Funny how news work around the globe. Daniil Zharkov’s post-draft press-conference didn’t have nearly as much of an impact in North America as it did in Russia. Major sports websites in the country mistranslated his words so that in the Russian media Zharkov appeared to be saying ‘Russian hockey is not for me. I feel I’m Canadian. My favorite food? Hamburgers’.
This caused a huge uproar among Russian fans who instantly proclaimed Zharkov a traitor.
Some also threatened him and his family online via different social networks including Twitter. One day later Zharkov tweets were quoted in mass-media under a title ‘Zharkov attempts to offer excuses’, which was a cue for another waterfall of hatred coming on the Oilers pick’s head.
I had a chance to sit down with Zharkov for a 1-on-1 interview, a translated version of which you can find below. Don’t worry this translation is very accurate.
“I didn’t offend anybody and I didn’t say anything bad about Russia,” began the conversation Zharkov. ‘I didn’t want to offend anybody personally. I’m sorry if I did. I just wanted to say that everybody makes their own choices. I chose Canada for my development. Some players choose KHL, some – NHL. Everybody makes choices. As for hamburgers – it’s a whole other story. I read some comments about myself saying ‘how a Russian can possibly like hamburgers?’. You know, some people like sushi, some people like something else and I like hamburgers. For example, I don’t like soups. Why do I have to say that I like borsch when I don’t?
AO: Before that you noted you like sunflower seeds and kvass.
I’m not saying I don’t. There are some things in Russian cuisine I really like. I have my favorite Canadian meals and my favorite Russian meals. But nobody asked me about Russian meals, did they? They asked me: ‘What’s your favorite Canadian dish?’ I said that my billets grill salmon and hamburgers and I really like it. I didn’t say anything about McDonald’s hamburgers or any others. I was very specific.
Then I opened Allhockey.Ru and saw a title saying I attempted to offer excuses on twitter. I didn’t offer any excuses to anybody. A guy asked me a question about Team Russia and I answered it. He was like: ‘So you don’t even want to play for Team Russia anymore?’. To which I answered that I’m always happy to play for my country if it needs me. What do I get in return? I get comments like this: ‘Forget of ever coming back to Russia you little piece of s—t. You will never play for our national team!’ It really upset me.
AO: It would have been a different story if you actually said what people now think you did. However, we’re dealing here with just a very bad case of poor translation.
Exactly. I also think that if you roughly translate stuff from English to Russian it sounds somewhat rude. I meant to say that I don’t want to do stuff on the ice that Russians do. Take Radulov as an example. He came here at the end of the season and people called him a typical Russian player. They were also saying bad things about him. Meaning that he didn’t back-check, he didn’t play physical hockey – just like a typical Russian player. Whatever it may sound like to Russians, it’s true. Russian hockey is different from Canadian hockey, much in a way KHL is different from NHL. I don’t see how you can be offended by this. At least, I didn’t try to offend anybody.
AO: Do North American reporters piss you off with the questions about coming back to Russia? I mean, you proved with your career you didn’t come over here for half an hour.
You got that right. And it’s not only reporters who keep bugging me with these questions. Same happened during Combine Tests in Toronto. I had 15 interviews with different teams and every each one of them asked me if I would sign in the KHL should they offer me a big contract. Of course, I said no. Because I’m not going to do it. Right now – as of this moment – I’m planning to build my career here in North America. What happens next – only God knows.
AO: Did you try to explain to them that in the KHL 18-year-olds not only don’t get generous offers but get zero ice-time?
It’s true. I agree with you. But I didn’t tell them about this. In top clubs – like SKA or Salavat Yulaev – it’s extremely hard for young players to make the roster. Anton Slepyshev was really lucky to get drafted first overall by Metallurg Novokuznetsk. It’s a good team but they aren’t at the top level like SKA or Salavat. He’s getting some quality ice-time, they trust him over there. It’s a very good team for young players. I’m glad to be drafted by them. I talked to their GM Leonid Weissfeld. He likes me and supports the way I look at things. I can always come back, attend the training camp and try to crack the roster. But then again – am I good enough to play in the KHL? Nobody guarantees me a spot on the team over there. I still have to show what I’m capable of there. However, I’m not going anywhere so far.
