Though still a work in progress, New York Rangers sophomore Artem Anisimov has spent the majority of his second season in the NHL centering the Rangers top trio, regularly facing opposing teams’ top checking or scoring lines and playing a major role in the team’s ability to overcome injuries and remain in the hunt for a playoff berth. His improvement has been reflected on the scoresheet: Just 58 games into his sophomore year, the 22-year old Russian’s 13-18-31 stat line eclipsed his rookie totals in all three categories — goals (12), assists (16), and points (28). And with 14 games remaining, he’s just four goals shy of the first of what Rangers fans hope will be many 20+ goal campaigns as a Blueshirt.
Anisimov’s progress as a player has not only turned the head of Russian national team assistant coach Andrei Nazarov, who was in New York last week to talk to the young pivot about a potential role on Russia’s World Championship team this spring, but the heads of scouts and general managers around the league as well. That became all the more evident at the NHL Trade Deadline, when the Yaroslavl native was included in a rumored blockbuster trade for Dallas center Brad Richards that (fortunately) never took place.
After the Rangers’ 3-2 defeat by the Buffalo Sabres last Tuesday, Sport Express reporter Vasily Osipov met with Anisimov to talk to him about his second season in the NHL. Their conversation covered Anisimov’s growth as a player, his role on the team, the visit from Nazarov, and his feelings on being the focus of recent trade rumors. A translation of Osipov’s interview is provided below.
- What was the reason for the loss in the game against [Buffalo,] a principle adversary in the fight to make the playoffs?
- In terms of tension, the game reminded me of a playoff game. The speeds were crazy, there were battles on every inch of the ice. The Sabres had more success, most likely, because they converted on their chances. For the most part, we weren’t able to solve the most valuable player of the last Olympic Games — Ryan Miller. The American goaltender once again played above all praise. The defeat, of course, is disappointing, but the situation still depends only on us. We must not relax at all, and continue to fight for a win in every game, for the playoffs.
- But blame can’t be placed on you — you were very active and effective…
- I’m still working at consistently having one hundred percent concentration on the ice.
- Today, having scored your fourteenth goal, you broke your personal goal-scoring record for a season. And many experts say that Anisimov has improved very much this year. Who better than you can best reveal the secret of your progress?
- First and foremost it’s due to hard work in practice. And in general, progress is made up of small components. For example, the ability to read the play, anticipate an opponent’s actions. Improvement in each component results in improvement in your play in general. In addition, I’ve gained experience, which helps one feel more confidence. So now I get more enjoyment from hockey than a few years ago.
- Do you feel that head coach [John] Tortorella trusts you more?
- Yes, you get those feelings when you’re put out in the final, deciding minutes of a game. When, in essence, you have no margin for error, and the game’s result depends on you. At those times the adrenaline is overwhelming. Post-game shootouts are the same way. During these moments the coach’s trust is also shown. I’m very glad that I’m often not left as an extra in the deciding moments of a game.
- Do you worry on the ice like you used to?
- It’s already much less than in my first season, when I often just didn’t know where to go or what to do (laughs). Now I can control my nerves, even in critical situations.
- At the trade deadline there were persistent rumors that you would be traded to Dallas for the Canadian Brad Richards. What thoughts did you have that day?
- There was some nervousness, of course. But I tried not to get caught up in it. I plugged away in practice as usual. Only in the locker room did the guys tell me that it was a real possibility. Naturally, I was very happy that the deal ultimately didn’t take place and I remained with the Rangers. It’ll give me additional strength to prove that their trust in me isn’t in vain, and to help the team win a ticket to the playoffs.
- On the Russian national team you’re no longer relegated to the role of fourth line center. On the contrary, the coaching staff expects you to be one of the leaders. Are you ready for such responsibility?
- It’s difficult to talk about it now, because you really need to be in a concrete situation. So let’s wait and see.
- This coming summer you’ll become a free agent. Could that influence your prospects to play in Slovakia [at the World Championship]?
- Let’s not rush things.
- And the last question: How did your conversation with [Team Russia assistant coach] Andrei Nazarov, who flew in specifically for the game, go?
- He called in the morning and said that he would wait for me after the game. [We had] a good, professional talk. But the details, you’ll excuse me, are not for the press.
Osipov also spoke to Nazarov, who, in addition to his position with the Russian national team, is also head coach of KHL team Vityaz Chekhov. A translation of their conversation, in which Nazarov discussed not only Anisimov, but also his interest in Rangers tough guy Derek Boogaard, can be found here.
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