Janesville Jets coach Corey Leivermann knew very little about forward Arsenii Smekhnov when the North American Hockey League season started in September.
Janesville acquired Smekhnov from the Fargo Force of the United States Hockey League the first week of February after Jets forward Jake Dunlap got called up to the Force.
Leivermann and the Jets are still learning about Smekhnov and his abilities, but it’s clear the 19-year-old native of Kirov, Russia, gives the Jets another offensive threat. Smekhnov has one goal and three assists in four games with his new team.
“I think he’s going to fit in well here, and it’s going to be a boost for us. He came in and you saw the point production right away for him. It was nice for him to get some points, but he also just plays the game the right way,” Leivermann said.
Smekhnov said the adjustment to Janesville has been an easy one, and he looks forward to finishing the season as a member of the team.
“It’s definitely a really skilled game and one of the most skilled teams in the league, and they’re just a great group of guys,” he said.
Smekhnov learned what it takes to be an athlete at a young age. His father was a professional ski jumper in Russia, and his mother played competitive volleyball.
His grandfather, a big hockey fan, put Smekhnov in skates when he was 4. Hockey has been his passion ever since, and he hopes to create more memories—and scoring chances— in the North American Hockey League this season with the Jets.
“It’s a new league, and it’s a good opportunity for me to get noticed by college and NHL scouts,” he said. “I’m working hard and definitely trying my best. I’m excited to be here.”
Smekhnov is playing on the Jets second line and is already playing special teams.
“I try to be a hardworking player,” he said. “I think I have a strong shot, and I feel pretty good when I have open space. I just try to move my feet and work my way to find open space.”
So far, so good. His coach has liked the early returns on bringing Smekhnov to Janesville.
“He’s been awesome since he’s been here,” Leivermann said of his team’s newest player.
“He fits in very well with his hockey IQ. He’s very talented with the puck, he can skate and he can make plays,” Leivermann said. “When you come to this league it’s all about competing without the puck and learning how to get the puck, and he does that. I think he’ll fit in very well.”
Janesville has won seven of its last 10 games but is coming off back-to-back losses ahead of a home-and-home with the Chippewa Steel this weekend. Janesville plays in Chippewa on Friday before returning back to Janesville Ice Arena Saturday for a 7:05 p.m. puck drop.
The Jets are making a push for the playoffs, and Smekhnov said he’s happy to be along for the ride as the team tries to win a Robertson Cup.
“We just gotta keep working hard,” he said. “That’s really it. If we do that, we’re going to be dangerous, and I’m excited to be part of it.”