Harder: Russian Blueliner Eager to Join Pats

By Greg Harder, Regina Leader-Post

Regina, Saskatchewan – Nikolai Knyzhov’s message didn’t require translation.

The Russian blueliner is letting it be known – in crystal-clear English – that he’s thrilled to be the newest member of the Regina Pats, who selected him 36th overall in the 2015 CHL import draft.

“I’m just so excited, I can’t really explain it,” Knyzhov said Tuesday from Phoenix. “This past year I always wanted to play in the WHL and now this happened, giving me a chance. I’m really excited to play for the Pats. Can’t wait.”

The Pats are cautiously optimistic about Knyzhov, who has spent the past two seasons playing midget AAA in Arizona. The 6-foot-1, 186-pounder had one goal and three assists in 24 games last season with the Phoenix Jr. Coyotes.

“I was in a skating camp here in Phoenix two years ago and the coach from the triple-A team asked me if I wanted to stay and play in the United States,” he explained. “I stayed the first year and learned about the (junior) leagues. I would like to play WHL. I think that’s my path. You focus more on hockey, not as much into school if you go to USHL and try to commit to a college or something. I just really want to go pro and make it to the NHL someday. This will prepare me way better for that.” Not only does Knyzhov believe the road to the NHL runs through Western Canada, he also thinks the North American game is right up his alley.

“With my Russian team, we used to come to U.S. a lot (for tournaments),” explained Knyzhov. “I thought it was always more fun to play here, just the style of the game. You have to make quicker decisions. Everything is faster. I think I’m prepared for that. I’ve played here for two years in the smaller rink. I know exactly what to expect. I think that’s the game for me.”

The Pats aren’t sure what they have in Knyzhov, but they’d be thrilled if he turned out like fellow Russian Sergey Zborovskiy. The lanky blueliner had a solid rookie season in Regina and was rewarded Saturday when the New York Rangers selected him in the third round of the NHL draft.

“That’s going to be kind of like my goal,” said Knyzhov. “It’s awesome what he has done. I don’t know him personally but I just kind of followed him a little bit. I’m pretty excited that he can probably help me out with some things that I don’t know.”

Like Zborovskiy, Knyzhov describes himself in basic terms as a “two-way defenceman” who can contribute in all areas.

“I can play offence and defence,” he said. “I like to rush the puck sometimes, play a physical game, make quick decisions. I just think that’s my game.”

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