26.12.2023 в 13:30

“I still haven’t won the Kharlamov Cup, I can’t just leave it the way it is.” Kirill Dolzhenkov talks his size, KHL and Youth Olympic Games

The 19-year-old forward has got adjusted to CSKA and has no fear of playing with physicality at the men’s level.

Kirill Dolzhenkov moved to CSKA in 2016 and has become one of the top prospects of the Moscow club in the span of seven years. The forward already has a Youth Olympic gold medal to his credit, he also participated in the Challenge Cup and the Kharlamov Cup final. In the 2023/24 season, Dolzhenkov has moved up the tiers and managed to approve himself at the KHL level. After 18 games for CSKA, he has 6 (3+3) points and 80 faceoff winning percentage. The team’s head coach, Sergei Fedorov, never remits his attention to the talented young players: “I am happy about their progress, they advance with gigantic strides. They are the fresh blood we need.” The forward is doing his best to meet coach’s expectations, he does not avoid playing physical hockey (with a size of 198/101) and sets himself an aim of contributing to the main team’s success.

In an interview with the official JHL website, Kirill Dolzhenkov talked about the principled Army Derby, physicality, taking faceoffs, junior stage of his career, and also recalled the 2020 Youth Olympic Games. 

“In CSKA young players feel trusted and do their best to meet coaches’ expectations”

At the age of 19, you are a CSKA’s top-line player, you are dressed for important games, score goals and get credited with assists. Can we say that dreams do come true?
– Those are goals rather than dreams. Goals are accomplished through day-to-day hard work and self-improvement. I am glad that I am getting there.

Being one of the top-six forward group of a KHL team, you should meet coach’s expectations, how can it be done?
– By following coaching instructions, scoring goals and points, because top-line players are more experienced, you need to go stride for stride with them. My linemates give me some pointers almost every game. Playing with experienced teammates always makes things easier.

For a forward of your size, is it easier to play against bigger or smaller opponents?
– I’d say, it is easier to play against smaller guys, since proper angling allows to cut them off, which is not always the case with bigger players. For instance, Stepan Falkovsky has a long reach and can poke the puck away.

After the game against SKA, Sergei Fedorov called you and other young players “the fresh blood” commenting on your progress. Tell us about coaches’ trust in CSKA.
– My ice time increases gradually. In September I skated five to six minutes, now I get 15-17 minutes of ice time. In CSKA young players feel trusted and do their best to meet coaches’ expectations. No one wants to let the coaching staff down, we know that they count on us and let us play more and more minutes.

You said that it had taken you two months to get adjusted to the JHL. How long did it take you to get used to the KHL?
– In the 2022/23 season, I played five games for CSKA, got the taste of the KHL level, but not to the full extent. Getting more ice time and playing on top-three lines allowed me to gain confidence and get fully adjusted to the League.

“We lined up head-to-head with Ilya Kablukov. He had played over a thousand KHL games, but did not manage to win that faceoff”

How do you deal with physicality in the KHL?
– KHLers are tougher, but I can’t say that I find this physicality more challenging than in the JHL or the VHL. There isn’t any particular body check that stayed in my head, especially since I don’t receive them too often.

Your size gives you an advantage in offense, but do CSKA lay emphasis on playing without the puck in their zone?
– I think, first of all, we need to be able to play solid defense, because defense goes first. We are taught to stick to the scheme both in defensive and neutral zone. And in offensive zone there is room for creativity, because hockey is a game, and we are not robots. It didn’t take me long to get used to playing without a puck. When I joined CSKA, I was explained all the requirements right away, I was told what a winger is expected to do in defensive and neutral zones. I believe that I manage to avoid major mistakes. Of course, everyone has his failings, but everything is good in general.

Do you get creative in the offensive zone? Can you try scoring a lacrosse-style goal, like you did in the JHL?
– We have some set plays that we work on during practices, but most of the forwards play according to the situation and act based on what is happening on the ice. Of course, I can imagine scoring a lacrosse-style goal in the KHL, but it is a matter of chance. I am to be behind the net, opposing defensemen are also to be positioned in a certain way. But the KHL always leaves room for some less sophisticated creative moves, such as screened shots or some nice passes.

