“Radulov is the most difficult player to defend against.” Nikita Yevseyev – about Ak Bars’ training camp and senior hockey

17.08.2022 в 12:00

“Radulov is the most difficult player to defend against.” Nikita Yevseyev – about Ak Bars’ training camp and senior hockey

The Kazan defenseman is getting adjusted to Oleg Znarok’s team.

Nikita Yevseyev is one of the best Russian defensemen in terms of making good progress. At the age of 16, the Neftyanik Almetyevsk trainee made his Junior Hockey League debut, and then played for two teams in the 2021/2022 season: Irbis and Bars from the SHL. Nikita helped the Kazan junior team reach the Kharlamov Cup semi-finals and win bronze medals. The dramatic five-game series was won by SKA-1946, and Nikita became the best defenseman of Irbis in the 2022 Kharlamov Cup playoffs. Yevseyev’s progress was also noted by Ak Bars. The defenseman is preparing for the 2022/2023 season together with the main team.

In an interview with the official JHL website, Nikita talked about Ak Bars’ training camp, his first steps in hockey, his impressions of practicing with Alexander Radulov and Vadim Shipachyov, and the difference between the JHL and the SHL.

“I did not expect I would be invited to Ak Bars’ training camp”

– Tell us about the preseason, what team are you working with?
– I am with Ak Bars now. To be honest, I did not expect I would be invited to Ak Bars’ training camp. Many new players with solid KHL experience have joined the team. I did not think that I would be a training camp participant, but I am extremely happy that I am practicing with the main team.

– In what way is practicing with a KHL team different?
– The level is different. People have played in the KHL and for the national team for many years. They are Gagarin Cup winners, world champions. I am trying to make the best out of working with them. Preseason is always difficult, no matter what team you are with - Ak Bars, Bars or Irbis.

– What is the least favorite exercise you have to perform during a training camp?
– Running. Running in the heat is no fun.

– What is it like to practice with such stars as Shipachyov, Radulov, Galiyev, Voynov?
– It makes me feel extremely excited. I am trying to put my best foot forward. Everyone is battling for a roster spot – and I am doing my best to do the same.

– Is it difficult to defend against them?
– Of course. Radulov is the most difficult player to defend against. He is a very experienced player and so far, the toughest one to play against. The more we practice, the better I understand what needs to be done. It becomes easier as you get used to the level and the tempo.

– Have you managed to understand what kind of coach and person Oleg Znarok is?
– We haven’t talked much. We have a good working atmosphere. Coaches give pointers, explain where and how to play better. I am very happy to have an opportunity to work with such a head coach. You can learn a lot and keep progressing.

– Znarok gave chances to many young defensemen when he coached other teams. Are you encouraged by examples of Alexander Nikishin and Andrei Mironov?
– A young defenseman can always make it to the KHL if he conforms to the level of the league. It's not a matter of any particular player. Look how many young guys played last season, how many are being called up to the main team now. I train, work and try to earn a spot on the roster.

– What could help you become a full-time Ak Bars player?
– I am working the way the coaches ask me to. I maintain good defensive positioning, play simple, don't try to be fancy. If they tell me to play higher - I play higher, lower means lower. It is hard to say what could help me become a full-time player of the main team. So far, I need to improve my speed and make quicker decisions. If you get your timing wrong, the opponent will be right there to steal the puck.

– Who are the defensemen you look up to?
– Mikhail Sergachyov and Dmitry Orlov. Both of them are good at joining the rush and getting takeaways. I like the way they play.

“I learned to keep my temper in check long ago, so I don’t let myself be provoked”

– How can you evaluate the 2021/2022 season? What aspects have you grown stronger in?
– I learned to compete with men in the Supreme Hockey League. I was not afraid of battles, I was able to win them. I'm happy with the season in general. We could have gone further with both Irbis and Bars, but things haven't exactly worked out the way we wanted. I am glad that I had a lot of ice time and that coaches trusted me.

– Do you feel more confident on the ice after two years in the JHL?
– Yes, it was much easier to play, I felt calmer. It was not exactly the case in the playoff games against SKA, but as for other games, I felt calm and composed.

