Ilya Nikolaev is continuing to grow his game with the Wranglers this season.
The 22-year-old from Yaroslavl, Russia got off to a hot start with a four-game point streak (2g,2a) to start the year and with nine games played so far, he is starting to settle into the grind of his first full AHL season.
“The first few games, I got two goals and some points, and I was feeling great, probably the best shape I’ve been,” explained Nikolaev. “As we started playing more, the pace went down a little bit but I’m working on it in practices and morning skates, so now it is getting better. I’m feeling better, feeling stronger.”
Drafted 88th overall (Round 3) by the Flames in 2019, Nikolaev spent last season with the Rapid City Rush (ECHL) and played five games with the Wranglers.
A busy travel schedule, heightened competition, and a quicker pace are more demanding in the AHL, and Nikolaev is striving every day to continue elevating his game.
“This is the AHL, so you need to be able to handle all that, so you need to prepare for it mentally and physically,” he said. “You need to prepare to come to the rink every day and do your best. No matter if you’re down or up, you need to keep yourself at a high level, make sure you come to the rink ready to go, that’s it.”
In 40 games with Rapid City last season, Nikolaev notched 33 points (13g,20a) and he is confident in his ability on the offensive side of the puck.
With that in mind, he’s been working hard this season to become a more complete player by emphasizing his focus on the defensive aspect of his game.
“I’m focused on my D-zone game more,” he said. “I know that if I have the puck in the offensive zone I can create plays, so I’m not worried about that. I’m more focused on the defensive side of the game, because we have to play within our team structure, so that’s more my focus.”