Kozlov meeting tall expectations in Florida

Originally published on EuroReport.com in 1999

By Lucas Aykroyd

Tall expectations led the San Jose Sharks to draft Viktor Kozlov 6th overall in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. Coming off a strong rookie season with Moscow Dynamo of the Russian League, the 6-5, 232-pound center was expected to energize the Sharks’ woeful attack. But he only appeared in 16 games during his San Jose debut in 1994-95, and never developed into the dominant force up the middle that Sharks management had wanted. However, his play improved rapidly after he was dealt to the Florida Panthers for Dave Lowry on 13 November 1997. As reflected by his solid 1998-99 plus-minus rating of +13, Kozlov has developed a defensive conscience to complement his improving scoring skills. As EuroReport’s Lucas Aykroyd found out in a recent interview, the 24-year-old Kozlov is comfortable with his responsibilities in Miami.

EuroReport: Last year was a big breakthrough year for you. Why did your play improve so much?

Viktor Kozlov: It’s hard to say. It’s not just me. It’s the whole team that’s playing better. That helped me to get some more points.

EuroReport: Coach Terry Murray is giving you more ice time, too.

Kozlov: That’s right. Now I play power play, penalty kill, and five-on-five.

EuroReport: Looking back, it seems like before you came in the league there were a lot of comparisons between you and Mario Lemieux. How did all that talk affect you?

Kozlov: It was pressure for me, because people expected something from me, to play like a big star. It was hard, but I think I got through that and now I feel OK.

EuroReport: Who was your favorite player when you were growing up?

Kozlov: Back in Russia, it was [Vladimir] Krutov. Remember him? He used to play here in Vancouver.

EuroReport: Where is Krutov these days?

Kozlov: He’s an assistant coach with Red Army in Moscow.

EuroReport: Good to hear it. Now this year, you’ve had the opportunity to center Pavel Bure, when he’s healthy. What do you try to do as the center on his line?

Kozlov: We’ve played two or three games together. I try to watch him a lot. I try to find him. I haven’t been able to do that enough so far, so I’ll have to work on it.

EuroReport: How is Terry Murray’s rule about speaking only English in the Florida dressing room working out?

Kozlov: It’s all right. The Czech and Russian players are making the effort. There’s no problem with it. Sometimes we say “Spassiba” after a good goal, but that’s about it.

EuroReport: On another note, I read your father works in the Lada factory in your hometown of Togliatti. What kind of car are you driving these days?

Kozlov [laughing]: A German car.

EuroReport: And your dad doesn’t mind?

Kozlov: Unfortunately, they don’t export Ladas to the United States!

EuroReport: Back to hockey. What are your personal goals for this season?

Kozlov: I don’t set goals. I just try to play my best and score and get assists helping the other guys.

EuroReport: Finally, how far do you think this Panthers team can go in the playoffs?

Kozlov: We’ve got a very good team, but we’re struggling right now. We just have to make the playoffs first, and see how far we can go after that.

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