On Monday morning, the Vancouver Canucks announced the signing of promising Russian Andrei Kuzmenko. While Kuzmenko is already 26 years old, he has never lived in North America and will certainly need someone to help him through his first year or two.
The Canucks also have Kuzmenko’s former St. Petersburg SKA teammate, Vasily Podkolzin. The 20-year-old played his rookie season with the Canucks last year, but still speaks limited English and would also benefit from the leadership of a Russian veteran.
While Kuzmenko has been practicing hard with his English and Podkolzin’s English has improved since he arrived in Vancouver last fall, the two Russians may need a fellow countryman to help them on and of the ice.
Here is an example of a Russian teammate helping his fellow countryman fit in with the NHL and living in North America.
When Evgeni Malkin came from Russia to North America in 2006, he was uncomfortable. He spoke almost no English, he didn’t understand the culture, and he didn’t know anyone. That is, until he met Sergei Gonchar.
Gonchar, an NHL veteran of 10 years at that point, was brought in for more than just his stellar play as an offensive defenseman. He was brought in as a father figure.
For the first two years of Malkin’s career, he was part of the Gonchar family. He lived at their house, helped with chores, and acted as an older brother to Gonchar’s then-three-year-old daughter, Natalie.
This relationship between Malkin and Gonchar made life easier for the young superstar. Simple, everyday tasks are exponentially more difficult when you don’t understand the language, so Gonchar was there to provide assistance when necessary.
When Malkin won the Hart Trophy in 2012, he dedicated it to Gonchar — who hadn’t even played for the Penguins in two years — out of gratitude for the help he gave him. Malkin firmly believes that he wouldn’t be the player he is today without Gonchar.
This is an important role for the Canucks to fill in order to properly develop their players, so here are six unrestricted free agents that could do that for them.