Viktor Tikhonov views the world through a wider and wiser lens than most 27-year-olds. When the newest Coyotes forward was asked why things didn’t work out for him in Chicago, or on his first go-round with the Coyotes after they drafted him in 2008, his answer was both candid and refreshingly humble.
“The first thing my dad always taught me is when something goes wrong, always look in the mirror first,” Tikhonov said Monday. “Had I played better with the chance I was given I probably would have stayed.”
Tikhonov is hoping to make the most of a second chance in Arizona after the Coyotes claimed him off waivers from Chicago on Sunday. He joined the team on Monday in St. Louis and will be in the lineup when the Coyotes complete their five-game road trip against the Blues on Tuesday at Scottrade Center.
“He’s a player that’s looking for an opportunity to find his niche in the league,” coach Dave Tippett told reporters in St. Louis. “He went to Russia and played very well. His next goal is to become a real reliable and good player over here so we’re going to try to give him that opportunity.”
Tikhonov said he fell prey to youthful ambition after the Coyotes selected him with their second first-round pick (28th overall) in 2008. While his father and grandfather — the legendary Soviet hockey coach of the same name — advised him to play a couple years in Russia after the NHL Draft to develop his game, Tikhonov couldn’t resist the lure of the NHL.
“I was chasing my dream,” he said. “I made the team the first year and played pretty well, but maybe he was right in the end. My game needed to grow.”
After playing 61 games with the Coyotes in 2008-09 (eight goals, 16 points), Tikhonov spent the following two seasons with the club’s AHL affiliate in San Antonio before returning to Russia when he couldn’t reach agreement on a contract with the Coyotes.
He spent the last four seasons with SKA Saint Petersburg where he says he developed a better offensive game and became a more versatile player who can play in all situations. Last season, playing with teammates Ilya Kovalchuk and Artemi Panarin, he had had eight goals and 16 assists in 49 games as SKA St. Petersburg won its first Kontinental Hockey League title (Gagarin Cup) in April.
“I got pretty lucky to play in St. Petersburg because of all the teams in the whole league it’s the closest to what goes on in the NHL,” he said. “It’s a beautiful city, I got lots of ice time playing on the top line, I played with Kovalchuk and Panarin and it was good seeing him grow into the player he is now with Chicago. We really became good pals.”
Although his grandfather was one of the nation’s most famous sports figures after leading the famed Red Army team to three Olympic gold medals (and one infamous silver at Lake Placid, New York in 1980), Viktor is just as versed in American culture as he is in Russian. He grew up in Los Gatos, California and in 1994, moved with his family to Lexington, Kentucky, where his father, Vasily, was the goalie coach for San Jose’s AHL affiliate, the Kentucky Thoroughblades, and where Viktor played youth hockey.
“When I went to the KHL my goal was always to get back to the NHL, but it was nice being close to grandpa,” Tikhonov said of the legendary coach who died in 2014. “He would fly out to a lot of my games in St. Petersburg and he went to all of my games in Moscow.
“They would always announce him on the loud speakers and it was amazing to see how much respect he got. It was always good to score a goal when he was in the stands, too.”
The Coyotes kept tabs on Tikhonov while he was in the KHL and Tippett thought he might have an opportunity with the team in the 2012-13 season before the lockout altered Tikhonov’s plans.
GM Don Maloney expressed interest in signing Tikhonov this summer while the Coyotes still owned his rights until July 1, one month after his KHL contract expired. When Chicago acquired center Artem Anisimov from Columbus and signed Panarin, however, Tikhonov couldn’t resist the chance to play with a pair of friends and fellow Russians so he signed with the Blackhawks.
“I knew it was going to be tough to crack that lineup because it’s a really good group that has had a lot of success,” said Tikhonov, who served as a part-time translator for Panarin, “but I thought it would be fun if we could make it together there.”
When the Blackhawks waived him last week, Tikhonov kept close tabs on his potential landing spot through his agent, Thomas Lynn.
“I didn’t think it was out of the realm of possibility that he would go to Phoenix last summer because the Desert Dogs were one of his three finalists,” Lynn said Sunday. “He would have been happy to go there then so when the opportunity arose he was excited.”
Tikhonov first learned of the possibility of returning to the Valley on Saturday night, but he had to wait to see if other teams put in a claim, including the Carolina Hurricanes, who were ahead of the Coyotes on waiver claims as the two teams prepared to play on Sunday.
Tikhonov said of all the teams he could have wound up with in the NHL, the Coyotes offer the smoothest transition and his coach agreed.
“Maybe it’s fate,” Tippett said.
Tippett said Tikhonov walked into the coach’s office in St. Louis on Monday with a big smile on his face because he knew the staff. Tikhonov said he got a “super warm welcome” from the team in the locker room, and he got to run the team stretch in practice.
“It’s good to kind of come full circle back to Phoenix where everything started off for me,” Tikhonov said. “I’ve got a little extra motivation to show what I’ve learned over the last couple years and to show the player I have become.”
Here is a preview of Tuesday’s game:
Coyotes at Blues
When: Tuesday, 6 p.m.
Where: Scottrade Center, St. Louis
TV: FOX Sports Arizona
Radio: Arizona Sports 98.7 FM
Injury report: Coyotes: F Shane Doan (lower body) is day to day. F Joe Vitale (fractured orbital bone) is on IR. Blues — F Jaden Schwartz (IR) is out until at least late January with a fractured ankle. … F Steve Out (IR) is at least three months following surgery to repair both hamstrings.
Scouting the Blues: F Vladimir Tarasenko scored his 15th goal of the season on Saturday, moving into sole possession of third overall in the NHL in that category. Each of his last seven goals has come on home ice. … Jake Allen will start in goal for St. Louis. … The Blues have the league’s third-best penalty killing unit at 86.5 percent.