And now for the final member of the Wild n’ Crazy Guys that have taken residence in the bowels of the United Center – Viktor Tikhonov.
Little background here: Tikhonov is the grandson of Viktor Tikhonov, a chief architect of the famous Red Army teams as well as one of the most successful coaches in the Soviet Union’s history. Tikhonov, the younger, was a first round pick of the Coyotes in 2008 and was drafted in his final year of eligibility (meaning he had been passed his first two years, similar to Andrew Shaw).
Tikhonov made the Coyotes out of training camp, played for the insane Wayne Gretzky for 66 games before being reassigned to their AHL affiliate for the remainder of the year and then played 18 games there the following year before heading back to the KHL to get the hell out of his contract. And that’s where he’s been since.
2014- 2015 SKA St. Petersburg 49 games, 8 goals, 16 assists
Tikhonov was signed by the Hawks on July 1st, almost as soon as teams were allowed to sign free agents, on a 1 year deal worth $1.040 million. He also played on the same team with Artermi Panarin so in case it wasn’t obvious, he was targeted by the Hawks for awhile. His contract and date of signing would seem to indicate that the Hawks are making a spot for him on this year’s roster.
This past year was Tikhonov’s worst in Russia by the traditional stat line. Prior to this year’s campaign, Tikhonov played on the same line with Ovechkin in the World Championships and led the tournament in scoring in which Russia won the gold medal. Coupled that with rumblings as early as January 2015 that he was looking to jump back in the NHL and his contract with the Coyotes expiring this past July 1, it’s not crazy to assume that Tikhonov had his mind on other pressing matters during the KHL season.
As for what type of player Tikhonov is, the first word that’s usually described is versatile which should make Joel Quenneville pants tight in the loin region. For SKA St. Petersburg, he played on all three of their lines playing at the wing or the pivot. When they needed him to play a scoring role, he could do that. When they needed him in more of a grinding/checking role, he also filled that need. When injuries bit them at center, he was able to step in and be their number one center.
Of course, these roles are a little different in North America on the smaller surface but if anything, they do involve less skating and more checking which should favor the big bodied Tikhonov.
So far in training camp, Tikhonov has skated on a line with Panarin and Teuvo. Ideally, this seems like it would be a lot of fun to watch. Realistically, we’ll probably see it for one shift and then Quenneville will blow it up.
Tikhonov’s big frame and skill set would seem to scream net front presence on the top power play unit but the Hawks seem content with Andrew Shaw screening the knee caps of goaltenders. To be fair, Shaw is pretty good there too.
Much like Panarin, Tikhonov is a wild card to this season as there are few expectations but a ton of intrigue. Tikhonov is not the stereotypical Russian defector who needed a NHL team to beg him to come play and couldn’t wait to go back to Mother Russia (Radulov). He left America because he wanted to get the hell out of the desert (Hard to blame him) and waited to come back until he was a UFA. So the motivation is there.
He’s also familiar with playing all three forward positions and playing with world class players. Tikhonov won’t be intimidated nor should he have much difficulty picking up on the Hawks systems. Being the grandson of one of the greatest coaches ever, you would have to imagine Tikhonov understands the importance of the defensive side of the game.
Again though, it’s a lot of guessing here. KHL exports can be a bit like playing ‘ahem’ Russian Roulette. Sometimes you hit; sometimes you don’t. In addition to everything I’ve already mentioned, Scotty Bowman also has a pretty good track record of identifying Russian players that can adapt and thrive in the North American game. This is nothing more than a hunch, but I think his hands are all over this signing.
Consider me excited.