AO: They say there may be a lockout in the NHL next season…
Well, it hasn’t happened yet, has it? If it happens, I’ll go back to my junior team and I will play there. In North America. I’m on display more often rather than in Russia. I’m pretty sure I won’t get as much ice-time anywhere as I will in the OHL. It’s going to be my sophomore season there so the coaches are going to trust me more. Obviously, it’s not going to be like this in the KHL.
AO: Do you consider this season successful for yourself? Nobody knew anything about you until last November and yet here you are: CHL Top Prospects Game, high ranking by NHL Scouting Bureau, good performance at the U18s and, finally, the Oilers. Nothing suggested it would pan out like this.
I agree. In the USHL I didn’t achieve anything significant but these six months were a great experience for me. Once again – there’s a huge difference between Russian and North American hockey. This is why I went to play in the USHL so I could familiarize myself with the atmosphere, new country, learn the language, play alongside Americans… then, in the OHL, despite the fact the level of hockey is higher over there, it was easier for me. I felt more comfortable playing there. USHL was a big step forward in my career. I’m very grateful to my former agent Dmitry Filippov for getting me there. I own my North American career to him.
AO: At the U18 World Championship you stood out with just how fast you were comparing to your teammates. Is this something you’ve improved this year?
I think so, yes. In the OHL the speed is on another level than in the MHL. And most of the guys on our team play in the MHL. So, yeah, OHL experience worked in my favor. My coaches prepared me well for this. Besides, before this season I worked on my skating in Philadelphia with a Flyers coach. I think it worked for me.
AO: Why did you lose to Team Canada in the quarterfinal? Of all people you should know they were very far from having the best possible roster.
True. You’re right about their roster. Our coach Andrey Parfenov told us before the game that they would try to piss us off on purpose to get us off our game. Even during warm-up. And so they did. I think it was #2 (Darnell Nurse) who was stepping over the red line. I got mad at this as did our entire team, because it’s a sign of disrespect. We got into arguing with him. Meaning, we didn’t listen to our coach. They got us heated up and perhaps even intimidated some guys on our team. Although, I think we played just as good as they did in the first period. They played more of a physical game and we tried to match them. However, in this game our Canadian peers even without the best roster were better than us. I had some very good chances to score and so did other guys but we just couldn’t capitalize on them. We were a little bit unlucky. But as the saying goes – luck comes to the best. Let’s give Canadians a proper credit. They played well.
AO: Russia always goes into every tournament with a sole goal – gold. As it turns out, you lost to not even the best team at the U18’s and came home with no medals. How difficult was this psychologically?
I think the week after the tourney was tough for our entire team. There was a lot of dirt poured on us on the Internet. I don’t think everybody was able to recover from it quickly. I’m very sorry it all ended like this. I don’t want to look for excuses. I don’t want to be one of those guys who say like ‘oh, well, this guy was injured and that guy got sick or something’. This is the way it happened. We can’t fix it now. The World Juniors are coming soon. I think the guys would avenge for us.
AO: It was rumored your dad wore a Team Canada jacket during Russia-Canada game. Is this a lie?
It’s not. I gave it to my dad as a present. I think it was the only warm jacket he took for this trip. The arena we played at was pretty cold. I suppose he had to put it on. By the way, did your source mention that at every other game of the tourney my dad wore BOSCO clothes? BOSCO is official wear of Team Russia. Half of the clothes he owns are of this brand. I think he put this jacket on just because it was a present from me. Not because he cheered for Canada. If this guy has something to say to my dad about it, I’m ready to hear it. This is getting too far. This is not okay.
AO: They call you the second coming of Kirill Kabanov…
(interrupting) Yeah, about that. I read about it. What this is all about? I don’t know much of his story. Could you tell me?
AO: He left Russia with a scandal and said a few things after he shouldn’t have. To name a few he said he wanted to change his citizenship and he didn’t want to play for Team Russia. Fans didn’t like it.
Well, that’s not my case. Not even close. I’m not planning to change my citizenship. I don’t think they got it on camera but I said that the only passport I have is a Russian passport. I’m not throwing it away. It’s ridiculous.
AO: You didn’t expect a scandal like this to break out, eh?
