Oilers' prospect Anton Slepyshev intriguing player to watch

 

 
 
 
 
EDMONTON, AB. SEPTEMBER 8, 2015 - Russian winger Anton Slepyshev to go with a story that Jim Matheson is writing. Many of the Edmonton Oilers held a skate at the Royal Glenora Club leading up to training camp. Shaughn Butts/Edmonton Journal
 

EDMONTON, AB. SEPTEMBER 8, 2015 - Russian winger Anton Slepyshev to go with a story that Jim Matheson is writing. Many of the Edmonton Oilers held a skate at the Royal Glenora Club leading up to training camp. Shaughn Butts/Edmonton Journal

Photograph by: Shaughn Butts, Edmonton Journal

Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan dropped in at the Royal Glenora Club on Wednesday, trying to put faces to names like he was a regular hockey fan as he watched his players in an informal practice.

“Which one is (Anton) Slepyshev?” McLellan asked.

While most eyes will be on Connor McDavid, then fellow centre Leon Draisaitl and defenceman Darnell Nurse at the Young Stars Classic tournament, which starts Friday at Penticton, B.C., Russian winger Slepyshev is the wild card.

It’s awfully crowded with a dozen Oilers forwards on one-way contracts, but the six-foot-two, 194-pound Slepyshev, 21, is not that far away from being an NHL player. He played the last three years for Ufa Salavat, one of the better-run Kontinental Hockey League teams. The 2013 third-round draft pick scored 15 goals and 25 points last season in a low-scoring league. He was a top-six forward in the KHL as the 2014-15 season wore on.

When his contract with the Russian team expired, he signed a three-year, NHL entry-level deal this summer.

“He’s going to have to adapt to the ice surface here and North America,” said Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli, “but what’s he done in the KHL hasn’t gone unnoticed. That’s a good league. He’s a big, strong kid who can shoot the puck. He’s got some game and can play both sides (offence and defence).”

Oilers winger Nail Yakupov and farmhand Bogdan Yakimov played with Slepyshev on the Russian world junior team in 2013.

“I’ve been following his KHL career … he’s done a good job,” said Yakupov, who acted as Slepyshev’s interpreter on Wednesday after being uncomfortable in interviews during his first NHL season (even though he played two years of major junior in Ontario with the Sarnia Sting).

“But this is a different life, different hockey. It will be hard for Anton, especially with no English, but everyone has that routine and has to go through it. It’s not like he’s 10 years old. He’s like 20.”

What kind of player is Slepyshev?

“In the Russian league, they don’t ask that,” he said. “Over there, the coach tells me what to do. If the coach says score goals, I’ll score goals. If he says he wants me to hit the bodies, I’ll hit the bodies.”

Slepyshev had some offers to play junior in the Canadian Hockey League as Yakupov did, but chose to stay in Russia. He was a bit player for a long while in the KHL as a teenager.

“He struggled for a year and a half because he was young, but was in the top six this season,” said Yakupov.

Slepyshev was drafted in 2013, 88th overall, but this was the earliest he could get to Edmonton.

“I had a contract,” he said. “I had to play it out.”

Slepyshev knew of Hall of Famer Slava Fetisov’s idea to keep all Russian-born players at home until they were 28 before they’d be allowed to go to North America, but shrugged it off. Fetisov’s plan never got off the ground.

“I wasn’t that worried about it … but you never know what’s going to happen in the KHL,” he said. “Two days before the season, the league said Belarusians had lost their import status in the league and 40 players lost their jobs.”

That’s why former NHL winger Sergei Kostitsyn will be at the Calgary Flames’ training camp on a tryout after previously signing to play for Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod.

What does Slepyshev like best about Yakupov’s game?

“I don’t know … I haven’t seen him in a long time,” he said. “Just fast (player).”

Slepyshev didn’t play on the same line as Yakupov, except for a few shifts, on the Russian team in the world junior championship at Ufa.

“I was with (Nikita) Kucherov and (Mikhail) Grigorenko,” said Slepyshev, referencing the dazzling Tampa Bay Lightning winger, who plays with Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, and the developing Grigorenko, who was traded from the Buffalo Sabres to the Colorado Avalanche this summer.

Does he think he can make the Oilers roster this season?

“I think I’m an NHL player, but it will take time,” said Slepyshev, who knows there are few spots open at forward right now. “There are not many chances … we’ve got many players here.”

jmatheson@edmontonjournal.com

Twitter.com/NHLbyMatty

 
 
 
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EDMONTON, AB. SEPTEMBER 8, 2015 - Russian winger Anton Slepyshev to go with a story that Jim Matheson is writing. Many of the Edmonton Oilers held a skate at the Royal Glenora Club leading up to training camp. Shaughn Butts/Edmonton Journal
 

EDMONTON, AB. SEPTEMBER 8, 2015 - Russian winger Anton Slepyshev to go with a story that Jim Matheson is writing. Many of the Edmonton Oilers held a skate at the Royal Glenora Club leading up to training camp. Shaughn Butts/Edmonton Journal

Photograph by: Shaughn Butts, Edmonton Journal

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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