After being overlooked in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, defenseman Zakhar Arzamastsev has appeared on many NHL team radars. Especially considering that, at 19, he already played more than 100 professional games with Metallurg Novokuznetsk of the KHL, the same team which produced Flyers' goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, Caps' defenseman Dmitri Orlov, and forwad Ivan Telegin (WIN).
Hockey's Future recently caught up with Arzamastsev, who is already training after a disappointing first-round playoff exit with his MHL team Kuznetskie Medvedi.
"My season finished rather early," Arzamastsev said. "I didn't want to go to vacation already, thus I went to Moscow and started practicing with a personal coach. Now I'm trying to add some speed to my first step, we are practicing in the gym only, no ice."
Arzamastsev added that he doesn't like to spend much time without hockey in the offseason. "I think having a two-month pause is more than enough. Last year we had five months. Too much."
The extended five-month layover Arzamastsev speaks of came because of a severe shoulder injury that required surgery. "Usually one starts the season practicing alone, but last year I couldn't do that after such a hard surgery. For some months even running was impossible."
The 6'2, 205 pound defenseman thinks that the shoulder injury hindered his chances during last year's selections. "Maybe I wasn't drafted because of that injury. I was invited to the draft combine, but I couldn't do that." Arzamastsev admitted he talked many times with scouts last year, even through the Internet. "I spent a lot of time talking with scouts. I even underwent many tests through Skype."
When asked about what teams paid more attention toward him, the blueliner promptly said two names: "Vancouver and Florida. I was expecting being drafted by them as there was some interests from them throughout the whole season."
Arzamastsev also shared his opinion on his season. "I am definitely not satisfied by this season. I should have played better. But with the [Junior] National Team it wasn't so bad, I was named one of the three best players of the team and we also got a Silver medal. With my team I should have scored more points, last year I had nine, this year just two. I can't say a reason behind this, maybe it was because our team changed a lot from last season, we have a new management and I still have to adapt to the new style."
He is definitely not used to have such low stats: "I'm used to get points while playing. I love giving assists and scoring goals. I never considered myself a stay-at-home defenseman. This year I also played center twice, and in one of these games I even picked up an assist. One of my points this year was scored playing as center", Arzamastsev said with a loud laugh.
At the WJC Arzamastsev could get a taste of playing on the small-sized rinks used in North America. "I didn't feel like there was the need to adapt to something special. It was even easier to play there in some moments. Everything is closer. You don't have to be always running somewhere."
The blueliner remembers the game against Team Canada very well, where the Russian side prevailed with a 6-4 score. "Team Canada kind of surprised me. I was expecting them to play hard and tough, check hard. But it wasn't really like that. They just dumped the puck in and stop. Maybe they lost because of that, because they changed the way they play."
The game, however, was quite hard at the end. "During the final minutes it was very hard, it was almost scary watching at what was going on. It's better to be on ice during such moments. After the game, [Team Russia head coach Valeri Bragin] joked with us and told not to do it again."
Metallurg Novokuznetsk this season signed former Stanley Cup Champion Brent Sopel to a two-year contract. For Arzamastsev and other young defenseman of his team it was a great chance to learn something from a guy who knows a thing or two about hockey. "Good NHL players can avoid practicing and anyway play so good that you can't say they didn't. And Sopel was the same. Sometimes he didn't attend a practice on the gym, but anyway he got to the game and did all his tasks. It wasn't easy to get something off his practicing habits. And anyway we are different players. You aren't going to see him too much on ice, many times he just gives the puck to the closer player, and rarely skates up to attack. But he plays his role in an excellent way. I want to be a brighter defenseman, a player who creates the play of his team."
Talking about more personal matters, Arzamastsev revealed he often talks with Telegin. "I talked a lot with him during the WJC. I think next year he'll try to get a spot on the Winnipeg Jets' roster. You know, him and I played on the same unit since the childhood."
At the end of our talk, the Novokuznetsk, Russia native explained where he wants to go on with his career. "The NHL. I want to test myself there. I want to see what is hockey in America and why everyone thinks the NHL is the strongest league of the world. But you have to cross the pond as a complete player. Like, for example, [Montreal Canadiens' defenseman Alexei] Emelin. And to achieve that, you need to grow every year."
The WJC exposed him a lot to the different NHL scouts, included the Canucks and the Panthers. Soon we'll know if they continued to keep an eye on him during the 2011-12 season.