BEHIND A TINTED visor, Nikolai Zherdev’s eyes are hidden like a poker player at the final table of a big tournament.
Through 2 weeks in Philadelphia, Zherdev remains every bit of the enigma he was when he skated back to Russia in 2009 after an arbitration dispute with the New York Rangers.
His shaded visor is just one hint of the complex character that he is, both on and off the ice.
“He’s hard to figure out,” one longtime NHL scout said in the press box in Toronto on Friday, shortly before Zherdev went on to score twice to spark the Flyers to a two-goal comeback win. “Every other shift, he looks like a completely different player.”
There is little doubt Zherdev can score. Claude Giroux, his linemate on Friday night, said Zherdev has the best hands he’s ever seen in his 3 years of pro hockey.
“My career is obviously not that long, but he’s probably one of the highest skilled players I’ve ever played with,” Giroux said. “He’s got some sick hands. His hockey sense is unbelievable, he always knows to be in the right position. He knows where to go on the ice.”
Zherdev scored again on Saturday in Minnesota, giving him three goals in three preseason contests. But the Flyers knew he could score when they gave him a 1-year, $2 million contract to come back to the NHL. What remains to be seen is whether Zherdev has the willingness to battle for pucks and play meticulous defense.