Anton Zlobin has a reputation he doesn't deserve.
Fairly or, probably more accurately, unfairly, any Russian hockey player is going to have a reputation of being flighty, aloof or enigmatic. Unfortunately, the mixed histories of superstars such as Ilya Kovalchuk, Ilya Bryzgalov Alexei Yashin and others have created a stigma for any Russian player.
Zlobin has another reputation he has more than earned.
He has shown to be a clutch player in postseason play. In the 2012 Memorial Cup Final, Zlobin scored in overtime to give the Shawinigan Cataractes 2-1 win against the London Knights.
Making his professional debut in 2013-14, Zlobin bounced between the AHL and ECHL during the regular season. In the postseason, Zlobin found a place on a line with Andrew Ebbett and Chuck Kobasew during the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins' run to the Eastern Conference final. Appearing in 15 playoff games, he scored 10 points, including six goals. Three of his goals were game-winning scores including an overtime goal in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Binghamton Senators:
A sixth-round pick in 2012, Zlobin is attending the NHL Penguins' prospect camp this week. Yesterday, he talked about his development, getting used to North America and being considered a clutch player.
How do you assess your first professional season?
"I guess it [went] pretty great. We had a great team. Great coaches. We make a conference final so it’s a pretty good experience for me for my first year in professional hockey."
Was it difficult bouncing between the AHL and ECHL throughout the season?
"I had an injury last year so I missed all the [offseason] camps and I just started to practice at the start of September. I understood I needed to be sent down for a little bit because I needed to come back to my conditioning [levels] and everything. I played pretty good in the [ECHL] and got called back. It’s helped me a lot."
You had a pretty successful individual run in the postseason.
"It’s always fun in the playoffs to play for something, to play for the Calder Cup. Everybody just sticks together. We have a fun time but at the same time it was a tough time. Every game, you play hard."
What was it like going from junior to professional hockey?
"Guys are a little bit smarter, stronger. It’s actually a big step for me from junior hockey to professional hockey right away. It was a tough time but [Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach John] Hynes helped me a lot for my conditioning and the system. When I understand the system, it’s easier to play the game."
What has it been like getting used to North America these past few seasons?
"My first year was pretty tough me. I can’t [figure out] any language. No French, no English. It was a pretty tough season for me. I just tried to figure out how to play there. When I got used to it and started to speak English, things [went] better."
Was are the difference between playing on a thinner North American rink versus the wider European rink?
"You have a little more time on a Russian rink. You have a little more time to make a play and every thing. Here [in North America], if you think more than one second, you’re going to get hit or something or miss the play or lose the puck."
Was it difficult to get used to a new culture and new language, especially in Quebec where French is the predominant language?
"Guys and coaches in the locker room tried to speak to me in English and my [billet] family was French. [They] started to learn English and teach me. Guys tried to teach me French words. I understand French words. After two years [in North America], I started to speak English better."
Have you ever considered playing in the KHL in your native Russia?
"No. No. It’s my dream to play in the NHL. Not many guys have a chance to play in the NHL right now. I’m lucky to be here and I’ll try to do my best to make the NHL."
What was it like playing on a line with Ebbett and Kobasew. Each of those guys, especially Kobasew, have spent a fair amount of time in the NHL.
"Oh, it’s a great experience for me. Those guys, it’s unbelievable. [Kobasew] helped me a lot to make a play and make points at the same time. W hen I did a wrong play, we watched the video together, the power-play video and [talked about] what we could do better."
Do you consider yourself a "clutch" player?
"I don’t know. I just tried to play my way. I’m a goal scorer I think so I try to score as many as I can. When you have one chance in overtime, you need to score."