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Carp: Should Russian Players Be Concerned About Playing For The Golden Knights?

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2019-20 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

By nature, I’m no conspiracy theorist.

I don’t believe in aliens. I think Oswald acted alone when he assassinated JFK. I’m pretty sure Elvis is dead, though when I see Nick Ferraro perform as the “Philly Elvis,” sometimes a shadow of doubt creeps into my mind (only kidding).

But I have to admit, what I’m seeing with Russian-born players and the Golden Knights has me scratching my head and wondering just what the hell is going on?

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

In the brief three-year history of the franchise, there have been three Russian players who were with the Golden Knights — Vadim Shipachyov, Nikita Gusev and Valentin Zykov. Their contributions have amounted to virtually nil. Two of the three have not had pleasant endings and Zykov could also find himself exiting with a less-than-favorable sendoff once his 20-game suspension ends.

First, let’s be clear about all of this. I’m not accusing George McPhee of sabotaging the NHL careers of the trio. Remember, this is the guy who drafted Alex Ovechkin when he was the general manager in Washington and no one’s going to deny that worked out pretty well.

So if you want to paint McPhee as a modern-day Harold Ballard who detested the Russians and perhaps saw their existence in the NHL as a necessary evil, you’d be missing the mark by a country mile.

That said, the fact none of the three have made a positive contribution to the franchise makes you wonder if something is amiss in the evaluation process or in the projection of what these guys could do.

Shipachyov didn’t produce, was sent to the minors, balked at being demoted and was eventually released after playing just three games and scoring one goal. He and his family never found a comfort level in Las Vegas nor was he able to find a comfort level on the ice. He is currently back in the Kontinental Hockey League playing with Dynamo Moscow and he leads the team in scoring with 21 points.

Gusev never got a chance to show he couldn’t play with the Knights. He was unable to break into the lineup during the playoffs, his time on the ice limited to practice. And when the Knights found his asking price to remain with the team was too steep, he was off to New Jersey. He’s doing pretty well with the Devils. He had three goals and four points in his first seven games and has quickly become a fan favorite in Newark.

Zykov, who had two goals in 10 games last year playing limited minutes (he averaged 11:37 TOI during his 10 games last year), worked hard over the summer, made the team out of training camp and had two assists in his first seven games playing on the third line before he got popped for violating the NHL’s performance-enhancing substances program.

I’m not going to get into the whole issue about how it went down, how Zykov essentially got thrown under the bus by some of his teammates and how McPhee reacted. That has all been covered.

I will say it would be disingenuous to think what happened to Zykov and what happened to Nate Schmidt a year ago are the same. The fact is, we’ve never known what was found in Schmidt’s system to trigger the positive test and we’re probably never going to know what exactly Zykov was taking (he and his agent said they were over-the-counter supplements).

Until the NHL becomes more transparent with its drug policy and the testing is more rigorous, you’ll never get the truth.

So, what happens when Zykov serves out his suspension? Do the Knights welcome him back? Do they claim he breached his contract and subsequently cut him loose and eat his $675,000 contract? Do they send him back to the AHL?

The fact his locker was cleaned out and his nameplate removed from the locker room at City National Arena may make you believe his time in Vegas is over. The team’s not going to tell you that. When and if that decision gets made, the team will put out a release, McPhee probably will let the release speak for itself and that’ll be that.

So given what we’ve seen and what we know, it begs these questions;

* If you’re a player from Russia and you’re a pending free agent, is Vegas a place you want to go to based on what you’ve seen happen to your fellow countrymen?

* If you’re an agent for a Russian player, are you going to veto any attempt to have your client traded to the Golden Knights?

* If you’re McPhee and GM Kelly McCrimmon, do you maybe tread lightly when thinking about adding a Russian player to the roster?

I always believe that every individual’s situation is unique. The fact the three Russian players to have been on the Knights’ NHL roster have not panned out doesn’t mean if you’re from Russia and you come to Vegas, you’re automatically doomed for failure. It’s about maturity, talent and an ability to adjust to a culture and a country you’re not accustomed to.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Shippy never was able to do that. Gusev wasn’t here long enough to determine that he could or couldn’t live in Vegas. Zykov appeared fine living and playing here.

Maybe the Knights need to do a better job as an organization when it comes to due diligence in evaluating whether a player from Russia, or any other foreign country for that matter, can be comfortable living and working in Las Vegas.

We may have a test case coming in the next couple of years. You may recall in June 2018, the Knights drafted center Ivan Morozov in the 2nd round. Morozov was the team’s first selection in that draft. He’s just 19 years old. He was Gusev’s teammate last year at SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League. This year’s he’s playing in the MHL, the KHL’s top feeder league. At some point, he’s going to get his shot to play in the NHL.

Maybe he’ll learn to speak and communicate in English. Maybe he’ll find a comfort zone in Las Vegas, or at least in Summerlin. Perhaps he’ll display enough maturity to handle the change in cultures. Maybe his game will fit in with the rest of the team’s and he’ll have a productive career with the Golden Knights.

