Under a disguise of broken-English, a name change and a visor lies what could be one of the keys to the Flyers season.
Nikolay (as he now likes his first name spelled) Zherdev is letting his actions speak for themselves this preseason, racking up points and playing good, physical hockey.
The Flyers weren’t sure exactly what they were getting themselves into when they brought Zherdev back to America in July, but their decision is sure looking like it’s going to pay off.
The 25-year-old journeyman right-winger comes back to the NHL after New York decided to release him following his $3.9 million arbitration grant, forcing him to skate off to Russia for the 2009 season.
With six preseason games under his belt and a point to match each one, he’s quickly looking like one of GM Paul Holmgren’s best pickups.
Zherdev has certainly established himself as a scoring presence. His five goals through his first six games tell you all you need to know in that department. “Offensively there’s parts of his game that are excellent. He generates and sees the ice well. He has great hands,” said head coach Peter Laviolette.
Zherdev comes as one of the few additions around the already established Flyers nucleus that took them to the cup finals last season. Zherdev, along with some of his new teammates could be the key to an easier route to the Cup this year.
“We’re trying to fit [new players] into that North [American] mentality and that pounding game in the offensive zone. I think when you pick up something different like that it takes some time to get it, but offensively he’s scored a lot of goals. He has that capability,” Laviolette said.
Zherdev was not available to the media after Friday’s game, but on the ice, he didn’t go unnoticed, scoring and continuing to play physical hockey.
Zherdev’s tough play should be a good fit for the orange and black. He racked up four minutes in the box Friday, including a roughing minor after demonstrating incredible upper-body strength to take Nathan Gerbe to the ice in the first period.
“I think it’s good. I don’t know the details of what happened…. But he pushed back a little bit. That’s always good to see,” Laviolette noted.
The 6’2” forward is just happy to be here. A history of contract disputes have followed Zherdev from Columbus, where he threatened to remain in Russia before finally settling on a three-year deal back in 2006, to New York where the Rangers chose to let him go before the start of last season, following an arbitrator’s decision to grant him his $3.9 million demand.
“I always looked forward to playing in the NHL,” Zherdev told the media via a translator from Flyers Training Camp. “But the last year [playing with the Rangers] didn’t happen, so I played in the KHL. Now I’m back here and really want to play here.”
Zherdez, who already looks to be playing well with his teammates and making good reads could be one of the unpredicted keys to the Flyers season. Complimenting a nucleus of rising talent, Zherdev is not afraid to make his presence known.
“Like any hockey player, you hit him he’s going to want to hit you back,” said Dan Carcillo.
But his physical play isn’t going to be all that stands out. “He can go any direction with the puck, Carcillo continued. “He’s going to be good for us this year.”