EDMONTON - When last we saw Denis Grebeshkov in the National Hockey League in Nashville, he was finishing a game — unbelievably, after his testicle was crushed when the Russian defender dove to block a Christian Ehrhoff blast.
Proving, of course, that the one-time Edmonton Oilers puck-moving defenceman is tough as nails.
Grebeshkov, who is back with the Oilers after three years in the Kontinental Hockey League, isn’t just a one-trick offensive pony. He’ll do anything for a victory and now we’re about to find out if his signing to a one-year, $1.5-million free-agent contract is a win for both sides. Grebshkov loved his 190 games here, and he has retrieved his old No. 37. He liked to make plays, sometimes finding their way onto opposing sticks because he had some riverboat gambler in him, but he could easily find his way into the top six on the back end this season and the second power play unit.
Grebeshkov never lost his love of the Oilers or the NHL while back in Russia, but he admits he was surprised to see his old coach Craig MacTavish pursuing him this summer.
“The reason I left the NHL was personal stuff. I was 26 years old and by himself and I wanted a family and now I have a girl … but hockey-wise I always wanted to be in the NHL,” he said.
Nashville, who gave up a second-round draft pick for Grebeshkov but didn’t get much of a look because he was hurt offered him a new contract in 2010. But he declined.
“My agent saw Craig in Europe or the United States and they started talking. I decided to try it again.” said Grebeshkov, who started his NHL career as a first-round Los Angeles Kings draft pick, was traded to the New York Islanders, and then to the Oilers for Marc-Andre Bergeron and a third-round pick.
“When I was in the KHL, I still followed the Oilers, I saw the highlights. Like they say, once an Oilers, always an Oilers.”
The Oilers dealt him to the Predators because his contract was up and he was making more than $3 million a year. Mainly, it was financial.
“Yeah, probably but my last year, my third with the Oilers wasn’t that good. It was probably right for the Oilers to trade me.”
The Ehrhoff shot that nailed him was a low blow. He needed surgery after four league games with the Predators.
“Lots of pain (when the puck hit him) but I played through it. End of the game, I found out it was really swollen down there,” he said.
Grebeshkov, who turns 30 next month, had a so-so time in the KHL, playing in St. Petersburg, then got traded to a weaker team.
“I really appreciate that Craig is giving me a second chance in the NHL. He worked with me my first year. He was hard on me but it worked out pretty well. I had the best year and a half in the NHL under his coaching,” said Grebeshkov, who continues to be a strong puckhandler.
“I’ll try to not do too much,” he said with a slight laugh when asked about his gambling and trying to force passes.
Grebeshkov’s fellow Russian defenceman Anton Belov, who signed a two-way, one-year contract, will likely be here in two days after discouraging visa issues with the Canadian Embassy.
“I played with him on the national team in some tournaments. It’ll be tough for him to go from the KHL to the NHL, especially with no time. We’re similar players. I won’t say who’s better. He’s not here yet. It took me longer than usual to get my visa too. I wanted to be here at the beginning of August to prepare myself, but got here four days ago. I think Belov will be here Friday,” said Grebeshkov.
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