Russian Rafikov eyeing North American challenge
CALGARY, AB -- Rushan Rafikov knows he’s the first Russian to be drafted by the Calgary Flames in over a decade.
His goal is to be the next Russian to make his mark in the Flames lineup.
“I’ve been always dreamed about playing in the NHL,” Rafikov told CalgaryFlames.com through a translator. “It’s the best league in the world. That’s why everybody is coming here.”
Rafikov became the first Russian drafted by Calgary since Yuri Artemenkov and Viktor Bobrov in 2002 when the Flames selected the 18-year-old with their seventh pick, 187th overall in the 2013 NHL Draft.
When he became property of the Flames, though, Rafikov admitted he was fast asleep.
It wasn’t until the next morning the Saratov, RUS product realized he’d been drafted last June.
“It was pretty late when I was watching the draft, the first round, so I was tired and went to bed,” he said. “In the morning, I woke up and there was a message on my cell phone from my agent that I was picked 187th. I was pretty happy.
“I jumped on Wikipedia and looked at the city and the Saddledome and the fan club. My agent told me there was no Russian drafted (by the Flames) in the past 11 years.”
That pick has started quite the journey for the teenager.
Rafikov, who was also drafted in the third round, 71st overall into the Kontinental Hockey League by Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in 2012, is hoping to take a North American approach to chasing his NHL dream.
It will start by attending the Flames’ development camp next summer.
It extends to potentially playing in the Canadian Hockey League next fall, he said.
“I had a talk in my first game (of the Subway Super Series) with (Flames scouting director) Todd Woodcroft and they expect me next season and have invited me to the camp,” said Rafikov, the 22nd Russian ever drafted by the Flames. “I’m very happy and would be happy to come over to play junior.”
Admittedly, it would be a step up from Loko Yaroslavl, his current MHL team.
Rafikov noted that, based on the level of competition in the Super Series, it would be the next step for his development, too.
“The level here is slightly higher than the MHL from my standpoint,” he said. “I’m pretty tired over the last games. Canadian players are more physical and quite skilled which is a little bit different from the same level in Russia.”
Still, the MHL has proved to be a good training ground for the 6-foot-2, 181-pound rearguard.
His Loko squad currently sits atop the MHL with 123 points. They’ve lost just five times in regulation all season.
In 41 games this season, Rafikov shares the team lead in points among blueliners with seven goals and 18 points and boasts the third highest plus/minus on the club with an impressive plus-29 rating.
But that, Rafikov said, doesn’t trump his club’s performance.
“I think the most important is the team, how the team is put together and the team looks pretty good,” he said. “I don’t necessarily keep track of my pluses. I could probably be better than that, but the team overall is doing pretty good.
“That’s what’s most important right now.”
For now, that’s where Rafikov’s attention currently lies.
In the future, though, he’s eyeing Calgary.