Burdasov must show Oilers he wants to be NHL player, not just make NHL money

Russia's Anton Burdasov. (Nathan Denette/CP)

EDMONTON — Anton Burdasov’s agent says that if a trip to the minors is deemed necessary for the player’s assimilation to North American hockey, he’ll go. No problem.

As long as he has a one-way contract.

The Edmonton Oilers, meanwhile, aren’t sure they’ll be able to see the jet-lagged Russian in a pre-season game before the weekend, when the team jets to Kelowna for some golf and two practices after having cut down to around 30 players.

So they’ll dance the dance, a 28-year-old Russian import with a wicked wrist shot, and a team flush with centremen that could sure use some production from the right side.

“How quickly can he pick things up?” asked head coach Dave Tippett, who told the story of Burdasov’s arrival at Oilers camp on Wednesday on a PTO.

Oilers assistant coach Glen Gulutzan and an interpreter — agent Shumi Babayev — poured over some video on Wednesday, trying to give the player a feel for how the Oilers do things on the ice. “The funny part was,” Tippett said, “after they went through everything, Burdasov wanted to be tested. So he’s trying to pick it all up quickly. We’ll see where he gets to.

“One thing is evident, just from the (Wednesday) practice: He shoots the puck a ton. Like, he can let it go. We’ll see where the rest of his game is. He’s a shooter, I know that.”

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It would have been a great idea for Burdasov to have agreed to this PTO in August and arrived here for what they call ‘Captain’s Skates,’ where most of the team gets ready for camp in practices run by the assistant coaches. But there were visa problems, Babayez says, although it also possible that getting something with more security than a PTO was also an issue.

In the end, Burdasov brought his talents to Oilers camp in a late bid for an NHL career. At six-foot-three and 200-some pounds, he looks very much like a player. And he has the shot, which doesn’t necessarily mean he has a shot, but it can’t hurt.

To his credit, Burdasov asked if he could handle his introductory press conference in English on Thursday. He did not, however, manage to handle a single question without the help of Babayev.

Why was this the right time to come over?

“A team with a great history. One of the best centres in the league,” he said. “That’s (why this) is the time I should use this chance.”

Did he come here to play with Connor McDavid?

“I’ll be glad to play with all players, if I will catch (on with) the team,” he wisely responded. “I have a good shot. There are so many skilled players here, so I can try to be one of the ones who finishes that. The team will have more scores.”

A finisher. That would be nice, on an Oilers team that had two of the top four point-producers in the game last season, yet finished 12th from the bottom in goals scored.

It sounds far-fetched: Russian sniper arrives halfway through camp on a PTO, makes team and scores 25 goals. This isn’t Mystery, Alaska, even if it’s going to feel that way outside in Edmonton in about six weeks.

But it’s a familiar hockey journey, one that has been made by many, many Euros over the the years.

“Everything is different, the culture, you have all new people around you,” said Tomas Jurco, who came from Slovakia to play junior hockey in Saint John a decade ago. “It’s tough, but there are a lot of battles you’re going to go through if you’re going to chase your dream. He came here, he wants to play in the NHL. Good for him.”

Dimitri Samorukov made the same trip, leaving the Red Army club system and landing in Guelph as a 17-year-old.

“I had, like, 15 words in my head. ‘Hello. How are ya?’ Simple words,” said Samorukov, who will be the player Burdasov leans on, though Samorukov is likely AHL-bound in the next couple of days. “You were just looking at people, and you didn’t know what they were saying.”

They say hockey is an international language, and Burdasov certainly knows one term: One-way contract.

If he really wants to make it here, he may want to expand his vocabulary. Show some promise, sign a two-way contract, and the Oilers will know that he is here to be an NHL player. Not simply to earn NHL money.

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