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Khabibulin welcomes move to Edmonton

Thursday, 02.07.2009 / 6:18 PM / Features
By Jen Sharpe  - edmontonoilers.com
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Khabibulin welcomes move to Edmonton
Nikolai Khabibulin will assume starting goaltender responsibilities in Edmonton this season. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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On a day when the Dany Heatley trade saga heated up headlines across Oil Country, the man who didn’t hesitate to sign on the Oilers’ dotted line confirmed his enthusiasm to play in Edmonton next season.

Just over 24 hours after signing a four-year contract worth a reported $15-million, Stanley Cup-winning goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin addressed the media for the first time as a member of the copper and blue. Listen to the interview

“There weren’t too many opportunities for such a long term out there, and it happened that when the Oilers made the commitment, we looked at it. The team I feel is very similar to what we had in Chicago, so I think our chances of accomplishing something are really, really good,” Khabibulin said from his summer home in Phoenix, AZ. 

Last season with the Blackhawks, the Russian-bred All Star went an impressive 25-8-7 with a 2.33 goals against average and a .919 save percentage, numbers that ranked among the League’s best. In the playoffs, Khabibulin carried his young club to the Western Conference final, a fine showing for a team that failed to secure a post-season berth in nine of the past 10 years.

The 36-year-old confirmed that his Stanley Cup experience was a factor in the team’s success this spring and hopes to play a similar role in Edmonton.

“This past year I realized how much experience means, especially with a lot of young guys on the team. I really felt that in the tough times; obviously not every game was great for our team because we had up and down games, but having that experience and keep going through and fighting, I think that experience you can’t really substitute.”

Rookie Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers is expected to be Khabibulin’s back-up this coming season, and the veteran embraces his new role as a mentor.

“I haven’t had a bad relationship with any goalies throughout my career, and usually I discuss a lot of things with the guy that I have on the team and we try to help eachother,” he said. “Probably in this case, I’ll have to help a lot more because he’s a young guy. I haven’t met him but I’m looking forward to working with him and helping him out.”

11 years Deslaurier’s senior, Khabibulin said he feels “really good” heading into his 14th NHL season.

I feel very confident. I still have a lot of years to play left in me and I’m really looking forward to it. - Khabibulin
“I think in the last seven or eight years, I really got it and started taking good care of my body and a lot of workouts in the summer . . . I think there’s a lot of goalies, especially lately, who have been playing into their 40’s. I feel very confident. I still have a lot of years to play left in me and I’m really looking forward to it.”

With a new team and new teammates for Khabibulin to consider, one reporter couldn’t resist asking the fresh Oiler about Heatley, but a consummate pro on and off the ice, Khabibulin expertly dodged the sensitive trade topic.

“Since yesterday morning, I feel like I’m an Oiler and I’m trying to follow what’s going on, and obviously this stuff with Heatley is a pretty big thing around the NHL. I think any team would love to have a 50-goal scorer, but I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

‘Join the club’ is a phrase that comes to mind, but thankfully for the Oilers, Khabibulin needs no such encouragement – he’s already a part of the team.

Author: Jen Sharpe | edmontonoilers.com

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