Even with the way his season ended, Nikolay Goldobin was in good spirits with reporters on Monday, facing even the toughest questions with thoughtful, honest answers.
It’s been a tough season for Goldobin in many different ways. It started strong, with him finding some early chemistry with rookie Elias Pettersson, but even in those early good times there was a negative undercurrent. Goldobin couldn’t find the back of the net, even as he put up plenty of assists, and some started to wonder if he was good enough to play alongside the Canucks’ top player.
That included his coach, Travis Green, who made Goldobin a healthy scratch in early December, then moved Goldobin off Pettersson’s line and scratched him frequently over the back half of the season. In the first half of the season, Goldobin had 23 points in 40 games. In the second half, he had just 4 points in 22 games.
“It was a tough season for us — we didn’t make the playoffs — and difficult for me as well,” said Goldobin. “It was up and down.”
“I was feeling confident, obviously, on the ice,” he said about when things were going well. “That’s when you open up as a player, you do things that no one expects, and then things went away from me, I started losing confidence a little bit. That’s why my game kind of went low.”
Goldobin certainly wasn’t the only player that struggled in the back half of the season. After 11 goals in the first half of the season, Jake Virtanen had just four goals in the second half. Josh Leivo had just six points in his final 25 games. Ben Hutton managed just three points, all assists, in his final 23 games after a strong start silenced many of his critics.
No one struggled more than Goldobin, however, and the criticism centred around the defensive deficiencies that were highlighted when he wasn’t putting up points. Goldobin clearly put in a lot of effort to address those criticisms, getting visibly better defensively as the season progressed, but then the offence disappeared altogether.
With the focus on his play away from the puck, it seemed like he started to get inside his own head. When asked if he started thinking too much on the ice instead of playing instinctively, Goldobin started nodding immediately.
“Yeah, maybe thinking too much how to not make mistake,” he said. “I’m usually cold water guy, but sometimes you can’t control it.”
The healthy scratches took a toll on him as well.
“It’s the worst feeling ever to watch the guys and you can’t help them,” he said. “I feel like I’m useless guy, not on the team, but everyone, I guess, went through it. You just have to work hard in practice.”
One player that went through a similar situation is Hutton, who was a frequent healthy scratch last season, but showed up for training camp this season in significantly better shape and had a much stronger season overall.
“I talked to Goldy a couple times. He actually came to me,” said Hutton. “I told him it’s going to be a big summer for him...Travis was honest with me, he was straight-up with me, and he said if you put in the work, if you come back and you’re ready to perform, I’ll give you the opportunity.
“So, I told Goldy, it’s all about just putting in the work and trusting yourself, and if he does that, he should be fine, because Goldy’s a great, young, talented player.”
When asked about approaching Hutton, Goldobin responded with a deadpan, “No, I didn’t,” before cracking a smile: “Yeah, of course I did.”
“He just said stay strong, you know. It’s hockey, it’s business — come back better player, show them, and you’ll get trust, you’ll play,” said Goldobin.
Goldobin will soon get to work, but he’s got one other priority first.
“I’m going to go back soon and hang out with my family, I haven’t seen them for a while,” he said. “Just forget about hockey for one day, maybe, and then start working out and skating. I’ve got a lot of coaches there waiting for me.”
For Goldobin, this rough season can be turned into a positive: he hopes to use it as motivation to prove his doubters wrong and prove even to himself that he can be an NHL player.
“That’s a good way to say it, actually,” he said. “It’s a huge summer for me, obviously. Every summer is big, but I feel like this is the biggest summer for me because my rookie contract is over now and not a lot of guys maybe believe I can be NHL player, but that’s why it gives me more energy and confidence to show them that I can be.”
He’ll have to prove himself to Green, who appears to be one of the people that doubts whether Goldobin is an NHL player.
“Not every young player is going to become a full-time NHLer,” said Green when asked about Goldobin’s season. “The onus is on us to continue to work with him and develop him, then the onus is going to go back to the player. I’d like to see Goldy make some changes this summer in how he trains and what he does over the summer to make himself come in a better hockey player and those are things that I’ll discuss with Goldy and he’ll understand where he stands.”
“We had a lovely talk for an hour, so everything was good,” said Goldobin with a wry smile after his meeting with Green.
One of the areas where Green wants to see improvement is speed. “He wants me to be just faster, a faster player,” said Goldobin. “When you’re fast, you can get to the puck quicker and stuff. That was the message.”
When asked if he thinks he can earn Green’s trust again, Goldobin paused for a moment to consider the question.
“I think I do, yeah,” he said. “It’s going to be a long summer for me, five months, and obviously I will have to earn the spot again. I think I’m going to prove [myself] in the camp and the exhibition games.”
Earning Green’s confidence will be a tough task, but Goldobin is committed to doing so. He doesn’t want a fresh start somewhere else: “No, to be honest. I like to be here, I like the guys, love this city, and hopefully I’ll get another chance to play here.”