To borrow a line from the White House, “there’s no collusion” here. But, if you’re the Florida Panthers, talking with another Russian is a good thing.
After all, the Panthers had tremendous success last year when they signed winger Evgenii Dadonov from Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. “Daddy” became Florida’s fourth-leading scorer last year with 65 points, and he was second in goals with 28.
On Friday, the Panthers announced that they signed defenseman Bogdan Kiselevich, 28, to a one-year, one-way contract.
Kiselevich, who speaks a decent amount of English but lapsed into some Russian with his agents while speaking to the media on Friday, said coming to the NHL is a dream that has been nearly two decades in the making.
“It’s not a surprise that anyone who plays hockey wants to come to the NHL, and it was the same for me,” said Kiselevich, who is 6-foot and 207 pounds. “I was nine when I saw a movie of how the [Detroit] Red Wings won the [Stanley] Cup with the ‘Russian Five’. So, for 19 years, I was thinking about [the NHL].”
Counting playoffs, Kiselevich appeared in 65 games this past season for CSKA Moscow, posting one goal and 18 assists.
He also earned a gold medal this year while competing for the Olympic Athletes of Russia, posting two assists in six games.
Kiselevich said he could be a “man who stays home [in Russia] and doesn’t change anything,” but he clearly wanted a challenge.
“I feel so excited to be part of the [Panthers],” he said. “I try to keep all my emotions inside of me, but they come out. It’s a good day for me. It’s a big deal for me.”
Kiselevich joins a top-heavy group of Panthers defensemen that includes Aaron Ekblad, Keith Yandle and Mike Matheson. Also on the blue line are Mark Pysyk, Alex Petrovic, MacKenzie Weegar and Ian McCoshen.
It’s a young group, with Ekblad, Matheson, Weegar and McCoshen all under the age of 25.
In a statement issued by the Panthers, general manager Dale Tallon called Kiselevich a “shutdown” player “who adds depth to our blue line and has the ability to be a steadying influence on our young defensemen.”
Tallon also praised Kiselevich’s work ethic and reliability, both in the KHL and on the international stage.
Kiselevich said he had several offers from other NHL teams and also from other clubs in Russia, but he decided on the Panthers after talking to Tallon.
He also seemed to indicate that he heard negative talk about the Panthers, but that chatter — possibly from rival teams — was eliminated from his thought process once he had that discussion.
“After my talk with Dale, all the questions were gone,” Kiselevich said. “When you hear the truth … To be honest, after my first talk with Dale, I called my agent and said [the Panthers are] No. 1 on my list.
“This was a decision from the heart. Then I saw the team, and it is great, too.”
Kiselevich’s agent said his client has “done his homework” on the NHL and is aware of what it will take to take to defend in the NHL.
The Panthers, by the way, have a third Russian native on the roster in winger Maxim Mamin, 23, who has yet to fully establish himself in the league.
Having Russians on the team is nice, Kiselevich said, but that’s not why he chose the Panthers.
“I’ve played against Dadonov — he’s a very good competitor,” Kiselevich said. “He’s a great person and a very good player.
“It was good news that there were Russians on the team. But I made my decision for hockey – not if there were a Russian player or not.”
Now that Kiselevich is here, is he ready for the NHL?
“I think I’m at a good age,” he said. “All my contracts in Russia are gone. I know I’m ready, and I’m full of power to make it.”