The Moncton Wildcats were burned a few seasons ago when they signed Kirill Kabanov. The talented Russian couldn't build chemistry with the team, though Kabanov did go on to win the Memorial Cup with the Shawinigan Cataractes last year.
That bad experience didn't stop the Wildcats from drafting other Russians, as they currently have two in their lineup. This summer the team picked Ivan Barbashev (pronounced — ee-VAHN bar-ba-SHOFF) first overall and Dmitrij Jaskin (YA-sh-keen) 22nd overall at the CHL import draft in June. And if you wonder about Jaskin's last name, this is how you spell it in Czech.
Why Czech? He's is Czech. But he's also Russian. Don't give me that look, I know it's confusing.
The 19-year-old winger is a son of Alexei Jaskin, a former Khimik Voskresensk defenceman, who moved to Czech Republic in 1994. Dmitrij was born in Omsk but moved to Czech Republic when he was just 8 months old. He started his hockey career in the Slavia hockey school and represented the Czech Republic at the 2012 World Juniors. He was also picked first-overall by Sibir Novosibirsk at the KHL draft in 2010 and 41st overall by St. Louis Blues in 2011.
You can't help but wonder what sort of relationship he will build with Barbashev, who was the captain of Russia at the last World U17 Hockey Challenge, given the rivalry between the two hockey nations.
"We have discussed it already," says Barbashev. "They don't like us, we don't like them. I think Czechs play very dirty. I talked to my buddy from [Magnitogorsk junior team] Stalnye Lisy and he told me Dima (Jaskin) plays dirty."
"It is what it is. I don't get offended by that or anything," says Jaskin with a smile.
According to Jaskin, he doesn't see himself as a tutor for Barbashev, even though he's two years his senior.
"I don't think I'm expected to be his tutor," he explains. "Sure, I played two seasons on a high level but here we both start from scratch. It's a new team and league for both of us. We're equal here."
Equal on ice but not in the top-scorer's standings where Jaskin leads the Wildcats with 13 points, including 10 goals in 11 games and Barbashev is fifth with eight points and just one goal.
"Don't know why it's like this. (Barbashev) also has a lot of scoring chances. However, I score more often and he gets assists," says 6'2 and 209-pounder Jaskin about his teammate.
"I'm completely out of luck," says frustrated Barbashev. "I have so many scoring chances. Seriously, like two or three per game! But I can't put the puck in even with a wide-open net. Hopefully, it's going to change soon."
Most of CHL import players talk about the changes they have had to face on the ice in North America. More often than not it sounds like the guys have not only swapped leagues but sports as well. Jaskin and Barbashev, however, think there's really only one difference between the CHL and European hockey.
"I wouldn't say hockey in the QMJHL is similar to European hockey. If you don't keep your head up, you go to hospital," noticed Barbashev.
"If the ice size was bigger, hockey would be the same," reasons Jaskin. "Teams in the QMJHL are all equally good, I think. Sometimes you just come across a player who really stands out — like Jonathan Huberdeau. Other than that, they're all the same, I'd say."
The biggest difference the duo has noticed is not in the games themselves but the practices.
"One thing we've learned is to practice more than for an hour. Over here every practice is about 2-hours long. It was new to me," admits Jaskin.
"For the first 45 minutes we don't even touch the puck. We learn about skating, tactics and other things," adds Barbashev.
As for off-the-ice stuff, the Moncton newcomers were in for a surprise. Practical jokes are not as common in Europe as they are in North America, so there was definitely a learning curve.
"Oh, yeah, we were introduced to pranks right away. Nobody has pulled anything on us, though. It's something Canadians players do to other Canadian players," says 6'0 and 181-pound Barbashev.
Wonder what the pranks are? Well, here's an example.
"They hide hockey sticks," says Barbashev with a laugh. "Yesterday I went to washroom and found a hockey stick there. And it wasn't just some young guy's stick either. You'd think they leave an older guy alone, but nope. Some other pranks I saw since I got here include putting water either a helmet or in the skates so they'd get very wet. Nobody does it before the games, though. It's something you do at practices."
What do you do when you find a hockey stick in a washroom? Do you share you discovery with the guy who owns the stick?
"I just laughed and walked away. Did I tell the guy I found it? Nah," says Barbashev.
What Jaskin and Barbashev have told their teammates is how to swear in Russian.
"We sure did," acknowledges Jaskin. "That was the first thing they asked us to teach them in Russian. In return, we picked up a few swear words in French."
Barbashev went further and taught the folks in Moncton some fancy dancing moves.
"They asked all the rookies to come on stage and show some dancing moves," says Barbashev talking about his community activities during pre-season.
"So Vanya thought THIS would be amusing," adds Jaskin shaking his head. He meant the moment captured for eternity in this picture.
"I had no idea what I should do," confesses Barbashev. "For whatever reason I thought of Michael Jackson and did that. I remember Jackson doing it on stage when I was a kid. I would try to copy his moves and my brother, Sergei, would laugh."
And what did he have to say when he saw the picture?
"He clicked 'Like," said Barbashev.
It would be interesting to see if Sergei will 'like' his younger brother's stats at the end of the season. If, of course, Barbashev can turn the luck in his favor. That's something Jaskin can probably help him with.