The Knights also drafted Pavel Dorofeyev, a forward in the third round of the 2019 draft. He’s playing in the KHL with Magnitogorsk Metallurg and in 17 games he has four goals. Maybe Dorofeyev eventually makes it here too.

Time will tell. Meanwhile, it has been a strange coincidence that so far, Russian players have not panned out with the Golden Knights. Maybe they didn’t subscribe to or fit in with the Knight culture Bill Foley created, though there were knights in Russia back in medieval times according to Wikipedia.

Then again, maybe not everyone is cut out to be a Knight. Even in 2019.

**Steve Carp is the author of “Vegas Born — The remarkable story of the Golden Knights.” Follow him on Twitter @stevecarp56. All of Steve Carp’s work here on SinBin.vegas is presented to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm. For over twenty-five years, the Jimmerson Law Firm has been widely recognized as one of Las Vegas’s preeminent full-service law firms. Specializing in high stakes business, civil and family litigation, the Jimmerson Law Firm has an unparalleled track record of winning when it matters most. To reach the Jimmerson Law Firm, call (702) 388-7171 and tell them SinBin.vegas sent you.**

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16 Comments

  1. the hockey GOD

    if they didn’t like Russian players, they wouldn’t have brought them here in the first place. Why waste time and resources ! A bit of stretch I would say.

  2. Rex

    Gusev doing good? You guys just saying shit that support whatever you are thinking.
    Nikita Gusev is on New Jerseys 4th line and is barely playing, his underlying numbers is in the bottom 3 in the league for f*ck sake!?
    BOTTOM 3 IN THE LEAGUE <—————
    Stop talking nonsens, this is worse then Kens ego.

  3. Rex

    Nikita Gusev is the 2nd worst player in the league this season after Glendening in Detroit 5v5.
    He plays on Devils 4th line (barely), last game he got 7 minutes and 58 seconds of icetime and the game befors he got 9:42.

    ”Gusev doing good”, journalistic joke is What this article is, as much of a disaster as Gusevs performance so far this season.

  4. Mark

    Zykov will be back with us. His contract is good for our salary cap and we are up against it. I think he’s very talented, he belongs on our team. Go Knights !!

    • Doug MacLeod

      If they can support breach of contract, they may not need to eat his contract.

  5. Bent Hermit

    Check out Dorofeyev’s Twitter it looks like he has no problem being a VGK draft pick. If anything it looks like he is proud of it. Only Shipachyov has any reason to be mad at VGK. Gusev has to be happy how things went down and Zykov only has himself to blame.

  6. Michael Verner Smith

    Dorofeyev is 18. Morozov is 19. Zykov is what 24. My point is these are all young players and young players adapt much better than older players imho. Dorofeyev and Morozov are very talented young players, both ahead of where Gusev was at their age. Most importantly they both are 200ft players, Dorofeyev especially so, they can play VGK hockey. Gusev was not that guy. Zykov plays 200 ft and I love him for that alone. Hockey is like basketball, defense creates offense and if you can’t play defense are you worth big money? Give me 40 -50 goals a season then maybe, but play great defense as well, then certainly.

  7. Rex

    You guys really deleting my comments because im pointing ont your errors? Superb journalism guys…

    ”He’s doing pretty well with the Devils. He had three goals and four points in his first seven games and has quickly become a fan favorite in Newark.”

    How about checking the stats and underluying numbers?
    Gusev is the 2nd worst player in the NHL 5vs5 after Luke Glendening.
    Hes playing on the 4th line and the last two games he played 9 and 7 minutes. He has a 4.5 million cap hit, Doing pretty well? Its a disaster so far and nothing else.

    • We approve all comments from new commenters in order to reduce spam. I apologize that the few hours that we had not yet seen yours triggered you so badly.

  8. Rex

    No worries. Carp should apologize for the Gusev part in the article instead.
    Like you he decides something and then wrights shit to support whatever he or you are claiming in the first place, you never look at the whole picture. Sadly its probably because of your ego.
    Realize you are more wrong then right, then you could improve from there.
    Love from Sweden

    • Dry

      Chill dude. If you think the reporting so bad, don’t read it.

      • Brian

        This is an excellent idea. Gets my support as well. Must have swallowed a bitter pill before breakfast or something.

  9. jim

    I will say as Devils fan first and Knights second I watch the Devs all the time. Gusev has been totally unimpressive in Jersey. He is a forth liner and getting most points on 2nd line power play. He’s a floater quite a bit out there and kinda invisible.

    • Rex

      This is the opposite of What the guys reporting on the Knights say and think, to them he is a Russian superstar that can dominate a game and they where and are very upset that he was traded away because of it.

      The fact that he actually sucks is of course EXACTLY the opposite of What they have been saying all along so they are going full politican here, just act like he is a superstar in real life just like in their minds and everybody will believe they were right, right?
      Ridiculous.

  10. Walt Tkaczuk

    Shippy = Who cares.
    Gusev = Too expensive for a one-way player. If he becomes a superstar then we lost one. That’s life.
    Zykov = I see little value with him. Just pull the plug. Whatever smoothie he’s drinking made him more aggressive, but still little value.
    Future Russians =If they are good enough, they will fit in.

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