You know, nobody ever liked me but nobody ever hated me like this.
AO: Is this something you discussed with Nail Yakupov? He got into a similar problem right before the draft.
I read the interview. We try not to discuss all this Internet stuff. Right now we’re focused on the Oilers’ rookie camp. We talk about different stuff – life, hockey… Internet is so full of dirt nowadays; it’s no fun for me to get on it anymore.
AO: Do the Oilers know anything about it?
I don’t think they do and I’m not going to go and tell them. Lots of fans tweeted me they liked my interview, though. They didn’t like that I called myself a Canadian in a way per se, but they were grateful for the fact I gave honest answers and said exactly what I think. I wouldn’t say I’m prayed to now or anything, but they were grateful.
AO: You must have gotten 3 times more followers on Twitter on draft than you had before.
I have. We were on a plane and Yakupov told me he got like 11,000 new followers in a week. He did a call-out for me and within 90 minutes I was up to 1,500 followers. I think now it’s about 3,300.
AO: I saw one fan wrote you a song on twitter.
(laughs) Yeah-yeah! It actually happened. It was funny. I mean, it’s a silly thing but it made my day, anyway.
AO: What’s your first impression on Edmonton?
Good. Honestly, people recognize Yakupov and me on the streets. Obviously, they recognize him more than me. They talk to us, ask to get a picture and to sign stuff. It’s a beautiful city. I can honestly say that of all the towns I’ve been to in Canada, Edmonton attracts me the most.
AO: Funny. Usually people bring up the mall answering this question.
Yeah, the fans told me about it on twitter. They were like: ‘Don’t forget to visit the mall!’. I have no time for this so far. The camp is starting – medical examination, gym and we’re off to compete on the ice. So far they haven’t really told us anything about the camp. They made it clear, though, that no partying or drinking will be tolerated. We also just got our practice jerseys. Yakupov got #64, I think. I got #47. I’m pretty stocked about it – there’s a seven in the number! We go hand-and-hand her and I. I’m happy.
AO: 47 is Alex Radulov’s number.
(smiles) Hopefully, I won’t be compared to Alexander Radulov. Otherwise, they’d think I may leave.
AO: What’s your goal for this summer?
I want to put some muscles on. I now weigh 211 lbs. but I wouldn’t mind getting it to 220 lbs. In pro hockey muscles weigh plays an important role. Take for instance the time when I broke collarbone last season. I didn’t have a lot of muscles on my shoulders back then and it had a lot to do with it.
AO: Be honest – are you sad you were drafted only in the third round?
I am. My agent JP Barry told me before the draft I was supposed to be picked between 35 and 55. So I waited for this moment. The second round went by and half of the third followed… I got really scared. My dad was nervous too. To put it mildly, I did not feel great at all. I stared at one point not expecting anything to happen anymore. And then Oilers picked my last in the third round. At first I didn’t know what to think. I wasn’t supposed to get drafted so low, not according to my ranking. And then I took a look at how the draft panned out…
Grigorenko was supposed to go in Top-3 and he fell for the 12th spot. Andrey Makarov wasn’t drafted at all and neither was Anton Slepyshev. And we were going head-to-head with him. If you look at it, I’m the first Russian to get picked after Yakupov, Grigorenko and Vasilevskyi. I think it’s a good result. Besides, they weren’t too sure whether or not I’m going to stay here or leave to the KHL. This is why I make these – maybe a little scandalous – statements. Only because I want my team to understand that I’m here to stay.
AO: Slepyshev said before the U18’s he wasn’t thinking about going overseas. As a result – he wasn’t drafted.
This is the answer to all questions.
Previously by Andrey Osadchenko
- Daniil Zharkov: in his own words
- Mikhail Grigorenko: why is he falling?
- Nail Yakupov on being a Muslim, Don Cherry, the draft combine and playing in Canada
- The true face of Leo Komarov
- Interview with Yakupov/Galchenyuk agent (and Hockey Hall of Famer) Igor Larionov
- Nail Yakupov: in his own words
- Interview with Oilers prospect Kristians Pelss
- Interview with Oilers prospect Martin Marincin
- Interview with Leafs prospect Greg McKegg