Numerous factors must go into a young person’s decision to make a change in his or her life. Is it best to stay close to home? Where will I have the best chance to succeed? How do I find out all that I need to know? When is it the best time to make the big changes?
Confusing questions to anyone, but imagine then having to make a change which requires you to move halfway around the world to a foreign country when you are just 17 years old. Konstantin Kalmikov, who hails from the Ukraine, made such a decision when he came over to North America to play in the Colonial Hockey League in the 1995-96 season.
“The hockey system is not very well organized in the Ukraine. I felt that to best develop my game, a move to North America would be helpful”, states the soft-spoken Kalmikov.
Following a 4-goal, 13-assist season split between Flint and Detroit in the CHL in the 1995-96 season, the Maple Leafs drafted Konstantin in the 3rd round of the 1996 NHL entry draft with the 68th overall selection. He moved to Sudbury of the OHL for the 1996-97 season, scoring 22 goals and adding 34 assists in 66 games. His second year with Sudbury saw a rise in his production to 32 goals and 32 assists during the 1997-98 season.
“While in Europe, we constantly worked on our skating, so I felt pretty good about that part of my game. My last two years I have worked more on my shot, trying to quicken my release and increase the power. That part of my game has improved a lot, but I have a ways to go”, states Kalmikov.
The Leafs signed Kalmikov to his first “pro deal” just prior to the 1998 NHL entry draft and he played for the St. John’s Maple Leafs during the 1998-99 season. He turned 20 just a few months prior to the season and was therefore one of the youngest players in the league. “At times he seemed like a babe in the woods last year, but there is no doubt he has big-league speed and skills”, stated Chris Schwartz, St. John’s media director.
Konstantin did not receive a boatload of icetime last season, but in all fairness, he was not productive with the time he did receive. “Near the middle of the season, when we were beset with some injuries and callups, Konstantin did get a little more playing time, but unfortunately, he didn’t do too much with it”, added Schwartz. He finished the year with St. John’s playing in 52 games, scoring 3 goals on only 32 shots on goal. He added 4 assists for 7 pts. Konstantin finished with a -3 and 4 penalty minutes.
When you watch Konstantin on the ice, you see the potential immediately. He is a big, well-conditioned athlete at 6-4, 215 lbs. He has a quick first step and a long stride which can eat up the ice in a hurry. He can change directions quickly and very smoothly. He handles the puck fairly well in high gear, but appears to prefer to jump into the openings to receive a pass for a quick shot on goal. With the puck, he prefers to try to breakthrough down the wing and along the boards.
He has a long reach and seems to have more of a tendency to use his stick along the boards instead of taking the body. “I’m working on and still adjusting to the physical part of the game. That part of my game is getting better, but I still have to improve more”, he says. Indeed, Konstantin does not seem to initiate a lot of contact along the wall, but he has the size and strength to withstand any physical punishment sent his way. “I do like to drive hard to the net to get scoring chances”, he adds. That was very evident in the Leafs’ rookie tournament in both the Carolina and Buffalo games.
Kalmikov exhibited his abilities very well in the Leafs’ rookie tournament and he spent a couple of weeks with Toronto in their preseason camp before returning to St. Johns’ camp. He notched a hat trick while playing on Mats Sundin’s wing during one of the Toronto’s first, training camp, intrasquad scrimmages.
He was clearly one of the most skilled players in the Leafs’ rookie tournament in Kitchener. Chris Schwartz added that “Konstantin was one of the most skilled players on St. John’s last season as well”. However, there seems to still be something missing from his game. Kalmikov appeared to be just a step off in receiving a pass or his timing just off in delivering a check. Call it hockey sense or hockey instincts, but that aspect of his game still seems to be a little underdeveloped. Why?
“I played soccer in school up until I was 9 years old. Our school’s hockey coach recruited me at that age and I started skating and playing then”, Kalmikov states. “I had the same coach up until the point when I left the Ukraine to come to play in North America”, he adds. Many, if not most hockey players get their start at the age of 4 or 5, so Kalmikov was a late starter.
He got a late start into the hockey world itself and spent some of his developing years in a country without a prime system in place to develop those skills. Konstantin may very well be a late bloomer. He has the size, skills and speed to be an impact winger. What will be needed is time and patience as he refines those skills and learns more about how to play the game. There is no reason to think that the Leafs won’t give him that chance.
Konstantin Kalmikov has all of the raw talent necessary to be a successful and productive hockey player. No one doubts that his ability is NHL caliber. He appears to have the desire to succeed at that level also. “I feel that I have the potential to one day play on a scoring line in the NHL”, he states. “I really hope to stick with the Toronto team this year, but I won’t be terribly disappointed if I play at St. John’s again. It will give me a chance to continue to improve.” And improve he will.
Special thanks to Konstantin Kalmikov and Chris Schwartz for their time in conducting these interviews