Leafs prospect Valiev solid in world junior...
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Dec 29, 2014  |  Vote 0    0

Leafs prospect Valiev solid in world junior showdown with Nylander

Rinat Valiev, compared to Roman Polak, shows progress despite Russia’s loss to Sweden at Air Canada Centre

OurWindsor.Ca

Leafs draft pick Rinat Valiev has done some fine work for Team Russia at the world junior championship, but it’s safe to say he’s not quite as popular as a certain blond-haired Leafs pick from Sweden.

That would be first-rounder William Nylander, who has been hyped — and justifiably, for the most part — while Valiev continues to quietly play solid, shutdown defence for his native Russia.

It was Nylander — with two assists, including a dish on the game winner in the third — who helped Sweden to a 3-2 win over Valiev’s Russian squad Monday at the Air Canada Centre.

That won’t bring Valiev, an 18-year -old drafted 68th overall by the Leafs in June, any closer to the hype level enjoyed by Nylander, whose Swedish club is now the outright winner of Group B with three wins to start the tournament. But the Russian is doing the right things, a continuation of the development that started almost three seasons ago when he suited up for the Indiana Ice in the USHL.

“I think my game is better. I understand more now how to move the puck, and I have more experience playing on the short ice here,” said Valiev, a native of Nizhnekamsk, Russia, who has been playing elite-level hockey since he was 11.

In his first meeting with Nylander, he delivered a couple of nifty setups that almost resulted in Russian goals. With eight seconds remaining in the game, after a Russian goal had been waved off, Valiev got the puck at the point for a clear shot at the Swedish net. He cruised in a few strides and wound up, but elected to slap-pass the puck to forward Vlad Bryukvin for a one-timer from a sharp angle, which failed to find the net.

“There was eight seconds left and I didn’t have much time. I faked the shot and passed back door,” Valiev said. “Someone was yelling ‘Shoot the puck!’ but there wasn’t a lot of time.”

Of course, Valiev was asked about Nylander and the fact that the Leafs first-rounder is back in Toronto to great fanfare after a late cut from September’s training camp. A first period video tribute to Nylander caught the attention of every Leafs fan in the building.

“He’s a good player,” said Valiev. “Even before the game, our coach told us to play hard against him. He’s good, but I know that.”

Valiev and Nylander were drafted two rounds apart and got acquainted during the Leafs’ rookie camp in early September. Nylander wound up playing for Modo of the Swedish Hockey League, while Valiev returned to the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League.

Through 23 games, Valiev has already matched his goal output from a year ago (when he had five in 55 games), and with 20 points he’s on pace to easily pass last year’s total of 23.

More important, the Leafs sent player development adviser Steve Staios to watch Valiev with Kootenay, where he earns praise for his steady play. Staios referred to him as a Roman Polak-type defenceman who can shut down the opposition and chip in some offence.

“(Staios) showed me a lot of things — how to skate and shoot the puck — and it was a lot of help,” Valiev said.

Russia is likely to finish second in Group B, which may set up a medal-round game against Canada and Kootenay teammate Sam Reinhart. Valiev grinned when that potential scenario was brought up.

“For sure, hopefully in the final,” Valiev said.

Toronto Star

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