘That's OK.' And then the Capitals called my name.
Did you get any hints from teams that they were going to pick you?
Not really. All the teams talked about the same things. They kept saying: ‘Everything is good; you're a good player; you're very talented.' And then none of them picked me but Washington. I remember speaking with Washington at the combine. It was a good talk, but we didn't talk about hockey at all. We just talked about life in general, that's all.
What did you feel when George McPhee called your name?
I was so happy. It felt like I dropped a stone from my shoulders. I was just so extremely happy. And then all of a sudden I got nervous. I don't know why! Until then I was calm. But when my name was announced I just got so very nervous. But then it got better when I went to do interviews. But overall it is such a nice feeling when you have people who believe in you and pick you in the first round.
I am sure you know it is going to be tough to fight for a spot in the NHL. Are you ready for the tough work ahead, including possibly spending some time in the minors?
I fully understand that it is very difficult to get on such a team, where they win most of the time, won the President's Trophy last season, they have a lot of lines set and team chemistry. But the club and I will talk about it and what's best for my future. Maybe it's best for me to play a year in the AHL or the KHL. It will all be decided when I come to the rookie camp on July 11. They will look at me and what I have to offer, and then they will decide if I am ready.
What about your KHL contract? You have 2 years left, is it correct?
Yes, I do have two years left on my KHL contract. But I would really want to come over earlier. A compensation for my contract needs to be paid. It is my childhood dream to play in the NHL.
[According to KHL rules, in order to buy out a contract, a player must pay his team 2/3 of the contract value. Despite what you may have heard, rookies in the KHL do not make a lot of money and that 2/3 is very manageable for an NHL team to buy out a player].
With you being Russian, is there a special feeling that it's Washington?
Yes, of course! When I came up to the stage, Alex Ovechkin(notes) called me to personally congratulate me and to welcome me to the Capitals. We spoke a little bit, even though I have never met him in person, and he doesn't know me. But it was a very nice feeling.
You must know a lot about Washington because the team gets a lot of coverage in Russia due to the number of Russian players on the team.
What can you bring to the Capitals?
It's difficult to answer this question right now. I don't think I will be lost or make the team worse when I make the team. I think I will fit in well. Russian guys differ from North American players with their style of play. I think I can bring only the positive.