Dmitry Ryabykin: Kuznetsov has the potential to be a bigger star than Ovechkin

What have you been doing during the recent break in the season?
We had three days off, so I went to Moscow to see my family. Then I returned to Chelyabinsk to have several training sessions and the exhibition match against Medvedi. We needed this match to get back in the game rhythm.

How would you rate the debuting Mukhachev’s performance?

I’ve known Andrey for a long time back from Avangard. He is a fine defenseman, but he needs to feel the ice so to speak; he has not played much this season.

Was Mukhachev signed for the playoffs?

Not quite. We have had many injuries as of late, so the roster has gotten thin and we needed to solve this problem.

Traktor is third in Eastern conference standings trailing two points to Avangard and Ak Bars. Are you satisfied with team’s performance and results thus far?

On the whole yes, I am, but we could have done even better. Still, we are one of the leaders in the West and one win away from the first spot which is certainly a good thing.

You have just said that Traktor could have performed even better. Does it mean that Traktor has problems?

Of course, every team has its own problem, and we are no exception. Our problems are defensive performance and power play, but trust me, we are doing everything now to eliminate these flaws.

It often happens that a team that had a surprisingly good season cannot build on their success in the following season and fall back at where they used to be. Could you say that Traktor has avoided ‘the second season syndrome’?

I certainly hope we have because we have all the tools to do it including experienced coaching staff and deep roster. Besides that, I think we have managed to build on our success because we saved the core of the team from the previous season.

Could you say that in this season Traktor’s opponents are much more motivated in matches against your team?

Yes, it’s true. Our opponents are always focused because they know we are one of the leaders.

Traktor lost five times in last nine matches, including losses to Barys and Donbass who, with all due respect, cannot be called KHL leading teams. What happened?

We were in a minor slump. It’s very difficult to go throughout the season on a high note. I think the reason behind our slump was that we were tired both psychologically and physically, more even psychologically. When your team is one of the leaders, complacency often takes over, and that’s bad. As for matches against Barys and Donbass, these are two decent teams that could overcome any opponent, so we didn’t show all we had in these games.

Valery Belousov likes the attacking hockey

KHL season is scheduled to continue on Wednesday. What do you expect from the upcoming matchups?

We have an away series, and it’s going to be a challenging one since we have Lokomotiv, Atlant and Torpedo as our opponents. All three of these teams are tough to play against, but we will do our best to take as much points as possible.

Which team do you think has been the most resilient in this season’s matches against Traktor?

Many teams in the league play decent hockey. Let’s take the aforementioned Donbass, for example; we could not get anything going in our home match against them. It’s not like they are our archrivals; but for whatever reason, we were completely off during that match.

Traktor finished first in the previous regular season and made it to the semifinals in the playoffs. Isn’t it time to go for more?

I would not to make predictions now; of course every KHL player’s goal is to win the coveted Gagarin Cup, and we will do anything in our power to accomplish that.

Which teams would you call the top contenders for 2012/2013 Gagarin Cup?

Essentially the same ones like Dynamo, Lokomotiv, SKA, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Avangard, Ak Bars. And Traktor of course.

You are one of the most ‘long-living’ hockey players in all of KHL with 931 games in your resume. Will you make it to one thousand?

Ha-ha, I don’t know (laughs). We will see how things play out, but I definitely would like to play for as long as possible.

Once you said in an interview that after Avangard had not prolonged your contract, the first man you called was Valery Belousov who helped you to find a new team. Turns out he gave you a helping hand when you needed it more than ever, right?

You could definitely say so. At that moment some two days was left before the transfer window closure. Valery Konstantinovich had known me well during our tenure in Avangard, so he invited me to join Traktor. However, I can’t say we are the closest of friends, subordination is everything.

How would describe Belousov the Coach?

He is a very experienced specialist with a soft spot for attacking hockey. He has not changed a bit during all these years that I know him. At the age of 64 he’s still a student of the game; plus, he can bring something new to the team anytime.

