NASHVILLE, Tenn. – With a Vancouver Canucks media relations staffer and a goalie-teammate hovering over his interview, 22-year-old Russian winger Nikolay Goldobin self-consciously considered the question about why he would play on a minor-league salary in North America instead of making big rubles in the Kontinental Hockey League back home.
“Because you want to play in the NHL,” Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom helpfully suggested.
“That’s what I was going to say,” Goldobin responded. “Obviously.”
We figured as much, but it was still nice to hear Goldobin say it – sort of — in the wake of the Nikita Tryamkin defection from Vancouver back to Russia last summer.
Goldobin wants to play in the NHL so badly that he was the best player for the Utica Comets after he was assigned at the end of training camp back to the American Hockey League for a third straight season.
The only place Goldobin made the Canucks was in the media guide. He was badly outplayed by rookie Brock Boeser and third-year pro Jake Virtanen during the pre-season. So off Goldobin went to Utica.
Remember, the Canucks couldn’t even get Tryamkin to look at a map to see where Utica is located, and still the coddled Russian defenceman took his bride back to Yekaterinburg after one promising season in the NHL.
Goldobin, by contrast, is being made to earn anything he gets in North American hockey.
The 2014 first-round draft pick from the Sarnia Sting scored three times in 12 games for the Canucks after his February trade from the San Jose Sharks. Then Goldobin finished his season by scoring four goals in three AHL games, bringing his minor-league scoring total to 94 points in 118 AHL games.
With another 19 points in 18 games for the Comets this fall, Goldobin has earned the chance to make his season debut for the Canucks tonight against the Nashville Predators, although that is Travis Green’s decision and Vancouver’s coach wasn’t saying Wednesday what he will do.
After Tuesday’s uncompetitive 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders, and 11 days and five games into an eastern road trip, the Canucks need an injection of something. Goldobin, at least, would bring some speed and eagerness.
“There is a chance; that’s why he’s here,” Green said of Goldobin, called up from Utica after centre Brandon Sutter suffered an undisclosed injury Friday in New Jersey and was sent home. “As far as is there a good chance, we’ll see tomorrow how good it is. There’s lots of different options we talk about, think about. And at the end of the day, you take the proper time. It’s important you don’t make a rash decision, and make the right one.”
Calling up Goldobin was the right decision.
“From the second they sent him down, his attitude was excellent,” Comets GM and Canucks player-development director Ryan Johnson said. “I’ve gotten an opportunity the last couple of months to understand him a little bit, and also have him understand us, so that he knows there is a plan for him. As with a lot of young players, we want Goldie to play at a high level not just for three games or five games, but do it over an extended period of time.”
That’s why Goldobin had to wait six weeks for his recall while more experienced minor-leaguers like Jason Megna, Michael Chaput and Reid Boucher were given brief callups.
Minor-league coach Trent Cull used Goldobin to kill penalties, which forced him to move his feet and win puck battles. Johnson said the staff encouraged Goldobin to play a more direct game.
“It was a good couple of months for me,” Goldobin said. “They said this was part of the plan, so I just worked hard waiting to get a call-up. Obviously, it was disappointing (not making the NHL team), but I don’t look back now. I was just working hard.
“I feel like this organization wants me, and they want me to be in their future, one of the leaders of the team. I have two more years on my contract, and I want to make the most of it.”
After Boeser and Virtanen, Goldobin is the next bright prospect in the pipeline for the Canucks. He provides speed and offensive creativity to the Canucks, and hope to their fans.
At the very least tonight, he will provide energy if Green allows him to play.
After three straight losses in the New York area, the Canucks could use all those things: speed, energy, hope.
“I do know for the way our team needs to play, they have to be fresh,” Green said. “People say: ‘Well, how can they be tired?’ Last night, I thought we were half a step behind (the Islanders). Some teams win at 75 per cent; I don’t know if we’re a team that wins at 75 per cent. I think we need to get a little quicker than we were last night. A lot of times, that’s a mental thing and players understanding, ‘Hey, I’m not quite there tonight, but I’ve got to find a way to get somewhere that allows us to win.’”
To try to make sure his team is fresh, Green excused most players from practice on Wednesday. Only a handful of Canucks skated. Goldobin was among them. He’s ready whenever the Canucks are.