Bright lights, big city.
With a chance to let rookie defenseman Egor Zamula get his first taste of NHL action on a rather big stage, Flyers coach Alain Vigneault didn’t hesitate to start the Russian in Tuesday’s preseason game vs. Pittsburgh in Toronto.
The 20-year-old actually went about his business with an uncharacteristic coolness.
Come to think of it, a little bit like the style employed by his more famous teammate and countryman, Ivan Provorov.
The 23-year-old Provorov, who just completed his fourth regular season with the team, can serve as a natural mentor for Zamula, who signed with the Flyers as a free agent in September, 2018.
Matt Niskanen, Provorov’s defense partner, believes Zamula can learn a lot from Provorov, especially because there is no language barrier.
“I didn’t know much about ‘Z’ but he has good defensive skill and confidence with the puck,’’ Niskanen said during a Zoom teleconference call from Toronto on Wednesday. “You can see he has the potential to be a player.
“He probably just needs some reps at higher speed with the big boys but he’s going to be a good one I think. ‘Provy’ is a very mature player, he’s got a ton of experience for his age. The translation piece of it is huge for Z, I would imagine. He’s got a great role model in Provy. It’s a good situation for Z.’’
Provorov came over to North America in his early teens to play junior hockey and learn the culture. By now he’s a seasoned veteran about knowing stuff like supermarkets, banks and night spots (when times get back to normal, of course).
On the ice, there can be a helpful bond, too.
“He’s a great player, a great kid,’’ Provorov said. “He wants to learn. I just told him to be himself, don’t think too much. Just try to play your game and enjoy every shift, learn every shift.
“I think he’s done a great job so far during camp. He’s a great player and he’s only going to get better.’’
Zamula had to undergo back surgery this past season (in January) and his game totals with the Calgary Hitmen (WHL) dropped from 61 in 2018-19 to only 28 this past season.
The rehab apparently went quite well because he’s gone through the rigors of training camp and the 3-2 overtime win against the Penguins without any hitches.
He stands 6-foot-3 but weighs only about 175 pounds, so obviously he needs to put on a few pounds/muscle. But the natural instincts are there for a big man with skating speed and those aren’t things that can simply be coached.
His quick comeback from the back operation opened a few eyes.
“The doctor said I would be off for five or six months,’’ Zamula said through a translator. “But after four months, I started doing squats, sit-ups. . .fortunately everything got solid and totally together.
“When I came back, I missed the feeling of skating, (working) with the stick. When I got back with NHL players (at Skate Zone pre-camp in June), I was excited and that helped me get back in shape.’’
Zamula acknowledged Provorov’s input has been helpful.
“I look up to Ivan,’’ he said. “I am fortunate to have him on the same team and helping me out with the game.
“Yesterday (Tuesday) in the game, Ivan helped me a lot, talking to me before the game.’’
In a case of life imitating art, Zamula was playing a hockey video game a few days before Tuesday’s game and two of the main characters were Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Tuesday, he was facing them in real life.
“The first second I stepped on the ice, I felt like I was still in the console game,’’ Zamula said. “I was really excited. It was a good experience.’’
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