Nikita Grebenyonkin leads the assists chart and is in the top five among all the league’s scorers.
Steel Foxes’ forward Nikita Grebyonkin is the top passer in the JHL right now and is in his second season in the league. The 18-year-old forward has 37 assists and 50 points in 48 regular-season games, but he doesn’t pay attention to his personal stats. He doesn’t have any pure playmaker among his idols and he’s willing to throw himself under the puck and play penalty killing hockey for his team’s success.
The forward comes from the town of Serov, where he started playing hockey. He then moved to Yekaterinburg, and then to Magnitogorsk, where he made his JHL debut at the age of 17 with the Steel Foxes. His first goal was worth of any highlight reel – he went one-on-one against Irbis’ goalie and buried the puck in while hitting the ice.
Grebyonkin is also an excellent playmaker. He’s already had 37 assists this season for Magnitogorsk, and his team is leading the Eastern Conference. The forward scored a total of 87 (25+62) points in 107 games for Magnitogorsk. In this interview, Grebyonkin talked about the beginning of his hockey career, role models and his transition from kids’ hockey.
“New coaches are working with us this season,” he replies first thing when asked about his progress from last year. “They tell us a lot of things, help us, give everybody to prove themselves. I always tried to be the leader of the team and do my best for it. I ty to prove with my game that I can play in the JHL, that I can go further – to the VHL and KHL. I am very glad that the coaching staff trust me. Maybe my good results are because of that. It gives me confidence in my abilities and helps me to develop. But I can play better, so I won’t evaluate myself only from a positive point of view.”
Grebyonkin is making a name for himself as an excellent passer. “The main thing is for the team to score, and who will score or get an assist is of secondary importance,” he says. “My first coaches told me that a good pass to a partner was more valuable than a goal. But the older I get, the more I realize that’s not entirely true. The main thing is for the team to score.”
On Dec 8, against Kunlun Red Star, Grebyonkin had his debut game in the KHL for Metallurg. “I need to thank Ilya Vorobyov for this chance. Steel Foxes’ coaches recommended me, it was very nice. I was very surprised by the speed in the KHL, but I was ready for it. I was impressed that all the older guys in the team encouraged me, gave me advice. It was very nice. There was no pressure in the style of ‘Oh, here goes the little kid’.”
Another young player in the Metallurg’s pipeline is Danila Yurov. He was born in the same year as Grebyonkin, in 2003, but has already played more than 20 games for Magnitka in the KHL. “Danila’s example, of course, is inspiring. He shows that with our work, we can be worthy of being in the senior team.”
Grebyonkin hails from Serov, a town on the eastern foothills of the Ural Mountains. The Ural region produced several world-class hockey players, including Alexei Yashin and Pavel Datsyuk. “I prefer more action-oriented players. For example, Alexander Radulov – he’s from Nizhny Tagil.” Moreover, Radulov also always had so many assists, but also loved to score. “I like love scoring too. It’s just that this season, for some reason, I don’t score goals, but I give assists. It’s just a coincidence.”
In kids’ hockey, Grebyonkin had 487 points in 283 games. That’s almost two points per night. “I wouldn’t say that I was so better than the other players. There were guys who scored even more. But I started to feel confident, and I realized I was better than a lot of them. Danila Yurov also scored a lot in kids’ hockey, and now he plays on the senior team.”
Moving to the JHL isn’t an easy task, however, for many players. “When I got in the JHL, physically it was easy enough,” he says. “But my head was still in kids’ hockey, and Denis Platonov gave me a lot of advice. Sometimes he scolded me, but I tried to learn my mistakes. Now I try not to repeat them.”
Earlier this season, Grebyonkin was following the 2022 WJC in Canada. The tournament was stopped after a few games due to the pandemic spread among players. “I didn’t communicate with anyone from the team, but it was very frustrating,” he explains. “I really wanted, as a spectator, to watch our national team play, I was ready to watch the matches and cheer on New Year’s Eve. It’s very unfortunate that the tournament was interrupted. For the guys, it is a great loss, because since childhood, they work hard to get to the World Junior Championship. It’s a landmark tournament for that age, and maybe for their entire careers. It’s a shame for the guys – I feel them.”
Any league in the world has a prize for the most points, and an award for the most goals. The most assists are never awarded. “Indeed, there is a slight unfairness,” Grebyonking confirms. “But the main thing is that our team this year showed good results, and personal awards are not the main thing. In Magnitogorsk the team only has the highest ambitions. Nobody wants just to make the playoffs, go one or two rounds, and then drop out. We count only on the Kharlamov Cup.”
His determination is always audible when talks about his goals for the season. “We have a very good team. Our main goal is to play well in the playoffs. I’m ready for any work on the ice: blocking shots, playing in the penalty killing units, scoring, and giving assists. Everything for the team.”