Defenceman Rinat Valiev is in familiar territory. At least for the time being.
The smooth-skating Russian defenceman finds himself back in Cranbrook at the onset of Kootenay Ice training camp, but he doesn’t plan on sticking around for very long.
“I feel so excited. It’s good to see all the boys,” Valiev said Monday following the first veterans skate of 2015 Kootenay Ice training camp. “We have a little bit of change in coaching staff, but it still feels like I know all the guys here and I’m so excited to be here.”
As a 19-year-old in his second year with the Ice, Valiev posted a career-high 46 points in 52 games last season after returning to the Western Hockey League following his first NHL training camp.
A third-round selection (68th overall) of the Toronto Maple Leafs at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, the native of Nizhnekamsk, Russia, made his pro hockey debut at the conclusion of the 2014-15 campaign, skating in a pair of games with the Leafs’ American Hockey League affiliate — the Toronto Marlies.
“That was awesome,” Valiev said of his first pro experience. “We played on the road. I think I played okay, pretty good.”
Though Valiev didn’t register any points in his quick cup with the Marlies, the experience was a positive one he looks forward to building upon in the coming weeks.
Valiev is eligible to return to the WHL for one final season as an overage player, but fans shouldn’t be holding their breath in anticipation of seeing the 6-foot-2, 207-pound anchor back on the Kootenay Ice blue-line.
After making a quick three-week visit home to Russia earlier in the summer, Valiev returned to Canada where he trained for the past two months in Calgary as he readies for his second NHL training camp with the Maple Leafs, intent on graduating to the professional ranks on a full-time basis.
“Try hard and we’ll see in camp,” Valiev said. “They’re not saying to anybody where you’re going to play. If you can play NHL, you will play NHL. [If you can play] AHL, [you will play] AHL. It doesn’t matter.
“Coaches didn’t see me a lot [last year]. I’m just going to show my best game and try to make the team.”
The enthusiastic young defenceman’s first NHL training camp was cut short after he suffered a knee injury in the early stages of the proceedings.
This time around, a healthy Valiev is intent on showing the Leafs they did right by tabbing him as a potential future power-play quarterback in Toronto.
And just what is it going to take for the easy-going Valiev to make a good impression?
“Hard work, hard work, hard work,” he said with great big grin, “and enthusiasm.”
Valiev is set to head east Sept. 8. Toronto Maple Leafs rookie camp begins Friday, Sept. 11, in London, Ont.