In the KHL you have already won four out of five faceoffs taken, what is the reason for such success?
– Back in those days when I played at the CSKA children’s school, Sergei Fedorov used to attend our practices and he was teaching me and several other centers how to take faceoffs. I used to play center when I was with the school, plus I have JHL and VHL experience. But it was Sergei Viktorovich who helped me build my skills and learn many important details.

Does taking faceoffs in the KHL differ considerably from the JHL?
– It does. KHLers are more experienced. For example, we lined up head-to-head with Ilya Kablukov from Dynamo. He had played over a thousand KHL games, but did not manage to win that faceoff (smiles).

You participated in the Challenge Cup, played in the Kharlamov Cup final. Is there still something you feel you need to get closure on?
– Yes. I did play Challenge Cup games, but I still haven’t won the main JHL trophy, I can’t just leave it the way it is.

“Being at the Olympics I realized that our national team was made up of good players with bright future reserved for us”

You are a Youth Olympic gold medalist. Do you often think back to the time when the Russian team rocked at that tournament?
– Of course, I often think about that tournament. It gave us tons of fun. It was one of the biggest and most important events in my life: Olympic Games, strong opponents, full stands, a different country.

What were the things that allowed the team to dominate even games against the USA, Finland and Canada?
– I remember that we were preparing for that tournament thoroughly and carefully, we spent almost a month and a half in Novogorosk. During that time, we managed to find good chemistry and become a close-knit team. It helped us not just win games, but blow out our opponents.

Many of the guys from those Olympics are now performing well in the KHL, and some are in the NHL. Was it felt that 2004-born players had high potential?
– I didn’t make any comparison to older guys, but being at the Olympics I realized that our national team was made up of good players with bright future reserved for us. The very callup for the Olympics speaks volumes.

Russian national team’s roster was star-studded by today’s standards, but did any opponents make themselves memorable?
– Yes, as for Adam Fantilli, I knew him even before the Olympic Games. I played against him at The Selects tournament when I was still with the children’s school, he was there with team Canada two years in a row. I also remember American player Lane Hutson and Canadian player Matt Savoie. I knew one or two players from each team.

With the busy KHL schedule, do you still think about being unable to participate in international tournaments?
– Today’s realities still allow us to participate in some tournaments. The Channel One Cup was recently held, in November I played at the Future Cup. Of course, I would like to try my hand at playing against guys from the USA and Canada, but my main focus is on playing for my club. Now I am with CSKA, it is a new level for me, so my attention is concentrated on the KHL.

“I have been learning from my own experience, taking advice from coaches, but I never tried to model my game after any particular player”

You are the tallest forward in the KHL. Is there an opponent who sticks out in your mind due to his size?
– It is not something I pay close attention to, but I remember Stepan Falkovsky from the game against SKA. I don’t know how tall he is (205 – note), but he did stand out from other St. Petersburg players

Do you look up to any of the players in terms of proper use of the size on the ice? Maybe you follow Dmitry Voronkov?
– To be honest, I don’t follow Voronkov at all, I tried to forge my own path. I have been learning from my own experience, taking advice from coaches, but I never tried to model my game after any particular player.

But do you watch games played by Columbus Blue Jackets, the team you were drafted by?
– I watch game highlights. Of course, I see the all-Russian line’s goals and assists, but I don’t follow any of the players closely.

The Columbus Blue Jackets news and opinions website posted the following: “It’s tough to miss Dolzhenkov on the ice as he truly looks like a man amongst boys.” Are things different for you in the KHL now?
– Today, there is quite a number of short JHLers born in 2006-2007, so it sort of felt that way indeed. In the KHL I still feel that I am taller and stronger than others, but not that acutely. I come to realize that some players are already 30 plus and they are way more eperienced.

Dolzhenkov Kirill Vladimirovich
Born on April 20, 2004
2012-2016 – Spartak, Moscow
From 2016 – CSKA, Moscow