In the Nik of time

What a difference a week makes.

Last Thursday Nikita Tryamkin arrived in Vancouver in the wee morning hours after a pair of grueling flights, from Russia through New York. He was jet lagged and he was lost in translation.

One of the first things Tryamkin read about himself referred to him as a tree, which to North Americans means tough, secure and/or sturdy; it’s a compliment as most of us are twigs. He didn’t see it as such. To him, it meant he was big and slow without any versatility. It’s an insult in Russia.

Tryamkin hadn’t even been in his new home for an hour and already he was being called out?

Seven days later and Tryamkin was on another flight, this time headed to Edmonton a day after playing his first NHL game and collecting his first NHL point.

He walked on to Air Canucks in a sharp new navy blue suit, wide-eyed and watching his head. A week ago he was the new guy, now he’s one of the guys. Tryamkin road to the airport with Jacob Markstrom and Jake Virtanen has treated him to a couple lunches. He’s gotten to know Alex Burrows, and is now chummy with Andrey Pedan, who hails from Lithuania.

“I’m happy to be here,” Tryamkin has said a few times in scrums, with some help from translator Ekaterina Khassanova. And it’s true. He’s smiling, a lot, not Ben Hutton a lot, but a lot for a 21-year-old without any family or outside friends around, in a foreign country, with only a handful of English at his disposal, who a week ago thought he was an unwelcome tree.

That’s clearly not the case.

If anything, Tryamkin arrived at the perfect time and is already becoming a fan favourite. For starters, numerous No. 88 jerseys have been spotted at Rogers Arena. Then he received a hearty cheer during his first ever shift Wednesday night and although it lasted only 12 seconds, it was something. And it led to assisting on a Henrik Sedin goal later in the game.

The puck from Henrik’s goal is in Tryamkin’s stall with white hockey tape around the outside inscribed in black sharpie to commemorate the feat. It sits alongside some small religious plaques, which Tryamkin kissed before packing in his hockey bag to make the trip to Edmonton.

Like most players, Tryamkin is now resting in his room before heading out to dinner. This is his first chance to exhale and relax without seeing his face in the papers or on TV or hearing his name on the radio. Fans and autograph seekers walked right past him as he entered the hotel and that’s just fine by him, he’s still not comfortable in those situations anyways.

With 13 games remaining this season, the conversation has shifted from playoffs to development for the future. Is Hutton even a rookie? His growing pains have been minimal. Ditto for Bo Horvat last year. Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann are newbies, but they’ve also turned heads a lot more for good reasons than bad. Then there’s Tryamkin. It’ll take the 6-foot-8, 240-pound defenceman time to adjust to a different ice surface, new systems and teammates, and better, faster, stronger, smarter opposition. And that’s exciting. He’ll grow right before our eyes more than a Canucks player has in a long time.

His English will improve too and by the time he’s plastering forwards into the boards and making the front of the net a danger zone for the opposition, he’ll understand that whether he liked the tree analogy or not, he’s one of the young guns providing much needed oxygen to the franchise.

*****

By my count, Tryamkin is the 15th Russian player to suit up for the Canucks, but I failed Grade 10 math (I see you Mme. Oulette) and that’s according to Wikipedia, which I altered once to say something not nice about someone not nice. So what knows.

Pavel Bure is obviously the most memorable, Alexander Mogilny was something special too, Artem Chubarov is the stuff of legends and Fedor Fedorov had a really good brother.

Things didn’t pan out in Vancouver for Sergei Shirokov, but here’s hoping they do for Nikita Tryamkin – he’s already a point-a-game player you know!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from Edmonton!

Derek (@NoJoryous)

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