WILMINGTON – It’s fairly easy to spot a 6-foot-7 defenseman prospect like Oleg Yevenko in a Bruins practice uniform, and immediately conjure up images of a potential Zdeno Chara in the making.Yevenko is already massive in stature with the height and a solid 230-pound frame, and he showed a mean streak during the first day of a rookie camp when he cleared Simon Norberg out into the end boards.
Given that Yevenko also dropped the gloves in a rookie camp for the New Jersey Devils in his recent past, he certainly plays with the surly attitude required from a player that size. But what separates a guy like Chara from Yevenko or Boris Valabik (remember him?) is the skating ability and footwork that have allowed him to keep up in the turbo-paced world of the NHL.
Those kinds of skills aren’t natural to many big men in the hockey world, and it took years of hard work and dedication before Chara blossomed from the raw project starting out in the Islanders organization.
It was clear watching the UMass defenseman and undrafted free agent that he’s still got a ways to go in both of those categories, but Yevenko has strengths and hockey assets that you just can’t teach.
“I played against Zee [Zdeno Chara] 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. We’ve gotten to know Oleg [Yevenko] as a player, watching him play, talking to people, and realizing that he is not really going to leave a stone unturned to try and be a better player,” said B’s assistant general manager Don Sweeney. “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.
“We felt it was a great opportunity to have him come in house and be amongst the guys that we know maybe even better than him. [We can] see where he sort of fits in, and continue to watch him based on what his decisions will be.”
While the hulking defenseman will never be a skill player or skate like a gazelle, there’s a real sense he could be a better professional player than collegiate player for the Minutemen. He led UMass in blocked shots and cuts out an imposing figure in front of the net, but the kind of physicality Yevenko is capable of isn’t really something that can be nurtured in the college game. A tough customer like the big Belarus defenseman will find himself in the penalty box if he throws the kind of hits like the one he laid out on the first day of camp.
It’s highly likely Yevenko will come and go from B’s development camp like many other undrafted invitees over the years, but he certainly made a hard-hitting impression on his first day practicing in Black and Gold.