The following is written by Andrey Osadchenko a Russian hockey writer whose work appears most often at the popular site allhockey.ru. You can also occassionally find Andrey’s work at The Hockey News, on youtube (he’s the co-host along with Steve Dangle of the popular web-series "Joining the Rush") and across the Nation Network.
Written by: Andrey Osadchenko
It was supposed to be another Cinderella story. A Russian prospect (always a gamble to begin with) came seemingly out of nowhere to scored 2 goals in his first preseason game against the Islanders in a 2:1 win for the Canucks. He kept it going and turned some heads when Alain Vigneault put him on a line with the Sedins for the rest of preseason, then started him on a second line with Ryan Kesler at the beginning of the regular season.
Yes it was 2009 and the future really looked bright for young Sergei Shirokov. Now he’s gone back to the KHL and the Canucks really may want to get this guy back. It’s hard to argue that Shirokov wasn’t ready for "The Show" right off the bat, his stat-line: 6 games, 0 points and a -4 tells you the entire story. It was clear once the preseason ended that Sergei Shirokov needed more time to adjust to North American hockey in the minors with the Manitoba Moose.
He notched 22 goals and had 23 assists for 45 points in 76 games in that 2009-10 season (his first in North America). Unfortunately for Shirokov, the next season the Canucks were lucky to have very few injuries up front as they made their way to the Presidents’ Trophy, destroying everyone on their way to the top.
Under these circumstances, who in the right mind would make any huge changes to the line-up? Not Alain Vigneault. No matter how well Shirokov performed in the AHL, his chances of making the Canucks roster were slim to say the least.
Shirokov, however, did improve his game with the Moose. In his second AHL season, Shirokov put up 22 goals and added 58 points in the regular season. He then notched another 7 goals and put up 10 points in 14 playoff games. He was the top scorer for the Moose in the regular season, and their second leading scorer behind Marco Rosa in the play-offs. Oh, and he also was invited to play at the AHL All-Star Game.
Sounds like a guy you may want to keep around, doesn’t it?
After a terrifying loss in the final series against the Boston Bruins, it was obvious that the Canucks needed to shake-up their roster to some extent. Changes began rolling in on the 1st of July, and the Canucks let go of: Raffi Torres, Jeff Tambellini, Tanner Glass and Sergei Shirokov. All 4 of those wingers are certainly good enough to play in the NHL.
Who did they sign to fill the void? Andrew Ebbett, Mark Mancari, Byron Bitz and Marco Sturm. Heck, they even gave Owen Nolan another shot on at PTO deal! And how did it pan out? They didn’t waste any time realizing the answer, and traded Marco Sturm 6 games into the season.
Did they really think that Marco Sturm was a better bet than Tambellini and Shirokov? The guy is 33 years old, scored 5 goals last season and has no points in the first 10 games of this season, only 6 of which he played for the Canucks before being traded.
A of Tuesday the Canucks were 8th in the league in goal-scoring, which also isn’t bad. Although, if you leave Chris Higgins and Cody Hodgson out, the goals come pretty much only from the Sedin line. Secondary scoring hasn’t been the biggest issue for the Canucks so far, but after Roberto Luongo’s string of sub-average performances it qualifies as something that most Canucks fans are concerned about.
So what’s going on Sergei Shirokov at the moment? Well he’s a leading scorer for CSKA in the KHL with 9+12=21 points in 20 games. He’s tied for 5th place in the league in the scoring department. He was also called to play for National Team Russia at the upcoming Karjala Cup in Finland and it’s no wonder why, who doesn’t want to have a guy who averages 1.05 point per game in one of the top three hockey leagues in the world?
Jeff Tambellini, on the other hand, is a leading scorer for the Zurich Lions in the NLA, which is the top league in Switzerland. In 19 games he scored 10 goals and had 6 assists. Both of them could have played on the Canucks second line right now. Tambellini played most of the last regular season in the NHL. Perhaps, Shirokov deserved the right to replace him this season?
Alas, we’ll never find that out. But at the moment it looks like the Canucks were somewhat unfair to Shirokov, and may have lost-out on the chance to develop a really good prospect.
A prospect they were lucky to have to begin with.
Andrey Osadchenko is the Nation Network’s Russian Hockey Correspondent. You can follow him on twitter here.