It was clear Sergei Shirokov was going to be a project player when the Vancouver Canucks selected him in the sixth round (163rd overall) of the 2006 NHL draft.
First, the currently 5-foot-10, 195-pounder would have been even smaller back then, so one task he had to accomplish was to get stronger. Second, he’d have to learn to play with men, as he was coming off a pedestrian 14-point season in Russia’s top league. Third, once he did arrive in North America, he’d have to adapt to the smaller ice surface. And, finally, he had already been passed over in two drafts when the Canucks took him as a 20-year-old, so there was a reason no other team had brought him across the pond yet.
But after a 40-point season in 56 games with CSKA Moscow of the Kontinental League in 2008-09, Shirokov came to North America’s West Coast to chase his NHL dream.
But in six scoreless games with Vancouver last season, he looked small, he was pushed around easily and it just didn’t look like he belonged at that level. Shirokov was moved inland to American League Manitoba where he could acclimatize himself to the different style of game and, after a little more than a year later, he’s back up with Vancouver as the Moose’s top scorer.
“With time in the league you get more confident and you can see he has got a lot more confident,” said an opposing AHL defenseman who shares a conference with Manitoba. “He’s, I’d say, one of the top 10 players in the league right now. He’s just a very skilled player you have to be aware of at all times.”
Shirokov posted 22 goals and 45 points in 76 AHL games last season, but has improved on that pace this year. With 16 goals and 33 points in 39 games, Shirokov is a big reason why the Moose sit second in the North Division, an improvement of two positions over last season.
While expectations should remain tempered as Shirokov re-adjusts to a faster pace, Canucks fans can be hopeful he has a better appearance this time around and, maybe, even score his first NHL point.
Unless he really makes a really solid impression, though, Shirokov’s call-up will be brief again this time. But if he continues to show progress it will give Canucks management the confidence to re-sign the Russian, who is in the final year of a two-year contract with the club.
And while part of the reason Shirokov was re-assigned to the AHL a little less than 13 months ago was because of his lack of defensive responsibility, he has worked diligently on that area with Moose coach Claude Noel.
However, he still won’t be confused as a depth-line checker. As the rival AHL defenseman pointed out, Shirokov makes his hay as a top-six attacker.
“In the offensive zone, he has a lot of skill,” the defenseman said. “He’s really good with the puck, he’s a good skater and he’s really patient with the puck as well. At the end of the game it may not look like he’s done anything, but you look at the scoresheet and he has a couple points and probably a couple big set ups.
“He’s definitely one of (Manitoba’s) top players and someone you have to key in on if you’re going to win those games.”
This article was originally published in Metro News. For more hockey commentary, check out Metro Sports.