Flames’ prospect Rafikov continuing development in Russian leagues in 2014-15

By Alessandro Seren Rosso
Rushan Rafikov - Team Russia

Photo: Calgary Flames defensive prospect Rushan Rafikov is currently playing for HC Ryazan in Russia’s VHL, where he has two assists in five games (courtesy of Derek Leung/Getty Images)

 

It was a busy off-season for Calgary Flames prospect Rushan Rafikov as he first had to deal with visa problems which prevented him from taking part in the Flames’ prospect camp. Then he skated with Team Russia at the national team’s summer tournament in Canada, where he posted three assists in four games.

 

Hockey’s Future reached Rushan Rafikov during his preparation for the 2014-15 KHL season, which kicked off on September 3rd. “This year I had a three-week vacation, then I already moved to the USA to start practicing in sight of the new season”, Rafikov said in Russian. “I went there with a few other of Lokomotiv’s young players and we worked out in the gym twice a day, six days a week. We spent a month like that.”

 

Rafikov said that being chosen by the Flames at the 2013 NHL Draft, even if in the seventh round, was a bit of a surprise.

 

I remember watching the pre-draft rankings and there was my name there,” recounted Rafikov. “But of course, they don’t necessarily draft the ones who get (ranked by CSS). Yes, it was a bit unexpected, but very pleasant.”

 

One year after being drafted by the Flames, Rafikov was naturally invited to skate in the rookie camp, but he could not take part due to visa problems.

 

Not being there was a true pity,” said a disappointed Rafikov. “I really wanted to get there, but it turned out that my visa wasn’t valid.”

 

After these visa problems, Rafikov and Team Russia played a few preparation games in North America as part of Hockey Canada’s 2014 Summer Development Camp that served as an initial tryout for the 2015 U20 World Junior Championship squad. Russia turned in an average performance at the camp, losing twice to Team Canada.

 

I think that we played at their same level, maybe even better in some aspects,” Rafikov said about the games against Canada. “We simply made too many mistakes. Against [Team Canada] it’s like that – give them a single chance and they score. We could not do the same, unfortunately. But there is still a lot of time before the WJC and I’m sure we’ll improve our game.”

 

Last season, Rafikov had an opportunity to participate in the 2014 WJC, but he was one of the last cuts for Team Russia.

 

I was sent home one day before the start of the tournament,” said Rafikov. “It has been tough to swallow; I had a real chance to play [at the WJC]. But this year I’ll do my best to get a spot on the [WJC] team.”

 

Rafikov, who would like to wear number 87 in Calgary as that is the number he has worn for a few years already, is still under contract with Lokomotiv for this season, with his deal set to run out on April 30th, 2015. Apparently, the 19-year-old defender still has not made a firm decision on where to spend the 2015-16 season.

 

It’s early to talk about the future now,” Rafikov said. “This year, I would like to get a full-time spot on the Lokomotiv senior team first, then where to spend the next season… I think I’ll think about it at the end of the [current] season.”

 

As a long-time player in the Lokomotiv system, Rafikov was naturally moved by the 2011 air crash in Yaroslavl.

 

It was a terrible tragedy for the city and for hockey in general,” said Rafikov. “You can’t really get to an answer if you ask yourself why all this happened.”

 

The Flames prospect, who is said to like the way Drew Doughty and Alex Pietrangelo play, admitted not being an expert on what is going on in Calgary.

 

I don’t follow the NHL too much, I try to follow the team’s results on the internet,” he said. When asked if he knows some of the players in the team, he replied, “Karri Ramo, their goalie. He did play a few years [in the KHL] for Avangard Omsk. And then Sean Monahan, I think he was among the team’s top scorers playing his rookie season.”

 

The defenseman also admitted a preference for playing a more offensive role from the back end.

 

I prefer playing more like an offensive defenseman,” stated Rafikov. “I like helping my forward teammates, (and to) get on the attack myself. But of course, as a defenseman, the most important thing is not to allow goals to the opposition.”

 

In their 2013-14 campaign, Lokomotiv’s junior team in the MHL had an excellent regular season, finishing at the top of the standings. During the regular season, Rafikov had eight goals and 20 points in 47 games. But in the 2014 playoffs, the team didn’t play as expected and went on to a second round exit.

 

I can’t really explain what happened,” admitted Rafikov. “I think we had a great team this season; we had a great chance to win the Kharlamov Cup. We had a good team, pretty much the same roster for three years, and the players got to know each other very well. I don’t really know how that could happen.”

 

But, as is the case with every hockey player, Rafikov wants to win.

 

I would love to win both the Olympic Gold and the Stanley Cup. But you should also consider the Gagarin Cup. Those three trophies are very prestigious. You can’t go wrong with any one of them.”

 

Follow Alessandro Seren Rosso on Twitter via @AlexSerenRosso