WASHINGTON — A new language. A new country. A new league. And now, for the second time, a new team. Yes, it’s been a whole new world for Bogdan Kiselevich, who is still trying to find his way after a whirlwind couple of weeks in what has been a year of major change.
The 29-year-old Russian defenceman, playing his first season in North America after nine years and almost 400 games back home in the KHL, was traded to the Winnipeg Jets from the Florida Panthers just minutes before the clock ran out on the trade deadline on Feb. 25.
That can be tough for anyone, let alone someone with Kiselevich’s background still going through a bit of culture shock. Not that he’s asking for your pity, or even thinks he deserves it. He repeated the phrase "it is what it is" multiple times during our wide-ranging chat Sunday following the morning skate at Capital One Arena.
"Nobody talks about that. You’re a hockey player, a professional, you don’t care about it. But for a person it’s not easy, especially for a wife and two kids. It is what it is, it’s our job and it’s a privilege to play in the NHL," Kiselevich told me in broken English that is quite impressive, given his short time away from his homeland.
In the hours after learning he’d been traded, Kiselevich had to quickly say goodbye to teammates he was just starting to feel comfortable around, plus his wife and two daughters, aged two and five, unsure of when he’d see them again.
He’s still wondering, in fact, now two weeks later.
"They’re waiting for a visa. They’re trying to go to the consulate in New York right now, then they will get a house or apartment (in Winnipeg)," Kiselevich said.
Life would throw Kiselevich another curveball as he set foot in Winnipeg for the first time — only to be stricken by a flu bug. Not the way he wanted to spend the first few days in his new hockey home, with the team that traded for you wanting you to stay far, far away to avoid infecting anyone else.
"It was pretty bad, I got sick for a few days," he said. "I was really stressed, too. Excited to get to one team and then it changed. I was pretty, not scared, but shy in the dressing room. I wasn’t expecting the guys would be so nice, everybody is trying to help with stuff. A very good atmosphere in the dressing room."
He puts Matt Hendricks at the top of that list. The veteran character forward was re-acquired by the Jets from Minnesota around the same time as Kiselevich and another depth player in Par Lindholm. The trio have fast become friends, sharing a bond of being frequent healthy scratches.
That means staying out for extra work long after the regulars have retreated to the locker room, showered, dressed and boarded the bus for the hotel, as they did Sunday here in Washington.
"He’s (expletive) awesome, he helps you with everything," Kiselevich says of Hendricks in a humorous moment during our conversation. "You look at him and he knows what your question will be. He’s been very good with the young guys, he talks a lot."
No, his first year in the NHL hasn’t exactly gone as planned. But Kiselevich doesn’t appear to have any regrets.
"It was not an easy decision for me, to take my butt over the ocean. I was comfortable there. But everybody wants to be here, to start to show yourself," Kiselevich said of coming over,
Truth be told, the Jets likely hope they never have to use him. He’s currently No. 7 on the defensive depth chart, with Dustin Byfuglien, Josh Morrissey and Joe Morrow all out with injuries. That will knock him down a few more pegs if and when they get fully healthy.
"We’ve got a big group now here and still have Tucker Poolman to come if the Moose don’t make the playoffs. We’ll have really strong depth on our blue line for sure," head coach Paul Maurice said Sunday.
The Jets actually sniffed around on Kiselevich last season and were looking at signing the free agent, only for his camp to decide on the Panthers.
"Bogdan is a real strong pro. In the meetings early on, and he’s been true to it, he said ‘I’ll work as hard as I can every single day and I’ll be ready when you need me and I understand my role.’ He’s been great," said Maurice, who gave a bit of a scouting report on a player you might never see in action with the Jets.
"You know what, he’s a version of Dmitry (Kulikov) in some ways. He can move the puck, but he doesn’t mind banging and he doesn’t mind being a little physical. He gets into the corners hard. I would just say he’s an intense defenceman, I don’t know that you can label him as a pure offensive or defensive guy. He’s kind of a two-way guy," Maurice said.
That matches up pretty well with how Kiselevich sees himself. He had no goals and eight assists in 32 games with the Panthers prior to the trade.
"I think smart defensive decisions. I don’t make a lot of shots. Difficult to compare what I was in the KHL. I think a pretty defensive style, not too many offensive decisions, I make a good pass," he said.
Kiselevich is under no illusions about playing time in Winnipeg, content to be a "practice player" at this point while waiting for an opportunity that might never come.
"I want to be a player — every player wants to play as much time on ice. Right now, it is what it is. You have to be a professional, you have to try to do your best that you can do. I’m just staying ready and keep working hard," he said. "Right now, it’s NHL. I will do my best to stay here. I am a hockey player and want to play and show my best.
"It’s a privilege. You change sides and you see another team and another dressing room, another coach, another level. It’s very interesting. I’m so excited, and I was very happy that I could get to a level harder. It’s harder competition here. I know it’s not easy, just have to go and go."
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.