Denis Grebeshkov is considered to be one of Russia’s premier defensive prospects in this year’s NHL Entry Draft. He recently concluded the most successful season of his career. At just 17, he earned a roster spot on the most powerful Super League team – Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, going on to win the 2002 Russian Super League championship.
Denis was also one of the youngest players on the Russian U20 National Team that won the gold medals at the 2002 U20 World Junior Championships. Denis made a clear impact during the tournament, playing on the second defensive pairing with the team’s captain Anton Volchenkov. RussianProspects and HF writer Eugene Belashchenko caught up with Denis, while he was visiting Toronto for the pre-draft physical examinations and NHL team interviews.
EB: First of all, can you tell me where you were born, how you started to play hockey?
Grebeshkov: I was born in Yaroslavl. When I was 11, I just wanted to go and play hockey. So, I went to a local school and started to play.
EB: Who had the biggest influence on you becoming a hockey player?
Grebeshkov: Definitely my father.
EB: Did he take you to your first visit to the hockey school?
Grebeshkov: Well, how can I say this, the first time my grandmother actually took me to the hockey school (laughing). It just turned out that way. But yeah, hå often went with me and gave me pointers on how to play.
EB: How would you describe your playing style to those who are not very familiar with you?
Grebeshkov: Well, I play the style of an attacking defender.
EB: In what characteristics of your game do you feel you need to work on the most?
Grebeshkov: In the physical aspect of the game – American hockey is of that type.
EB: And how do you like the American style of hockey? Did you have a chance to watch on TV or in person?
Grebeshkov: We watched it a bit on TV and we were also at the last match of Toronto against Carolina.
EB: And how was it?
Grebeshkov: It was a great show!
EB: Do you follow the NHL at all?
Grebeshkov: Well, somewhat.
EB: Last season you played for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the Super League and you guys became “golden” at the end of the season. It seems that the team’s new head coach Vladimir Vuytek entrusted you one of the more serious roles on the team’s defense. Can you tell us your impressions regarding the last season, playoffs?
Grebeshkov: Well, I did not play in the playoffs. In the regular season I played 27 games, maybe 28.
EB: Who did you play with together on a defensive pairing?
Grebeshkov: It varied. I played with different guys at different times.
EB: And what are your impressions?
Grebeshkov: Well, my impressions are the very best. I don’t really know (laughing)
EB: In December of last year you were with the Russian U20 squad – where you guys were “golden” finishing very well. I watched the game against Canada – it was great. What impressions do you have regarding how you guys did, and how you guys celebrated after the win?
Grebeshkov: (Laughing) I have the very best impressions. We were all ecstatic that we won. Regarding how everyone celebrated, I don’t know. We all kind of separated into groups right after. And then we all got back together in the morning for our flight back.
EB: Did everyone make it?
Grebeshkov: Yes (laughing)
EB: You guys did not lose anyone?
Grebeshkov: No (continuing to laugh)
EB: Currently you are in Toronto undergoing the pre-draft preparations right?
Grebeshkov: Currently we are undergoing tests – I mean the interviews and the physical tests.
EB: Is this your first visit to Toronto?
Grebeshkov: To Toronto – yes.
EB: Did you guys do anything outside hockey?
Grebeshkov: Yes, of course.
EB: What did you guys do?
Grebeshkov: We went around town. Then, we went to a couple stores….
EB: Specifically, what did you do during the physical tests?
Grebeshkov: There were quite many different ones. The most difficult and harsh one were the two bikes. On the first bike you are pedaling for 30 seconds – and it has well, pretty good resistance. On the second one you sit and pedal for 15 minutes with varying resistance and breath into a tube. This test was the most difficult one over there.
EB: And the conversations, were they with the [NHL – EB] teams?
Grebeshkov: Yeah, there were the team’s scouts, managers….. from Florida there was Mike Keenan there.
EB: This year you were invited to the annual NHL draft which this year is held in Toronto. The Central Scouting Bureau ranks you 4th amongst European skaters – which gives you a very solid chance to get drafted very high in the draft. What are your feelings regarding this? Do you feel the pressure of the upcoming draft?
Grebeshkov: Honestly, I am not really feeling anything like that yet. You kind of live through it without much commotion.
EB: What are your plans for next year?
Grebeshkov: Mine are to play in Yaroslavl.
EB: To secure a spot on the main squad?
Grebeshkov: Yeah, exactly.
Thank you very much for your time Denis. Good luck at the draft.