There is a great big European defenseman on the ice at Bruins’ development camp.
His name is Oleg Yevenko, he stands at 6-foot-7 and 230 pounds and he’s from Belarus. He’s 23 years old and isn’t a member of an NHL organization; he’s in town on an invitation from the B’s (he was in the Devils’ prospect camp last year and the Islanders’ prospect camp two years ago) . He plays his college hockey at UMass Amherst, where he’ll be a senior in the fall. He also played for Belarus in the IIHF World Championship back in May.
And, like many giant players before him, the question is obvious: Can he skate?
It’s a question that was applied to the 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara for years, and the answer wasn’t always yes. With hard work came the skating, and Chara, a third-round pick of the Islanders, became Chara.
”He’s definitely the example,” Yevenko said Wednesday of Chara. “He’s one of the best defensemen in the league at the moment. He uses his size very, very well and there’s a lot to learn from that guy.”
Yevenko strives for a future in the NHL, something that led him to North America at the age of 18.
A hockey player since he was eight years old, Yevenko got a tryout with the Fargo Force of the USHL and made the team. If that team sounds familiar, it’s because that’s where Bruins goaltending prospect Zane Gothberg played before heading to the University of North Dakota.
Gothberg’s been watching Yevenko for years, from the not-so-pretty to the better-than-not-so-pretty.
“He’s a huge body, man. I remember him coming to camp in Fargo,” Gothberg said. “He could barely move his boots and stuff; had a tough time skating. Now, he’s come a heck of a long way. He’s got good feet for a big man. It’s obviously something he [still] could work on, but that’s with anything in everybody; you’ve always got something to work on.”
Yevenko takes a lot of penalties and was suspended multiple times in his three years in the USHL. He views his size as a big part of that, which is reminiscent of the difficulty Dougie Hamilton had in junior hockey being physical without being called for infractions.
“Every decent or big collision, normally you get called,” Yevenko said. “That’s one of the things that happened during the last year too. You get called a lot, sometimes get suspended. It kind of influences your game to a certain degree. Maybe on a conscious level, you’re just more careful when you come in a corner because you don’t want to put your team in a bad position.”
Right now, Yevenko isn’t a big name or even a notable NHL prospect. That could change as he continues to develop, so the Bruins want to get a look while they’ve got him in town.
“I played against Zee when he first broke into the league and you realize the work and the body of work that he put in over that time to be the player that he is now, and the pride,” Bruins assistant general manager Don Sweeney said Wednesday. ‘We’ve gotten to know Oleg as a player, watching him play, talking to people, realizing that he is not really going to leave a stone unturned to try and be a better player.
“He has physical tools that set him apart and identify him as a guy that you’re sort of like ‘wow’ if you can, if things do hit, he could be an imposing player. So we felt it was a great opportunity to have him come in in house and be amongst the guys that we know maybe even better than he and see where he sort of fits in and continue to watch him based on what his decisions will be.”