Note: Steve Lepore, the hockey media watchdog of Puck the Media fame, attended the Islanders Orange vs. Blue prospect scrimmage as a credentialed staff writer for SB Nation-New York. His story stream from that night is over at SBN NY, but he also provided us with the following write-up based on media scrums with Kirill Kabanov, Scott Gordon, the Reverend Brock Nelson and Travis Hamonic.
Lepore is a Devils fan, but we can forgive him that character flaw as we thank him for the following report:
By Steve Lepore
One of the fascinating things to watch, if you are an Islander fan, is the generally assumed notion that Kirill Kabanov is going to make someone pay for not taking him in the recent NHL Entry Draft. His image rehabilitation since falling from what one reporter termed "top 10 talent" to a potential third-round steal for the Islanders has been quite the impressive feat.
Unlike a lot of celebrities and athletes who try to change the perception that, as Kabanov put it, he's "late for practices, for buses, for everything," it doesn't seem orchestrated by some PR whiz telling him what to say. He seems, from this outsider perspective, to be a fun, fabulously talented 17-year old (18 on Friday) kid. He didn't disappoint when talking to reporters after the Islanders Orange vs. Blue prospect camp scrimmage, where he played on a line with Isles 1st-round selection, Brock Nelson.
Kabanov seems very genuine about his desire to play for Long Island some day. "I really like Islanders fans, they're crazy. I like Long Island a lot," he said. He tried to prove it by repeatedly pointing to his chest and saying that he'd like to add to his impressive collection of tattoos. "I'd like to get a big one, right here, a map of Long Island. Really, I promise." The city also seems to have made an impression on him: "New York is now my favorite, after Moscow," he said.
Kabanov, who says his favorite player of all time is Valeri Kharlamov and currently is Ilya Kovalchuk (he noted the similarities: "In junior I had the same coach, I've got the same number," then ran out, "I got, uh, the same first letter in the last name.") showed off his talent during much of the scrimmage. If it didn't appear overwhelmingly that he was the best player for his losing Blue squad, you could tell he was the one having most fun.
"You want to have fun when you play hockey," he said. "It's not only a job, but part of the show. It's like theater. It has to be fun."
He also took in a New York Mets-Atlanta Braves game at Citi Field, where he continued to make nice with the New York fans, shaking hands with season ticket holders. Being an American myself, it was fun to hear a take on our national pastime from someone who'd never seen it. "It was pretty fun," he said, "but it's just a little bit boring because it's so slow and I was like 'What are they doing?'" -- which is gloriously fun to hear in a thick Russian accent.
In the end, Kirill Kabanov just sounds like a 17-year old confused about the perception of some high-end scouts that he won't behave.
"Everybody talks about 'how bad am I?', that I get a lot of tattoos ... I'm a good boy."
Notes: Gordon on Petrov, Ness, DiBendetto; Nelson on the Jump
- Kirill Petrov didn't play due to a shoulder injury, but Islanders head coach Scott Gordon downplayed the significance: "He banged himself up pre-game skate, just felt it was better not to force the issue."
- Gordon didn't note any surprises during the week-long camp. "We saw what we expected. There's varying levels of talent and ability, where they've played and how old they are. There's certainly no disappointments. Anyone will tell you that some of these guys that are 17 are gonna be a lot different when they're 19, 20." When asked about who from last year he felt had improved, he noted Justin DiBenedetto and Aaron Ness. "[DiBenedetto] looks like he's a better pro now. He's quicker on the ice, he's skating more." As for Ness, Gordon said, "He looked a lot more comfortable with the game than anything I'd seen last year. It was good for him to show what he can do."
- Just a few weeks back, 30th overall pick Brock Nelson was graduating from high school out in Minnesota. This weekend, he was playing hockey at Nassau Coliseum. "It was pretty awesome," he said. "I know it's a big jump, but it's fun to be out here and play at the Coliseum. It was a great experience." We brought up his unique experience of being the 30th pick in the draft, where had he not been selected, he'd have to wait all night until Round 2 the next morning. "It was a little crazy. We were ready to come back Saturday, and then we heard our name. It was fun to be out there with the family, it was pretty awesome."
- Defenseman Travis Hamonic says his shoulder injury from the World Juniors has completely healed. "It's a non-issue," he said.