– Was the JHL-to-SHL transition easy for you?
– It is hard to say. Older guys helped me a lot. Maxim Pestushko, for instance, who was a Bars player back then, was tipping me off about where and how to play. I knew all the guys. The adaptation was quick. As for game aspects, sometimes I was not able to win battles, make quick passes or take good shots. But I knew from the start that it was a different level.

– In what way?
– Playing physically. In the JHL, you can easily outmuscle an opponent or steal the puck. And in the SHL you may start battling and bounce away from the opponent. And then they rush to the net to tear the goalie to pieces. My teammates were of great help, they explained me how to act in certain situations. I was trying to make quicker decisions.

– What is the main difference between the SHL and the JHL?
– Minor hockey alumni join the JHL and try to prove themselves. Because of this they sometimes make mistakes. And in the SHL, every mistake counts and is punished for with goals scored by an opposing team. But there were no restrictions for me in the Supreme Hockey League. I played like I always do.

– What were you lacking in the Kharlamov Cup playoffs to win SKA-1946?
– It is hard to answer this one. Perhaps the odds were against us. We could have finished the series at home, but we didn’t manage to. We went to St. Petersburg for Game 5 and lost it. The long overtime of Game 4 in Kazan was the key moment. We could finish the series at home and start preparing for the finals, but something didn't go as planned.

– You missed Game 4 against SKA-1946 because of a match penalty. Tell us about the episode when Dmitry Buchelnikov got injured.
– I saw that he was about to make a pass. I wanted to throw a quick check, but he lowered his head. It happened so that he was trying to escape the check, and my knee was moving up. I did not have time to move it away, it was what it was. A weird accident. I didn't mean to get him injured.

– In the regular season, you got into a fight with Nikita Kholodilin from Omskie Yastreby. Do you often have to fight?
– No, not often. My attitude towards fights is tolerant. Obviously, when I need to stand up for a teammate, I will go and fight right away. But I won't fight for no reason. I learned to keep my temper in check long ago, so I don’t let myself be provoked. Seeing an opponent trying to instigate is a laughing matter.

“The minor-to-junior transition was easy”

– You started playing hockey in Almetyevsk. How did it happen?
– It was my father who signed me up for hockey. I was five years old. The coaches were constantly changing. Then Vil Ismagilovich Fakhrutdinov started working with us we were coached by him for quite a long time – until the age of 14. After that, Khalim Khakimullovich Nigmatullin was working with us until graduation.

– Did you start liking hockey right away?
– Frankly speaking, I don’t remember. But since I'm still playing, it means I did start liking it. My parents were taking me to practices, they were buying equipment and gear.

– Did your parents know immediately that their son would become a professional hockey player?
– I don’t think so. They were taking me to practices so that I don’t idle around. They wanted me to become a good man.

– And when did you realize that hockey is a lifelong love?
– Probably before getting to the Junior Hockey League. The minor-to-junior transition was easy for me. It seemed like I always played in this league. I was lucky to have Khalim Khakimullovich as a defensive coach with the junior team. He did well with preparing me - I did not notice the difference. I just started playing more games.

– Have you been a defenseman since childhood?
– Vil Ismagilovich was playing all the guys both as forwards and as defensemen. He used to say that a good hockey player should be able to play any position. I don’t even remember when I became a full-time defenseman.

–You played for Vityaz Podolsk in the 2019/2020 season. How did it happen?
– Many players left Neftyanik. I was offered to play for Vityaz and I agreed. It was a new experience for me: a different city, a different team, a lot of new guys. After the season I returned to Almetyevsk.

– How did you join the Ak Bars system?
– My JHL team finished the season. The club had training camps for rookies and junior players. Three Neftyanik players went there, including me. We practiced for a month with KHL coaches. Dmitry Vyacheslavovich Kvartalnov came to see our scrimmage games. Then we returned home. Three days before the start of the Ak Bars’ training camp I was told that I would go to Kazan.

– Were any other clubs interested in you?
– Yes. All offers were processed by my agent. As far as I know, many KHL clubs expressed their interest. But we decided that the Ak Bars system was the best option for my development. The club has excellent conditions for practicing.

– What is your goal for the upcoming season?
– To try my hand at KHL hockey and become a full-time player of Ak Bars. I train and get prepared for the season in order to achieve this goal.

Mikhail Skryl