Vasiliy Ponomarev is one step closer to accomplishing his lifelong dream of playing in the National Hockey League.
The native of Zelenograd, Russia had a very impressive North American debut in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
The transition to North America isn’t always easy from a hockey and lifestyle perspective.
Some young imports buckle under the pressure while others excel.
I caught up with the talented well spoken two-way winger on January 31st at the Avenir Centre after a 4-2 set back to the Moncton Wildcats.
“It took me about five games to adjust,” confessed Ponomarev when asked about adjusting to new the style of play and the QMJHL.
“I feel better now, I’m feeling good. The boys, the team and the coaching staff have helped me do well here,” he said.
“I think my game is at a high level right now, but I still have more potential.”
Spoken like a true leader and an athlete that’s willing to anything to improve and get to the next level.
Ponomarev’s passion and willingness to adapt to his new surroundings so quickly is truly intriguing and speaks volumes about his character and integrity.
That alone definitely sets him apart from 2020 NHL Draft eligible imports in the league and the CHL.
Roughly a week after the interview the Catarates made a significant move behind firing Daniel Renaud.
Martin Mondou brought in two veteran coaches to help turn the talented, but underachieving team around and that’s exactly what Gordie Dwyer and Darren Rumble did.
Dwyer’s coaching philosophy and style was a perfect fit for the Cataractes and Ponomarev.
The skilled two way forward flourished under Dwyer playing in every situation imaginable.
“Vasiliy is a high character, intelligent and committed young player,” said Dwyer.
“His responsible 200 ft game highlights his excellent puck possession and protection skills.”
“Vasily has good offensive upside distributes the puck very well and is a key contributor in all situations.”
Dwyer believes Ponomarev possesses similar qualities to that of two exceptional NHLer’s.
“His drive, work ethic and hockey sense are always on display and compliment his skill set. For Vasiliy, think of players like Jonathan Toews or Ryan O’Rielly,” Dwyer said.
That’s very high praise coming from the former NHLer and veteran bench boss.
Ponomarev might not be as flashy as other imports, but he gets the job done in all three zones every time he laces them up.
Ponomarev’s compete level and commitment to playing a full 200 ft game undoubtedly caught the attention of NHL Scouts.
“Vasiliy has a similar profile to that of Ivan Chekhovich,” said one NHL scout.
“He possesses all the offensive skills, hands, shot, and is a good passer,” the scout added.
“Vasiliy was awesome at Hlinka in August,” said another veteran NHL scout.
“He had an ok first half this season. At 6’0 he’s smaller, but solid on his skates.”
Vasiliy possesses good quickness, but needs better separation speed. He’s a smart player, plays hard in all three zones and can make plays,” they said.
“Vasiliy has very good puck skills and ability to find the open space,” said a third NHL Scout.
“He’s a good skater that uses his quickness to generate offence and also has a very good shot and ability to finish when given the opportunity.”
“He’s smart and patient with the puck in the offensive zone and sees the ice well and is a very good player below the dots cycling the puck and making plays,” they added.
What aspects of his game is Pononmarev focusing on in the biggest year of his life?
“I’m working on my skating and the first few steps, my explosiveness.”
“I think I’ve improved that aspect already, but I need to improve it more.”
Ponomarev is quick to credit his father for helping him get one step closer to his dream.
“My Dad was my coach and helped me a lot, but there are a few other coaches that have really helped me as well.”
“Nikolai Novozhilov was a tough coach for us.”
“It wasn’t always about hockey, it was about teaching us about life and being a good person.”
The quiet confident Russian forward believes his style of play is definitely suited for the professional ranks.
He realizes it’s a marathon not a sprint and is committed to putting in the work to get better every day.
“I’ll be ready to play in the NHL, I don’t know when, but my style of the game is more suited for the NHL game not the KHL.”
“I’m not saying the KHL is a bad league, but right now the NHL is the best league in the world.”
In a year that most players call the most difficult of their lives, Vasiliy Pononmarev is approaching it with amazing poise and confidence.
“I want to be drafted in the first round.”
“It might not be important for all of your career, but for this year it’s important for me, but right now I’m not trying to think about.”
Pononmarev’s relentless pursuit to accomplish his lifelong dream continues to fuel his journey in the game.
“To win the Stanley Cup is the first goal for me,” Ponomarev said without hesitation.
The 18-year-old winger finished the regular season fifth in QMJHL scoring amongst rookies with 18 goals and 31 assists in 57 games.