Ex-Blackhawks F Viktor Tikhonov comes full circle with Coyotes

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Viktor Tikhonov’s dive back into the NHL didn’t last long with the Blackhawks, but he feels he’s found a niche back where his stateside career began.

The 28-year-old Tikhonov only appeared in 11 games after returning from a four-year stint in the KHL to sign with the Blackhawks this summer, and was acquired on waivers by the Coyotes earlier this month.

He admitted the lack of playing time was difficult — he averaged 45 games a season with SKA St. Petersburg in Russia — but said being around the defending Stanley Cup champs was nonetheless a rewarding experience.

“If there’s one team to do it on, that team’s probably the most fun to do it,” Tikhonov said. “I’m still really thankful for the experience and definitely learned a lot from those guys.”

In a sense, his short-lived tenure in Chicago helped him adjust to the NHL after not playing in the league since the 2008-2009 season.

“One thing I really learned from the guys is opposite of what I expected back in the league,” Tikhonov said. “I thought it was going to be a lot more physical than the KHL, a lot more hitting, but I learned the team really plays well with their sticks away from the puck. Guys when they are defending, it’s always stick on puck, stick on puck, and it’s really, really effective. It’s not so much as going into the corner and crushing a guy, it’s more continuing a guy, poking the puck away, going around the offense. That’s something the Blackhawks do really well.”

Tikhonov left his mark on the Blackhawks, though, as he helped fellow Russian and friend Artemi Panarin adjust to life in North America — Tikhonov served as Panarin’s translator while he was with the Blackhawks. Panarin has 10 goals and 21 assists in 37 games — a point total good for 23rd in the NHL.

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Tikhonov, though, has remained in contact with Panarin since leaving Chicago and said he doesn’t think the 24-year-old rookie needs his help.

“I think he’s good,” Tikhonov said. “Even the month while I was there, the month before, he was already kind of doing everything independently. He’s a grown-up guy right now so he can handle himself anywhere.

“I think probably without me he’ll learn English a little faster too, one less Russian to talk to.”

In eight games with Arizona, Tikhonov has a goal and an assist, already more than he had in his 11 games in Chicago. He broke into the NHL seven years ago with the then-Phoenix Coyotes — he admitted he still occasionally calls his team by its old moniker — and feels like he’s carved out a role back where he started.

“It’s kind of almost feels like I never left,” Tikhonov said. “Everything looks the same, it’s like completing one big circle. I started here, took a couple detours and ended up back here. It’s nice.”

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