In June of 2006 two 18-year old natives of Yaroslavl, Russia were drafted in the second round of the NHL Entry Draft, just four picks apart. The first, Artem Anisimov, was chosen 54th overall by the New York Rangers. The second, Alexander Vasyunov was taken 58th by their arch rivals, the New Jersey Devils. The pair had come up through the Yaroslavl hockey school and played for the Russian junior team together, often playing on the same line. But while Anisimov decided to start his North American career in the AHL with the Hartford Wolf Pack at the start of the 2007-2008 season, Vasyunov opted to continue his development in his hometown of Yaroslavl.
Now it seems he’s changed his mind.
Disappointed by his lack of playing time — just two games so far this season under Finnish head coach Kari HeikkilÃ¤, a coach renowned for favoring veteran players — Vasyunov announced his intentions to leave for North America in an interview with Russian web site Sports Planet on Monday. “I have decided that I need to grow and improve my skills, instead of standing in place,” Vasyunov explained. “In Russia I had little playing time and so I have made the decision to leave for overseas.”
Why does this matter to Rangers fans? Well, it doesn’t really, unless his team, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, refuses to allow him leave and the Devils sign him anyway, further chilling relations between the NHL and KHL. If that happens, the KHL will add him to the list of four disputed players who have signed NHL contracts since the NHL and KHL agreed to stop signing each others players in July. That list already includes the Rangers’ Evgeni Grachev, who was also trained in Yaroslavl.
Of more interest to Ranger fans may be this response by Vasyunov when he was asked if he knew anything about the AHL, where he is likely to begin his North American career with the Lowell Devils. “My friends and acquaintances already play in the AHL,” Vasyunov replied. “For instance, I’m frequently in touch by phone and correspond with Artem Anisimov. He likes the conditions in which he plays and lives; he’s already been waiting for me there for a long time (laughs). Incidentally, we’ll play in the same division and live quite near one another.”
I wonder if Lou will send the Rangers a referral fee for Anisimov’s recommendation?
Vasyunov, like Anisimov, played with Alexei Cherepanov on the Russian junior team. And as it was for most Russian players, Cherepanov’s death was difficult for him. “I still don’t believe that Lesha is no longer here,” Vasyunov shared. “I have taken this tragedy very much to heart. As you know, he was a healthy, strong guy. We played togther a lot on the national team, and in the [Canada-Russia] Super Series, and in fact nothing foretold this misfortune, he never complained about his health, he was always so cheerful and full of life. His death is a huge loss for all of us. I wish very much to express my condolences to Alexei’s family and everyone who knew him. He will forever remain in our hearts.”
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