After a couple of very good seasons with Atlant Mytischy of the KHL, Russian defenseman Andrei Zubarev crossed the pond this summer as he was signed in late August to a two-year, entry-level contract by the Atlanta Thrashers, the organization which drafted him during the sixth round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
Zubarev decided to wait a bit before trying to get a spot in North America, and this was good for his development as he was struggling to get some decent ice time in Russia early in his career, and certainly in North America it would have been the same, if not worse. But after winning a RSL title in 2005-06 with Ak Bars Kazan, getting mostly fourth pair duties, Zubarev moved to Atlant, in the Moscow region, where, in the latest two seasons, he respectively logged more than fifteen and nineteen minutes a night. The 23-year-old defenseman scored a total of 20 points in the latest two KHL seasons, 16 of them in the very latest one, prior joining the Thrashers organization.
Zubarev also confirmed that the NHL wasn’t the only league interested in him this summer, after his deal with Atlant ran out in April.
"I’ve had enough offers from the KHL this summer, I won’t say from which teams, but I decided to cross the ocean because I could have a chance to play in the NHL, it’s the best league", Zubarev admitted.
Zubarev however is still in talk with many of his former teammates, "I talk with them very often, and every day I read the news about the KHL."
But like many other Russian players, and to some extent all the Eastern Europeans, Zubarev had a hard time at the start of his North American adventure.
"To be honest, at the start it has been very hard. I experienced such stuff like waking in the middle of the night, things like that".
Many European prospects have to pass through some difficulties also due to their not good knowledge of English language. It was no different for Zubarev.
"I’m still in the process of learning the language, but well, at least I can talk!"
Zubarev also wanted to share an episode that gave him some hard time adjusting to North America, "I underwent a very funny incident just after the airplane landed here in America. I forgot to take the invitation with myself and so…well, I had to figure out a lot of things, and I had to spend some time there."
One of the things that can help a new player from overseas can be the presence of a teammate who talks the same language. Zubarev was lucky enough to find one as defenseman Arturs Kulda, just like most Latvian players, speaks Russian.
"He helps me, of course, but not only because of the language. He helps me a lot and we spend free time together as well."
So far Zubarev has dressed for only nine games, in which he got two assists. He expressed a taste for the smaller North American rinks though.
"I like the small ice. Hockey here is faster and there are a lot of battles for the puck."
Skating on the Thashers’ training camp left good memories to the defenseman.
"Everything was simply wonderful, I loved it! It was very interesting and all the players had a great attitude."
The 6’1, 202 lbs blueliner, who describes himself as a "defensive counsel", is enjoying his North American adventure, even if he had to face some minor hardship.
"I really like it here. Yes, it’s much different from Russia, but as I said I like it. It’s very different not only for a young guy like me, but for everyone."
If there is something that he still doesn’t enjoy of the local culture is the kitchen.
"I try not to eat American food at all. I usually eat Italian or Japanese food, actually."
But even if he isn’t a fan of American kitchen, he did admit to enjoy visiting Starbucks.
"I like such places. When my wife was here we were spending time visiting downtown Chicago, walking there. Now that she’s back to Russia I spend more time at home."
But even if Zubarev is a young man currently living alone in a foreign country, he says his wife has nothing to be jealous of.
"Where girls are better, in Russia or in America? In Russia, without a doubt!"