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Author: Alena Shilova (Championat Publication)
Translated By: Eugene Belashchenko
Date: 09/07/2007
Nikolai Lemtyugov (St. Louis Blues) : I'll have to fend for myself over there


Forward Nikolai Lemtyugov (St. Louis Blues) departed for North America in the last couple of days, attempting to earn a spot on St. Louis Blues roster.   The player has a deal with the NHL club for three years.   At the same time he also has an agreement with Severstal for two more seasons.  The Cherepovets club cooperated with the player and did interfere with his departure to North America.  Lemtyugov himself is motivated to make it in the NHL even if the path will take him through the farm club.   If it does not work out – then he would return to Cherepovets.  Prior to his departure, Lemtyugov gave an interview to Championat.ru.  

It is worth noting however that in Cherepovets Lemtyugov experienced different attitudes regarding his departure.  From one perspective the club calmly let him go.   By the way, Severstal is the one team that agreed to sign a contract with Lemtyugov under these conditions.   Others, and the forward had a number of options in the Super League after last season, refused, saying that the signed contract would have to be full and not an insurance deal with potential departures.

And the Cherepovets fans, especially the female ones, did everything possible to keep Nikolai with Severstal.    They came up with lines and banners, but the player could not have been kept away from the NHL.   On September 1st Lemtyugov flew to America for the training camp.  “We will see how things turn oput for me, but I am doing everything possible to break into the NHL” – says Lemtyugov.   But in Cherepovets they are still hoping that Lemtyugov will be back soon.  If this happens, it won’t be earlier than the November transfer period. 

It appears that you are very determined.   Did you discuss your departure with experts?
N. Lemtyugov:
I talked to the guys who played over there.   I asked them what to do and what to avoid over there, what’s the mentality overseas.  I took note of everything they advised me.

What did they tell you in Cherepovets? Some of the fans asked you to stay and wrote letters. What about the management?
N. Lemtyugov: This year I signed a new contract with Severstal for two years, because the club worked with me and agreed not to interfere with my departure to North America.   Our agreement is such: if I don’t succeed over there, I will return to Cherepovets.  Our conversation took this into account from the beginning.   Other clubs did not agree, but Severstal was not against this and I saw that it was truly interested in me.    I am happy with everything in Cherepovets and I am glad that they reached an agreement with me. 

You spent almost the entire preseason with Severstal. What can you say about the team?
N. Lemtyugov: Right now the team brought in a lot of new players and you can say it is starting over.  The team is very good and it has it’s own character.   When comparing it to last year’s team, the atmosphere has improved.   I am very glad that I am also part of this team.   If things don’t work out for me in America, I will gladly return and help the team succeed in the Super League.   I don’t want to jinx it, but I hope Severstal will do better this year than last year.

Why has Sevestal played so inconsistently during the preseason?
N. Lemtyugov: These games are not an indicator of the team.   The guys were under pressure.  When the season starts, the game will be completely different – it will be for money, for rankings, for points.    During the preseason, there was an opportunity for the club to experiment and try something new.

How do you regard your chances in the NHL?
N. Lemtyugov: I spoke a lot about this with a number of people, including American coaches and managers.    They seem to be waiting for me and depending on me.   I think I do have a chance.   But everything again depends on me and how I will perform during the training camp.   You know, if St. Louis did not draft me, I would have not likely have gone to another club.  If Detroit, for example, picked me, I would have not even given it a try.

Why?!

N. Lemtyugov: Other clubs have stars and players who are already under hefty contracts.   They won’t clear a spot when someone like Lemtyugov comes to town (smiling).  That same Pasha Datsyu has a contract for five million dollars and won’t like be sent to the farm club.  So, in Detroit I would have had virtually no chance.    But St. Louis has become much younger and that is why I have a real chance to make the main roster and start playing.   Maybe not from the first try, but the chances are there.   I am counting on securing a spot.

So younger players are given a chance to play over there?

N. Lemtyugov: I followed the team all of last season and can tell you that young players get a lot of ice time. The team clearly depends on it’s youth.   They are also constantly called players up from the farm club.   If you can make it there, in America, then you can also hope to get a call from the national team over here. 

And you already have an example to follow right? Alexander Radulov (Nashville Predators)
N. Lemtyugov: No matter what is being said, our coaches look closely across the ocean.  Sasha Radulov succeed over there towards the end of the season and played very well in the playoffs.   That is why he was called up to the national team.   This is also a reason why I am going over there.   I want to play for the national team and do something useful for my country.

Would you be satisfied with playing for the farm club? If they offer you to spend some time away from the NHL?

N. Lemtyugov: I don’t want to go over there for a month or two like some guys. They were sent to the farm club over there and they got mad thinking: Why us? The farm club does not deserve our attention.   So, they are returning to Russia saying that they weren’t given a chance.  Not with me, I will prove at first through the farm club, then… (pause).  As St. Louis general manager explained to me, many stars went through this, including Gretzky.    You can’t get away from this, and it is also a school and experience.   I am of course hoping for the best, but am prepared for any situation.   I would like to arrive there, work hard and wait for my chance.  I figure that if I am not given any chance before the November transfer period in the Super League, then I will take a look objectively at my situation and how I am being valued over there, and then will consider returning to Russia.  Overall, I would like to see if I am ready for the NHL.  It’s not out of the question that I am not at all ready for that league.

This summer Alexander Ovechkin (Washington Capitals) advised Semen Varlamov to go to Washington, so he could understand and feel what NHL is. 
N. Lemtyugov: It’s harder for goalies to make the team than it is for other players. They truly need to be talented to make the squad and get playing time.   The other players, can “shoot out” in a couple of months and then become full fledged members of the team.   The deal is to grab the chance and hold on to it.

How do you evaluate your form right now?

N. Lemtyugov: [Shrugs] I spent the entire preseason with Severstal.  I skated in one tournament for the second team and then played for the first in Belyaev tournament.   Before that I prepared for the training camp with a personal coach at home in Chelyabinsk.

By the way, there are no other Russians in St. Louis. 
N. Lemtyugov: During the history of the club, they only had a couple of Russians – Khavanov and another player.   Amongst the young that they selected, none have gone over yet.  I guess I’ll have to fend for myself (laughing). 

Without Russian speaking teammates, will it be harder for you?
N. Lemtyugov: With English I’m like a dog – I understand, but can’t say almost anything yet.  But I will learn, since this is a matter of time. To be honest, I am not at all scared, as I am morally prepared to go there./   I think that nothing out of the ordinary will happen. I am ready to work.

Have you already interacted with the team’s coach and management?
N. Lemtyugov: At the World Championships in Moscow I spoke to the coaches and to forward Cajanek, who’s Czech.  He told me that he will help me no problem.   There are many Czech players there, and a lot of players my 86 year too, including Ruchinski and Schwartz.  I know these guys, and now met Cajanek, so they will definitely help me out.  

- Alena Shilova (Championat.ru) translated by Eugene Belashchenko

Related Player Profiles: . N.Lemtyugov A.Ovechkin A.Radulov
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