San Jose Sharks prospect Nikolay Goldobin is having a good first complete season as a pro in North America. He mainly played for the Sharks’ affiliate in the AHL, the San Jose Barracuda, but he also played his first games in the NHL, getting his first goal on Oct. 17 against the New York Islanders. In this translated interview, originally appearing on the popular Russian website Sport-Express, Nikolay Goldobin talked about his debut in the NHL, working with Igor Larionov and his early move overseas.
* For the original Sport-Express article by Igor Rabiner, click here.
– You have a rather unusual resume: first Canadian junior leagues, then Finnish senior league. Was it easy to get through all this?
– No, the first steps were very hard. I left for Canada when I was 16, I didn’t know any English and my parents are the most important people in my life. But they understood that it was for my good. So it wasn’t a problem. Then I learned English and now I happily live alone.
– You spent one season in the MHL. Why you preferred moving overseas instead of the usual path MHL – KHL?
– It was a mutual decision with my agent, Igor Larionov. He advised me to move to Canada and did what he needed to to get me there. I couldn’t refuse and moved to the OHL.
– Sarnia wasn’t a top team.
– Yes, I managed to become one of the leaders of the team. It was good as I also had a lot of ice time.
– How did Larionov find you?
– He has assistants in Russia and I had been noticed when I was playing in the MHL. Then we had a chat on Skype and started working together.
– Weren’t you forced to stay in Russia, for example by telling you that you won’t be called to the junior national team?
– No, there was nothing like that. And I played for the national team several times, even if I didn’t play at the U18 WJC in Sochi. I think that the then-head coach (former NHL player Igor Kravchuk) didn’t like something, but I’m not sure what.
– That season you were awarded with OHL Rookie of the Year honors.
– Yes, I had a good season, therefore I think I was going to play. But he told me that I didn’t make the team.
– Did you have any idol in your childhood?
– [Sidney] Crosby and [Alex] Ovechkin. But now I want to become the best, therefore I don’t have any idol.
– What is the secret of [Team Russia U20 head coach] Valeri Bragin, who is called Mr. Comeback?
– He knows how to spark his teams. Unfortunately we couldn’t reach Canada, but we went 1-5 to 4-5, he therefore has some secrets.
– In what way did he spark you that time?
– He talks a lot about Russia. He told us that we represent Russia and that we can’t simply lose that way. That we had to go and show that we are the best. Of course I can’t refer the exact words (laughs).
– That year Bragin used to walk directly on the boards to talk with players. Weren’t you scared that he would fall down to the ice?
– Quite the contrary, it motivated us even more. Bragin can do things that no one else does. And that was very cool.
– You had good chemistry with Carolina Hurricanes prospect Sergei Tolchinsky, even in the junior national team. Was your duo born while playing for CSKA Moscow?
– Yes we played together some 10 years. He plays in the AHL himself and he’s doing great, scoring and giving assists. I follow him and we are still in touch.
– Were you satisfied about the way you played at the 2015 WJC?
– I’m never happy about my play. I know I can do better.
– After the draft you spent one season in Finland. Was that another of Larionov’s ideas?
– It was once again a decision we took together. I had two options, to spend another year in the OHL or to go play in Finland against men and gather experience. Of course I picked Europe. Closer to Russia, just one hour from Moscow. Of course you can always play better, but I think I did well, I really enjoyed that season and all the adventures.
– Are your KHL rights owned by CSKA?
– Yes, but I don’t want to play in the KHL now. My dream is to become a full-time NHL player.
– At the start of the season, you were called up to the main team. Was it due to Logan Couture’s injury?
– I hoped to be with the team since the season’s start. I did not, but then they called me because of some injuries. They sent me down, then they called me up, then down again… But I was lucky to get the chances I did.
– And you scored your first NHL goal in your second game, assisted by Joe Thornton. Were you iced in the first line right away?
– Yes, I played with Thornton and Joe Pavelski. Maybe the coaches wanted to test me while playing with the team’s best players. I thought that I had to play in the second or third line and get iced against the best line of the opposition. I can’t say that I was ready for it, but I had something to learn. Although it hasn’t been as hard as I thought initially. This is the best league in the world. I started realizing that I can play at this level. I’m ready to do everything to get it back.
– How do you like the NHL’s best beards, Thornton and Brent Burns?
– They are great! But I think that it would take me 30 years to get to something like that.
– On Nov. 6, you had an assist against the Florida Panthers. Did you ask Jaromir Jagr for an autograph?
– I really wanted to. When I was playing against him I was like “Is this true or am I dreaming?” He’s the third overall scorer in the whole NHL history! But in the end I didn’t ask, I thought it would have been a bit strange.
– What did your coach Peter DeBoer told you when you got sent down?
– In those cases you’re going to hear the standard phrase “we’ll count on you in the future.”
– What would you have preferred for the season, playing less minutes in the NHL with the Sharks or having a big role with the Barracuda?
– Of course my dream is to play in the NHL. I think that if I played with the Sharks in the lower lines, then I would have been noticed for my game and sent to the first lines. It’s always happening. That’s why I’d rather have played in the NHL.
– Is it a good thing that the AHL team plays in San Jose too?
– It’s great. A big plus for me. I don’t have to fly and if they call me to the NHL team I just need to change the doors.
– Does Evgeny Nabokov, now Sharks’ development coach, help you?
– Yes, he’s a great person. Having a Russian within the team is always good. If I have a question I approach him right away. He’s always joking with the younger guys, and he even wears as a kid.
A professional hockey writer and translator. Loves Russian culture, language, and hockey. Reachable on twitter @AlexSerenRosso