The forward recovered from a severe injury and had an impressive season at 17 years old.
Nikita Nedopyokin travelled a unique path to St. Petersburg’s main junior team. The center was born in a small town in the Republic of Dagestan, was a trainee of the two best Moscow clubs and made his JHL debut with SKA-Varyagi at the age of 16. A serious injury prevented Nedopyokin from showing his quality in his debut season, he was out long term and watched SKA-1946 winning the championship with a cast on his leg. Having recovered, Nikita returned to the team and earned a roster spot with SKA-1946. In the 2022/23 OLIMPBET Junior Hockey League season, the player scored 32 (14+18) points in 37 regular-season games and 7 (3+4) points in ten playoff games.
In an interview with the official JHL website, Nikita Nedopyokin talked about recovering from the bad injury, winning bronze medals, 2023 NHL Draft, piano playing and challenges of living on his own.
– How can you evaluate the 2022/23 season for you personally and for the team in general?
– I will give the team result a low grade, because we aimed at winning the Kharlamov Cup. It is a standard goal for SKA-1946, which we set every year. For me personally, it was a bright season, I got the fixation plate removed, it was one of the positive moments. I also made my JHL playoff debut, it was a very emotional experience.
– What was it like to be on the forward line with the Demidov brothers?
– Everyone knows that they are skilled players with great hands, game intelligence and game reading abilities. As a center, I was to ensure that they are given some leeway, to gain some free space for their creative plays. They think outside the box both when we play five-on-five and on the power play. There were no issues with the line chemistry.
– You turned eighteen at the end of March. Did you have any doubts about switching from a full cage to a visor?
– When I joined the JHL at 16 years old and saw the guys wearing visors, my first thought was: “I want one too! I need it!”. In American leagues, one can start wearing a visor from the age of sixteen, I also wanted to, I thought it was a cool idea. So, as soon as I turned 18, I decided to get rid of the full cage. The only thing was that, for whatever reason, the team considered it to be bad luck to switch from a full cage to a visor on the birthday – we were to play against Dynamo on that day. I don’t really believe in jinxing things, but I took heed of the opinion of the team and decided not to press my luck (smiles). We had a practice the following day and I was already wearing a visor.
– It was the second JHL season for you to win over 55% of your faceoffs. Are you happy with this component of your game?
– I’d say, I am. Of course, I would love to average 60%. The value of a face off won can vary. Winning a faceoff in defensive zone is way more important than in offensive zone, where set plays are used. When I was in my first season, there were times when, due to covid, SKA-Varyagi only had two forward lines dressed for a game. Having high faceoff win percentage was a physical impossibility, especially playing against Loko. It affected the faceoff stat. The 2022/23 season was a recovery period for me, I returned from a bad injury after long rehabilitation. I will do my best to take it up a notch in the next season.
– Did you have an opportunity to practice taking faceoffs against KHLers during the season?
– Yes, we were called up to the main team during the season and at the end of practices centers practiced taking faceoffs. Of course, I was given help and explanations. Older players have more knowledge, they are able to win faceoffs through deceits and special moves. This experience helps you to progress and then, playing in the JHL, you feel that you have an advantage. We have a concept of a faceoff as a specific element of hockey, and thus it is being carefully analyzed. We are explained the nuances of the grip, stance, bending the frame. These are small but important details we work on.
– Krovyakov – Gurzanov – Buchelnikov line was jokingly called KGB, the Demidov brothers are called Beagle Boys, do you have a nickname?
– Back in those days when I was with the Dynamo school, there was one boy who once called me Pekka, it is a character from Clash Royale video game. He said it lightly in the locker room and the nickname stuck to me and I still get called by it.
– Tell us about the injury that kept you out long-term.
– It was a new, but mildly speaking, bitter experience. I came to Khabarovsk with SKA-1946. In the very first game, I slipped badly, failed to tuck and hit my leg with my ankle, as a result – broken bones and torn ligaments. I arrived to St. Petersburg soon after and had a medical check. Fortunately, medicine is of a great level here. The doctors, physical therapy instructor, our team conditioning coach were helping me a lot. They were giving encouragement and doing their best to ensure my quick and successful recovery. The club played an important role in my rehabilitation.
– What was it like to watch SKA-1946 winning the championship with your leg broken?
– I remember that I was really enjoying the atmosphere and the game itself. SKA-1946 winning the championship helped me to cope with the injury, because I no longer thought about what had happened to me and how terrible it was. I wanted to recover as soon as possible and live through the same experience on the ice, to be able to enter into the same spirit.
– You made your JHL debut at the age of 16, what difficulties did you face?
– The preseason training camp was tough, I was sort of at a loss, I felt that the speed was higher and decisions were to be made quicker. I started playing in the JHL with a leg injury that I picked up in the summer when I was with the national team. It took me a couple of preseason games to get adjusted, and I managed to score goals in the exhibition games in Yaroslavl, I learned how to handle the pressure. The coaching staff helped me to hit the right tune for the season so as to have no doubts or worries.
