Valentenko a ‘big hit’ at the WJC

By Simon Richard

“On his very first shift of tonight’s game, Pavel Valentenko set the tone with a big hit on a Swedish forward,” stated Trevor Timmins, the Montreal Canadiens Director of Player Recruitment and Development during the second intermission of the semi-final game between Sweden and Russia in Leksand at the 2007 World Junior Championships.

“Last night,” said an NHL scout after a game played earlier in the tournament, “Valentenko made two huge hits on the opponents, including one that froze the guy for a couple minutes.”

That is the way the Montreal’s 2006 fifth-round selection is playing hockey.

“He is playing a more North American style, he has a physical presence on the ice, he is a hard-nosed player,” pointed out Timmins, adding that Valentenko is very similar to another Montreal Russian prospect Alexei Emelin (3rd round, 2004).

Valentenko scored a goal in the tournament so far and assisted on another one. He is playing either on the Russian first or second power-play unit. “He has a very hard point shot, he can be a threat on the power play,” observed Timmins.

Valentenko prefers to talk about his defense, however.

“I think that I am a good player to protect the front of the goal crease,” he commented to Hockey’s Future in the Russian hotel lobby in Tallberg, 12 kilometers from Leksand.

His current coach prefers to talk about neither offense nor defense, but what’s inside.

“He has a strong character, he is a real team player and has a great future ahead of him,” stated Evgeny Popikhin, the Russian Junior Team head coach.

>Background

The 6’2, 202-pound defenseman was born in Nizhnekamps, Russia, which is at 200 kilometers from Kazan, and 850 kilometers from Moscow.

“When I was about 7 years old, I won a ski competition. My teacher, a woman, told me that I should play hockey,” recalled Valentenko to Hockey’s Future. “So, I went to a practice for the 1987-born team, but the roster was already full. Nevertheless, the coach gave me some skates, that is the way it all began for me.”

“Nizhnekamps is a town of chemical factories, a town of workers, Pavel’s dad [who is now retired] was one of these workers,” said Valentenko’s agent Sasha Tyjnych in the Ejendals Arena.

Valentenko is now playing in the Superleague for the Neftekhimik Nizhnekamps, the same team where another Canadiens prospect Mikhail Grabovsky (2004, 5th round) was drafted from. “This is a hockey town, it is a full crowd every game,” commented Tyjnych.

A dream

Valentenko is well aware of the Canadiens hockey tradition. He is very proud having been drafted by this team. “I heard a lot about the Canadiens, they won several Stanley Cups,” he said.

“He has his dream and he works very hard to make it come true,” commented Tyjnych. “He is a very hard-working young man, he is tough on himself, a very good citizen.

“Pavel is more serious than some Russians and some kids from his age, he is only 19 years old, but he is like a man. He already understands some English and because of his will to reach his dream and his seriousness, I don’t think that he won’t have any problem to learn the language in North America,” added Tyjnych.

Valentenko, who has Vyacheslav Fetisov and Chris Pronger as role models, came once to North America, about six years ago. “I spent a month in Toronto, at the Prime Time Hockey Program. This is where I got a little bit used to English,” he explained.

“We would have liked to get him as soon as possible in Montreal, so he could get used to our style of the game and learn the language,” said Timmins. “But he is still under a contract in Russia so we wait on what’s going on with the agreement between Russia and the IIHF.”

A very low percentage of fourth-rounders make the NHL, but Pavel Valentenko definitively has some qualities that could give him a chance to make his dream come true.

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.