First and foremost, Ivan Nikolishin is a team player.
While he will most certainly play in the Red Deer Rebels group of top six forwards this season and most likely be a point-per-game contributor or more, the 19-year-old Russian doesn’t like to overplay his importance to his new team.
In fact, he’s absolutely humble when discussing — or not discussing — any personal goals he may set for himself heading into the 2015-16 campaign, which will end with the Rebels hosting the Memorial Cup tournament in May.
“I don’t care about myself, it’s all about the team,” said the five-foot-nine, 170-pound centre, acquired from the Everett Silvertips in May in exchange for a third-round bantam pick and a conditional fourth-rounder. “I want the team to win the WHL and then the Memorial Cup. That’s all I think about. I don’t care if I get zero points or if I get 100. It doesn’t matter at all.”
Based on his statistics — 37 goals and 94 assists in 160 games — during his two seasons with the ‘Tips, Nikolishin comes across as a passer moreso than a shooter. But that, evidently, is not the case.
“I don’t really like to describe myself (as a player),” he said following Friday’s final practice session of the Rebels training camp. “I would really rather let the coaches do that, or my teammates.
“I do like setting up goals, but I do like to score goals. When I see a chance to pass, I pass. When I see a shot, I shoot.”
Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter is counting on Nikolishin to produce at a respectable rate and beyond.
“I look at him as being a guy who can create some offence for us,” said Sutter. “He’s a skilled player, he knows how to play the game.
“He’s a guy who is creative and very good on the power play. That’s one of the reasons why we got him — to help out on the power play. Last season it wasn’t great and it has to be better for us.”
Nikolishin was born in the United States while his father, Andrei, was in the midst of a nine-year NHL career that included stops in Hartford, Washington, Chicago and Denver. The family relocated to Russia when Ivan was six years of age and he has represented the country internationally at the under-17, under-18 and under-20 levels.
Nikolishin has a good command of the English language, which he credits to his time in Everett.
“I practised learning the language for two years in Everett, the boys helped me out a lot. That’s how I learned a little bit of English,” he said.
The talented forward, whose father now coaches in the Kontinental Hockey League, was recently approached by more than one Russian team regarding the possibility of playing this season in his home country. But the trade to Red Deer sealed his decision to remain in the WHL.
“There was teams from Russia trying to get me back there, but I said two years ago when I came to North America that my goal is to make the NHL, so I’m trying any way I can to get there.
“It doesn’t matter how, it’s my goal to get there and I think there’s more chances to get there from the WHL. About the trade, it’s hockey, you never know where you’re going to be tomorrow. I got traded, but it’s OK. I got traded to a team that’s hosting the Memorial Cup, which is a really big bonus. Everything is good. I’m happy to be here.”
The Rebels training camp resumes today with the main camp players returning to the Centrium ice at 11 a.m. The rookies — 15- and 16-year-olds — register today and hit the ice for the first time Sunday and training camp concludes with the Black and White Game Wednesday at 7 p.m.