– You were born in Buynaksk, tell us more about your homeland.
– My dad is a military man, he served in this town in the Republic of Dagestan, and I was born there. In Russia, being born in the Caucasus region is an honor and a moral advantage. I spent six years in Buynaksk, it was a great time. I really love this city, I have many acquaintances and friends there.
– When was the last time you went there?
– I don’t get to visit Buynaksk very often, because my parents live in Moscow now. The last time I went there was in 2018. They do remember me there, local people are very sociable and friendly. Everyone who knows that I play hockey watches games, supports and sends good wishes to my parents.
– But it wasn’t where you started playing hockey, was it?
– It wasn’t. When I was six years old, my dad decided that we needed to move because of studies and the fact that my older brother lived with our grandmother in Yoshkar-Ola. A family should be kept together, after all, so we moved to Rostov, and my dad started serving there. At first, he wanted to sign me up for wrestling, but they only admitted 10+ kids, so I was too young for that. By that time, my older brother had already played hockey in Yoshkar-Ola for local Spartak, then he continued to play in Rostov. My dad decided I would follow suit of my brother: we came to the rink, guys were already skating and practicing, while I didn’t even know how to skate. I took the ice the same day, and somehow, I started to skate. It didn’t take me long to get adjusted. I was told to practice and do my best to catch up with the other guys.
– After Rostov, you moved to Moscow and were a trainee of CSKA and then Dynamo.
– We moved from Rostov to Stupino because of my older brother. Being a prospect, he was offered to join Kapitan, and I trailed him. Then my brother was offered to join Olimpiec, Balashikha. We went there, I participated in several tournaments, and so it happened that my former linemate’s father advised us to move to CSKA, where his son was playing. I joined Yantar, and was told about the 2005 team being really strong. The guys from CSKA played on that team, it was a completely different level and the competition for a roster spot was high. We attended tryouts. The coach had a rather specific player selection method: he evaluated my soccer skills. I spent all my childhood playing soccer, so I managed to make a strong showing. After the off-ice practice, the coach told us that I can join the team.
– So unusual!
– That was exactly what my dad and I thought (smiles). At that time, the guys from CSKA played there, while I still didn’t know how to skate backwards. But the coach saw a lot of potential in my soccer skills and decided that I show some promise. I spent two years with CSKA, then there were staff changes and Maxim Alexandrovich Biryukov, who had coached us back in those days when we were with Yantar, resigned as head coach. My parents and I decided it would be better for me to move to Dynamo, because at that time there were two best teams in Moscow: CSKA and Dynamo. To be honest, I don’t fully understand what that decision was connected with, I just needed to play hockey back then and didn’t care about the rest. My parents gave a call to Anton Antonovich Korredor. After the training camp, he told me I had potential. So, I started working my way up to become a leader of the team.
– What is the story behind your jersey number?
– It’s the number that has been following me since I was a kid. For example, when I was a little boy, I would come to circus, take a random seat, and it would be the seat number 47. Even if I add up the numbers in my birthday (March 22 (2+2), 2005 (2+5)), it also comes to 4 7. This number was taken by Yegor Zelenov, so I simply reversed it to 74.
– Yegor Zelenov is already a JHL alumnus, do you plan to be wearing number 47 again?
– Yes, I think I will be wearing number 47 again.
– Do you have a hobby?
– My main hobby is playing the piano, I have been doing it since I was about six years old. I am far from being called a virtuoso, though. My favorite music that I can play is Pirates of the Caribbean – He’s a Pirate. Learning new pieces helps to take mind off things and get rid of excess emotions.
– Was it hard to balance hockey with playing the piano?
– Actually, it wasn’t hard at all. I didn’t spend ten hours a day playing piano, like some virtuosos do, I used to practice for just an hour and a half a day. My mom used to play the piano and it sparked my interest in trying to play it too when I was six years old. I was signed up for piano lessons and things started to work out well. There were times when I acted up and wanted to quit, but I am glad that this part of my life is still with me and is here to stay (smiles).
– Share your expectations of the 2023 NHL Draft.
– I don’t know the exact date, but, of course, I am looking forward to the draft. It is clear that things are tough, especially now, but there still is a chance. I hope everything works out. There’s no point thinking what club would be the best for me, but I will name Tampa. Although they were eliminated this year, the hockey that the team has been playing in the past few years is of a very serious level. Tampa is an interesting team to follow.
Nedopyokin Nikita Sergeevich
Born on March 22, 2005 in Buynaksk
2013-2015 – Yantar, Moscow
2015-2017 – CSKA, Moscow
2017-2021 – Dynamo, Moscow
From 2021 – SKA, Saint Petersburg
Bronze medalist of European Youth Olympic Festival, 2021/22 season
Bronze medalist of 2022/23 JHL season