The cliché goes that happiness comes from simple things. The general director of the Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo, Maxim Gafurov, is very pleased with how the opposing players are trying to carry out a sustained forecheck against the young defender Bogdan Konyushkov, a CH prospect in furious development.
“Nobody can put pressure on him,” the dashing young CEO shouted on the phone. It gives me great satisfaction to see someone pursuing him. It is impossible! He can easily change direction without losing a bit of speed.”
Konyushkov, CH's fourth-round pick in the last draft, has developed into one of the Continental Hockey League's (KHL) most effective defenders in all three zones. With an average playing time of 23:06 per game, he ranks fourth.
In an interview with TVASports.ca in September, Torpedo head coach, the legendary Igor Larionov, said Konyushkov could have been a key player for the Canadiens this season. He also reassured him by pointing out that Konyushkov actually intends to play in the NHL, despite the contract that ties him to Torpedo until the end of the 2025-2026 season.
Soon in the NHL?
As part of our efforts, we also tried to contact GD Gafurov, but in vain. A few months later, Gafurov finally returned to us to pursue Konyushkov's case.
What emerged from this long discussion with this KHL manager was that there is no question for the Torpedo to prevent Konyushkov from making the jump to North America when his contract expires.
“I think he will play in the NHL very soon,” predicted Gafurov. It will depend on him. When he's ready, he'll definitely play in the NHL. We won't hold him back. That’s not our style at all.”
“Very soon” is all relative given the player’s contract situation, but presumably Gafurov meant “as soon as Konyushkov can.”
Sport, not politics
In Russia, politics was often inextricably linked with sport. However, Gafurov is not disturbed by this reality.
“You will read in the newspapers that we are being put under pressure [pour prendre certaines décisions], what a crap. We do our job. It's not politics, it's sport. Every week we are in contact with people from the NHL.
The Torpedo's announcement of Konyushkov's three-year contract extension came after the Canadiens selected the defenseman. Gafurov openly admitted that the two parties had already agreed on the terms of the contract before the NHL draft.
Did the Canadians know what they were getting into? Mystery and gummy bears.
“I don’t know if they knew about it,” Gafurov said. “We had recommended him to NHL teams and wanted to give him a chance to be drafted.”
I was really impressed #GoHabsGo Expect Bogdan Konyushkov's skills after watching him play today. His skating was well above average and he has incredible vision. He can predict turnovers before they happen and easily find his teammate on the ice. pic.twitter.com/1kdS2NDAJp
— Cédrick Blais-Turcotte (@cbturcotte17) September 6, 2023
Gained a lot of experience
If the KHL is detrimental to the development of young talent stuck on the bench in certain situations, it is currently giving Konyushkov a lot of leeway. This is one of the main arguments Gafurov puts forward to defend the merits of this contract extension.
“Look at his playing time,” he argued. That's something very special for someone his age. Some nights he plays for 25 minutes. He gains a lot of experience. He already looks like an adult. I'm surprised at how quickly he's progressing, both physically and mentally. He may only be 21, but he has the mentality of a player who is 25 or 26.”
Obviously this is a case-by-case decision. Not all players are like Konyushkov. And they don't all have the chance to develop within a vanguard team like Torpedo – which will be the subject of another publication.
“For some it’s better to play in the American League,” Gafurov acknowledged before qualifying his remarks. But sometimes young Russians have valuable opportunities in the competitive environment of the KHL. It's sometimes better for Russians; especially with the torpedo for example. We advocate an offensive style.”