Drafted first overall by Metallurg Novokuznetsk in the 2011 KHL junior draft, forward Anton Slepyshev has established himself this season as one of the top Russian-trained skaters eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft.
The winger made a name for himself from the start of the season, managing a goal on the first shift of his first KHL game. "I do remember that goal," he said. "We were facing Avtomobilist Ekaterinburg. It was my first shift in the KHL. I was just skating to the opposition's zone, where my linemates were playing the puck. At once one of them, Maxim Kitsyn (LAK), sent me the puck and I one-timed it in. I won't hide that I was in seventh heaven after that goal!"
Slepyshev was quick to point out however that despite the dramatic start to his KHL career, the transition was not without some difficulties.
"At the start of the season it wasn't easy. It was pretty hard. Every aspect, speed, physical play, thinking. But little by little I started getting used to it and everything went okay."
Like many other talented Russian players, Slepyshev represented Team Russia twice at the U18s. In the 2011 tournament he managed three goals and one assist, helping Russia win a bronze medal. In 2012 however, despite a strong individual performance where he managed three goals and four assists in six games, Russia finished a disappointing fifth place. "We were waiting for a good result, for medals. [So] of course the U18s didn't go well. But now it's better to forget about this tournament and have some vacation from hockey."
The forward, who hails from Penza, a city in European Russia with big traditions in hockey, moved to Metallurg Novokuznetsk, one of the best organizations of the KHL concerning youth development. The Siberian city in the last few years produced some notable players like Flyers goaltender Sergey Bobrovsky, Dmitry Orlov (WAS), Ivan Telegin (WIN), and Kitsyn. So Slepyshev has a great chance to become the newest high profile player from the organization.
"The secret lies in the fact that in this city everyone loves hockey," Slepyshev said when asked about the team's ability to develop talent. "Even if the team results aren't great, everyone keeps on working hard and it shows."
It goes without saying that the young Russian is really waiting for the NHL draft to happen. "Of course I am very interested; they even promised me an invitation to the ceremony. Unfortunately I will have to miss the [Draft Combine] tests because I'll have an exam at school, but I don't think this will be a problem."
That being said, for now Slepyshev will stay in Russia. "Next year I will play here [at home], I will play the next two seasons in Novokuznetsk". He was signed to a three-year deal, as per rules, after the KHL junior draft.
For now he doesn't think about a move. "It's too early to think about going there [in North America]. I still need to develop as a player and I think it will be better to me thinking about improving my game first." Slepyshev added that "it's absolutely not important what team will draft me. I just hope to get picked."
Last season the dynamic winger had offers from CHL teams, but he "decided to reject them after talking with my agent and my parents. I think it was the right decision." He also admitted that he doesn't follow the NHL too closely. "You know, games are played when in Russia it's night. Sometimes we watched some games early in the morning in the locker room. I don't have a definite favorite team, but I can say that I like Pittsburgh."
This year Slepyshev had a chance to play on the same team with former Stanley Cup Champion Sergei Brylin. "It was a great experience," he said. "Playing with such players is just great. [Brylin] was always giving me some advice, teaching me something. And I really tried hard to replicate it on the ice."
Though he has been a good player since his early youth, Slepyshev understood only recently that hockey is truly a real profession for him. "I think I understood it only once playing with the national junior team. It was a great achievement for me."
Off the ice Slepyshev is a quiet guy who prefer spending time with friends or on the Internet when he has some pauses from hockey. He plays with the number 47 on his jersey because 94 wasn't available. I had to pick from some numbers and I decided 47. But this is not related to [Predators' Alexander] Radulov."
Regarding his plans for the future, when asked if he'd pick the Stanley Cup over the Olympic Gold Medal, Slepyshev wasn't too quick to give an ultimate answer, "I truly can't name just one of these great awards. I can just say that if I'll ever win one of them, I'll be the happiest person on Earth."
Slepyshev was ranked 35th in May by ISS and is the 10th ranked European skater by Central Scouting.