Amid the airborne balls of used tape, piles of equipment and the distinct aroma of an NHL locker room after a hard practice, it’s not very often that one discusses British literature with a Russian player.
“I love John Fowles….I liked The Collector, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, all his books, but…The Magus (Magician) is the best one,” said soft-spoken Alex Frolov, who has settled in New York after playing in Los Angeles for seven years. “I love history, mostly Russian and European.” And Dostoevsky?
“Oh, my favorite,” the 28-year-old Frolov. “In Moscow, you read one or two of his books in school; I’ve read all of them.” Right now, Frolov is partway through a Russian novel about a librarian.
Make no mistake. Frolov doesn’t fit the stereotype of a bookworm. At 6-2, 215, the free agent left wing who joined the Rangers last summer plays a puck-possession game, using his strength in the corners and in front of the net. After being drafted 20th overall in 2000 by Los Angeles, Frolov became the Kings’ most prolific scorer, with 168 goals, including two 30-goal plus seasons, and 381 points.
Nor is his lifestyle monkish. In SoCal, he lived in Manhattan Beach, the oceanfront community with a pro athlete on every street, roomed with Sean Avery on the road, and quickly named Nello on Madison Avenue and Bond Street Sushi as two of his go-to restaurants in Manhattan.
“I’m not like a farm boy,” he says with a grin, “I grew up in a beautiful city and especially when you spend eight years in the U.S., you know what to expect, you know where to go.”
Like other players of his generation, Frolov watched tapes of Russia’s gold-medal runs in the 1972 and 1976 Winter Olympics, and a major star of those teams, Alexander Yakushev, was the head coach on his first pro team in Moscow.
“He was pretty tall, about my size now,” Frolov said, “and a left wing. When you’re a kid, it’s more about relying on your skills, but when you go pro, you have to adjust your game to play again physical opponents. That’s what I learned. And in the U.S, you always have to use your body to play here.”
Before the 2000 entry draft, 24 teams interviewed him, but not the Kings. “I’m not 100 percent sure, but I don’t think so,” he said. “I was surprised when they picked me. I thought I was going higher, but there were trades and I dropped and all of a sudden, all the teams I thought I would be going to take me had past. I thought “----, where am I going?” L.A. was a big change for me, no other Russians, I didn’t speak English, a different culture. But you adjust.”
Last season, Frolov fell out of favor with Kings head coach Terry Murray, who criticized his defensive lapses, bounced him off the power play and the No. 1 line and his numbers suffered. When he became available, the Rangers offered a one-year, $3-million deal that Frolov viewed as a fresh start. So far, so good.
Skating with sniper Marian Gaborik and on the power play, Frolov registered a goal and four assists in the first four pre-season games. If the magic is indeed back, the Rangers may have found a best-seller.
1. 8-5? Darn. And I had the Blueshirts plus 3. Push.
2. Still believe a trade is coming next week....
3. Rangers are off today, not positive any cuts will be made. Will advise.
4. Believe Pavel Valentenko will be sent to Hartford to develop. Think other D cut is either between Eminger/Sauer, unless someone's brought in. If the Rangers carry 14 forwards, and Prospal, Dru on IR, no one needs to be re-assigned or waived. If it's 13, Todd White, despite his two goals Saturday night, could be a victim of the numbers with a $2.375 cap hit. Still wonder whether he or Anisimov should have a shot at centering the top line.
Since last year’s opening night, the Rangers have erased Wade Redden, Ales Kotalik, Donald Brashear, Aaron Voros, Chris Higgins and Steve Valiquette from the roster. And the last move in a New York jersey for Olli Jokinen was his bizarre effort in the shootout finale against the Flyers that left coach John Tortorella and Blueshirt fans incredulous and bitter.
That part of the slate has been wiped clean as the Rangers gear up for their 85th anniversary season, which opens on Friday in Buffalo. But whether the Rangers can celebrate with a return to the post-season after missing the party for the first time since the conclusion of the lockout in 2005 is certainly open for debate.
What will it take? Here’s a quick rundown:
There are plenty of “ifs”, but each of the three key areas appears to have been upgraded, at least incrementally.
In goal, Henrik Lundqvist should be fresher. After 73 appearances plus his duty for the Swedish Olympic team last season, the King’s knee was cranky and required off-season treatment. So, in the first move of free agency on July 1, the brass inked Martin Biron, the veteran backup who is expected to start between 15 and 20 games.
