Nikolai Zherdev struggles in the RSL

By Simon Richard

Nikolai Zherdev had a tremendous pro career in Russia

An impressive beginning

Blue Jackets prospect Nikolai Zherdev had a tremendous start to his pro career in Russia. Born November 5th, 1984, he was still 16 years old when he began the 2001-02 season with Elektrostal Elemash in the Upper League. That season, he recorded an impressive 28 points over 53 games.

In April 2002, he was part of the Team Russia 84 who won the silver medal at the U18 World Championship in Czech Republic. Though not as impressive as Alexander Ovechkin, who broke a record with 14 goals, Zherdev nevertheless got 11 points over the 8 games played.

For the 2002-03 season, Zherdev decided to ink with CSKA in the Super League. He told to Dmitri Kuvshinov, as reported on, he made that choice "because I want to try myself with the club under the helm of a coach such as Viktor Vasilievich Tikhonov." At the end of December, Zherdev was among the RSL leaders with 10 goals and 19 points. According to the Russian Scouting Bureau, he was averaging 18 minutes per game and playing consistently on power play.

In a slump?

Rafael Ishmatov, U20 Russian Team coach, selected Zherdev on the roster for the World Junior Championship in Canada. The Russian juniors won the gold medal but things didn’t turn out as Zherdev anticipated. He played on the third and fourth lines, recording no goals and only one assist. Alongside teammates Pestunov and Fakhrutdinov, he had the worst plusminus record of the team with –1. Zherdev had a bitter taste in his mouth. He later declared, as reported on " I didn’t have any chance to prove myself. I came back home and tried to forget everything."

After the WJC, Zherdev resumed his season with CSKA. From this point, he had only 2 goals and a total of 5 points. That was still enough to rank him second in scoring on his team and the third for the amount of points (24). It has to be mentioned his +6 plus/minus record placed him first on his team alongside his teammate Sergei Zolotov.

Zherdev was then selected fourth overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets at the 2003 Entry Draft. On August 15th, he was the last European to ink an agreement with an NHL team, on deadline day. He made his choice to stay in RSL for 2003-04 season, declaring in August to Alexei Laputin, a Sport-Express writer, "Working under [coach] Viktor Tikhonov’s direction is like studying at university for me."

At the preseason camp, Zherdev was matched with Andrei Razin and performed very well. When the 2003-04 season began, he was unable to score regularly, lost icetime and was confined to the third and fourth line. He suffered a minor injury, missed few games and played one game with CSKA 2. After 21 games played so far, his stats (2 goals, 2 assists for 4 points) is far below the expectations. Zherdev is obviously just a shadow of his former self.

Comments from his agent, Alexander "Sasha" Vladimirovich Tyzhnych

Here and there, there are rumors about Zherdev’s contractual situation. One consistent rumor is whether Zherdev had wished to play for Columbus this season but couldn’t because of military obligations.

Sasha Tyzhnych, a former goal keeper of CSKA, is Zherdev’s agent. Tyzhnych played 11 years for famed coach Tikhonov. He was named the best goalie of the 1978 WJC played in Canada. He was also a member of the USSR roster at the 1984 Canada Cup.

Previously this week, Hockey’s Future asked a few questions to Tyzhnych about his young prospect.

HF: How do you explain Zherdev losing icetime with CSKA?

ST: I don’t know … Viktor Tikhonov expects more consistency from Nikolai. You know, I played many many years for Tikhonov. He his very strict and demanding. His players are kind of like soldiers for him. If you don’t act as he wishes, you are soon in trouble. We can’t change his style. Thus, Nikolai must keep working harder to get the confidence of his coach.

HF: Was it a relegation for Zherdev to play a game few weeks ago with CSKA 2?

ST: No, Nikolai had a minor injury so he played a game with CSKA 2 prior his way back in the main CSKA roster. It is not uncommon to do so, especially with Tikhonov.

HF: Does Zherdev stay against his will with CSKA?

ST: No. After the NHL draft, he decided himself to stay one more year in the RSL. He wanted to play for CSKA in order to complete his development. It was his decision.

HF: What should Zherdev improve?

ST: He has a gifted pure talent. He has great hockey sense and great skills. But we must remember he is still very young. He is still learning. The development of a hockey player is a process. Nikolai is in such a process. He has to improve his consistency, he has to be ready at each game, for every shift on ice.

HF: Are you confident for the upcoming WJC in Finland?

ST: I’m confident Russia will be in final against Canada (laughing). Seriously, I’m pretty confident Nikolai will perform very well. After the Four Nations Tournament that has been played lately in Finland, I talked to [coach] Rafael Ishmatov. He told me that he was very pleased with the performance of Nikolai. Mr. Ishmatov said Nikolai dramatically changed since last year. He said that he appreciated the way Nikolai acted on and off ice. He explained Nikolai was more dedicated and demonstrated more consistency. He said his team captain was also involved in every shift on ice and added he played a more collective game and was the true team’s leader.