All-Star Game would not be the same without Kuznetsov

As per the results of the fans’ voting, Michael Garnett and Yevgeny Kuznetsov have been elected to represent Traktor in the starting line of Team East in the upcoming All-Star Game. Did you expect Traktor to have so many of its players to be voted into the All-Star match?

I was absolutely sure Yevgeny would be voted to participate because he deserved it; besides that, the All-Star Weekend will take place in Chelyabinsk, so without Kuznetsov, it won’t be as massive an event.

Whom of Traktor’s players do you think deserves to participate in the All-Star Game?

Are you implying that I could be one of them (laughs)?

Yes, you included.

You know, I have a somewhat philosophic approach to this. If I get voted in, I will take part in it; if not, well, life goes on.

By the way, you were ranked fifth in the vote amongst the defensemen with 16314 votes.

I learned about it from you. It’s very flattering to have the fans’ support, and I thank them for showing it.

If you don’t make it to the All-Star Game in player’s capacity, are you going to watch it from the stands or on TV at home?

Not from the stands, that’s for sure, because it’s so hard to get the tickets; so if I have a day-off, I’d rather spend it at home with my family, and probably we are going to watch the game together.

Whose of your fellow defensemen performance would you like to point out?

I can’t say much about guys from Western conference simply because I don’t see them in action that often. As far as East goes, the best D-men would be Ilya Nikulin from Ak Bars and Anton Belov from Avangard.

Three NHL players can’t win the whole playoffs

How do you think NHL lockout has influenced KHL?

Obviously it has a positive influence on KHL. NHL comers show high performance and skill here. Consequently, fans have begun to fill the arenas.

How about negative aspects of the lockout?

For now there isn’t any. They will come to the surface, however, once the lockout is over and NHL guys are back in North America to fulfill the contractual obligations in their respective teams; so, some KHL teams will have to resort to some changes in lines etc. As for fans’ interest, it will not go down because playoffs are approaching rapidly.

Could an argument be made that those teams that have signed three NHL players have the edge over those that have signed one or two, like Traktor?
If the lockout lasts throughout the KHL playoffs, then maybe it could be an advantage. But I’m sure you understand that three NHLers can’t win the whole playoffs. Skill is often a factor, but the resilience and desire to win in every match will play a more significant role.

So Dynamo’s chances of winning the Cup do not increase even with Ovechkin on their roster?

It’s hard to say. Ovechkin is a very strong-willed individual with the desire to win, that’s all I can say.

You haven’t yet played against any of superstar forwards in this season, have you?
Yes, we played against CSKA, Dynamo and Metallurg when they were not around. Soon we will get our wish though.

Russia has played a perfect game against Czech Republic

At First Channel Cup Team Russia has demolished all the opponents and won the tournament in a dominant fashion. How do you like the team’s performance?

Unfortunately I only managed to watch one game against Czech Republic; I missed the other two due to training sessions and the exhibition match against Medvedi. As for the game against the Czechs, our national team played a perfect game with little (if any) flaws.

Many experts say that this team had the strongest line-up ever in the history of Eurohockey Tour and was a prototype of the national Olympic team in Sochi. Do you agree?

Partially; it had some touch of Olympics, but I think the line-up is going to change.

Your teammate Yevgeny Kuznetsov had a lackluster performance during Karyala Cup; as a result he was not called up to the national team for First Channel Cup. Do you think he doesn’t perform as well as, say, Radulov?

He has to constantly develop his game. I am sure he has talked to national team’s coaching staff and already knows what to improve exactly. He’s got a great chance to be in the Olympic team; if he ups his game, others may not be able to keep up with him.

Could Kuznetsov become the next Aleksandr Ovechkin?

Kuznetsov is a very big talent. If everything goes right, he could eclipse Ovechkin, but unfortunately, there are just too many factors that determine how big of a star this or that player is going to become.

Is it time for him to go to NHL?

I think it’s too early for him to do this; he has to test his mettle here. Then again, if he leaves for NHL now, he will have to adjust to stricter requirements which may help him elevate his game faster.