On defense, the re-signing of restricted free agents Marc Staal and Dan Girardi locks in the top shutdown pair for years. Michael Del Zotto returns after a season in which he cracked the All-Rookie team. Michael Rozsival’s body is wearing down, but when healthy, he’s a solid minutes-eater. Without Redden, 33, and his $6.5 million salary, which were assigned to the minors, the five, six and seven slots will be younger and presumably more productive. North Bellmore native Matt Gilroy got stronger over the summer. Steve Eminger and youngsters Ryan McDonagh, Pavel Valentenko and Michael Sauer are battling down to the wire, although a couple could be cut today.
Upfront, the signing of left wing Alex Frolov, 28, a talented scorer who played seven years for the Kings, should take some of the offensive burden from star Marian Gaborik, who registered 84 points. No center for that potentially dynamic duo has been determined; it could be Vinny Prospal (eventually), Erik Christensen (hmmm) or a pivot brought in from the outside. To be sure, the Rangers are counting on these players to improve their numbers from last season: Artem Anisimov, Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky and Sean Avery.
Impressive rookie center Derek Stepan, a Wisconsin Badger like McDonagh who left school early to turn pro, is expected to see time in both in NHL and AHL. Tim Kennedy, a small, quick, free agent and tryout Ruslan Fedotenko, who played for Tortorella in Tampa, should add depth on the wings, along with returnee Brandon Prust. Captain Chris Drury, who missed the exhibition games with a broken index finger, will provide his brand of leadership and two-way play. Six-foot-seven deterrent Derek Boogaard replaces Jody Shelley, who replaced Brashear. Mats Zuccarello and Dale Weise are waiting in the wings.
Then there are the intangibles: In the Atlantic Division alone, the Flyers offense is stronger, the Penguins defense has been upgraded, and the Devils start the year with late-season pickup Ilya Kovalchuk. Finally, there is the mercurial Tortorella, who has said he feels more comfortable in his second full season here and believes his players are as well. File that under: To Be Determined.
NEW YORK RANGERS POST-GAME NOTES
October 2, 2010 - New York Rangers 5 at Ottawa Senators 8 [Pre-Season Game: 6; Away Game: 3]
* The New York Rangers were defeated by the Ottawa Senators, 8-5, tonight at Scotiabank Place, to conclude their 2010-2011 pre-season schedule with a 4-2-0 record, including a 1-2-0 mark away from MSG.
* Todd White led the Rangers with two goals, registered a plus-two rating and won a team-high, eight face-offs in 16 attempts (50%). His second goal of the contest at 16:33 of the second period was the Rangers' third shorthanded tally of the pre-season, which ranks first in the NHL. White finished his pre-season campaign with four points (two goals and two assists) in four games.
* Ruslan Fedotenko tallied the only assist on White's second period shorthanded goal, and led the Rangers with a plus-three rating. Fedotenko was tied for sixth in the NHL in assists and ninth in points entering tonight's contest. He finished the pre-season ranked first on the team with six assists, seven points and a plus-five rating in five games.
* Rookie Derek Stepan extended his goal streak to three games with an even strength tally at 8:03 of the second period, assisted by goaltender Martin Biron (20 saves). Stepan finished the pre-season tied for first on the Rangers with three goals, and added two assists for five points in five games.
* Artem Anisimov recorded the Rangers' first goal of the game with an even strength tally at 11:23 of the first period, assisted by rookie Dale Weise who was recalled from Hartford (AHL) earlier today. Anisimov tied for first on the team with three goals in five pre-season games.
* Forward Mats Zuccarello notched his first goal as a Ranger at 6:13 of the third period following his recall from Hartford (AHL) earlier today. Zuccarello's goal was assisted by Tim Kennedy, who finished his pre-season campaign with two assists in four games.
* Brandon Dubinsky registered the primary assist on White's even strength goal at 3:11 of the second period, and led the team with five shots on goal. Matt Gilroy also assisted on White's first goal of the game, and finished the pre-season ranked second among team defensemen with three points (one goal and two assists) in five games.
* Forward Brandon Prust led all skaters with four hits in the contest, and logged 17:32 of ice time.
* The Rangers do not have practice scheduled for tomorrow, October 3. The Blueshirts next practice is scheduled for 9:00 a.m. on Monday, October 4, at the MSG Training Center.
* New York will begin their 2010-2011 regular season schedule vs. the Buffalo Sabres, on Saturday, October 9 (7:00 p.m.), at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, marking the third consecutive season the Blueshirts will open the season on the road.