Last night was Yegor Rykov’s first competitive game since he played for Sochi in the KHL a little over nine months ago. The Russian defenseman was playing his first professional game in North America, using a North American rink as well as English terminology and communication. And, Rykov was seeing action for the first time since an ankle injury took him out of action for over two months.
Such massive heaps of rust and unfamiliarity would have completely excused Rykov had he struggled in his AHL debut with Hartford last night against Springfield. Instead, he played very well for the Wolf Pack and made a statement in the team’s 5-2 win.
Rykov played his typical game. Nothing fancy, but persistently steady. He was sharp-witted when handling the puck, starting plays with lightning-quick passes to teammates. He displayed poise in the offensive zone, stickhandling out of pressure and creating space for himself to make plays. In the third period, this culminated in him earning his first career point, setting up winger Patrick Newell for an easy goal around the crease (Rykov is #57 in blue).
Off the puck, his mobility did not seem too affected by the circumstances. He pinched in the offensive zone at the right moments and showed a willingness to activate down low. For the most part, his gap control was on point. He won his share of races to loose pucks in the corners and stayed with his man in defensive coverage.
There were a few moments where one could see he wasn’t quite at peak efficiency. Goaltender Igor Shesterkin bailed him out with a big save on an odd-man rush after Rykov was caught flat-footed in the neutral zone. There were a few minor but forgivable misplays with the puck.
On the whole, though, Rykov was an asset to a Wolf Pack blueline that has slipped a little bit in recent games, perhaps in part due to Ryan Lindgren’s promotion to the NHL. He showed that calm, confident two-way ability for which he quickly trended up in KHL circles last season. The North American game did not seem to bewilder him in the slightest. As Rykov gets back to full game fitness and becomes more familiar with his teammates’ playing styles and the organization’s tactical nuances, Rykov may quickly become the Wolf Pack’s premier left-handed defenseman.
A few more thoughts from the game:
- Joey Keane was practically flawless defensively. I anticipate putting together an article on his season in the near future.
- Lias Andersson is pointless in his last three games and has racked up eight penalty minutes as well. I can’t speak to the prior two games because I did not watch them. I thought he had a decent game last night against Springfield. He set Vinni Lettieri up for a few quality scoring chances, one of the goaltender just barely prevented from going into the net.
- Hartford played pretty well defensive for most of the game, particularly in the second period when they gave up just six shots. However, Igor Shesterkin was on call when needed. He stopped three odd-man rushes, including the aforementioned one involving Rykov.