New Jersey Devils Prospect Artem Schlaine Has High Aspirations For College Hockey

The Connecticut Huskies. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
The Connecticut Huskies. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images) /

Fans of the New Jersey Devils may not know who Artem Shlaine is yet, but they just might in a few years. The Devils picked the Russian-born teenager back in the 2020 NHL Draft and he’s has been working on his game the past two seasons at the University of Connecticut.

When I spoke to the 19-year-old forward, one of the things that struck me was how much of a handle he had on the English language and how smart he was. Not only was he smart on the ice, but he shows an intelligence in general.

“I moved to South Florida when I was 15-years-old and went to an academy that was created by (former NHLers) Olli Jokinen and Tomas Vokoun. It was a good transition for me to move there,” Shlaine told Pucks and Pitchforks. “A lot of guys there are from Europe as well – Finns, Swedes, Czechs, Swiss, Germans – and were all in the same boat there. You’re learning English and forming new relationships, making new connections, adapting to the culture. I think it helped me a lot.”

When I told him how impressive his English was he replied:

“I have to thank my parents for that. When I was younger we would come to the United States in the summer because my dad worked in DC when I was little. Having conversations and seeing interactions, I was always learning. Back home in Russia, we learn English as a second language,” Shlaine explained, “it’s not the best but it definitely helps and gives you a foundation to build off of when you move to another culture, a different country.”

This season at UConn as a sophomore he’s been an important piece to the puzzle that has been the Huskies’ success. As of press time, Shlaine has posted 15 points (5g-10a) in 27 games and is currently on a four-game point streak (2g-4a) as his regular season winds down.

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Over the course of our 20-minute long chat, we talked about his development over the past two seasons, working with the Devils’ staff, enjoying his time as a part of the community while at UConn, and more.

Devils Draft Day Steal?

Pucks & Pitchforks: You were drafted by the Devils 130th overall (Round 5) in the 2020 NHL Draft. What are your memories of that day/when it happened?

Artem Shlaine: I remember I was at UConn already and we were still in training because our season hadn’t started yet. Early October. I was living with Yan Kuznetsov and we had watched the first round the night before. He was on the bubble of going in the first round or the second round and I was really nervous for him.

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

I knew I wasn’t going to be picked in the first round, so I was just nervous for him until this thought popped into my mind – if I’m this nervous for him, how nervous will I be tomorrow waiting to hear my name called! That’s my biggest memory from those days.

For day two of the NHL Draft, I remember being with my teammates, and I was texting back and forth with my dad because a lot of my friends were getting picked. All of a sudden everyone started yelling and I looked up at the tv and saw my name right there. It’s pretty cool, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

P&P: Did you have any contact with NJD leading up to that day?

AS: I spoke with someone from the Devils during my senior year at Shattuck St. Mary’s and they were one of the teams that I had an in-person chat with. It was kind of like a job-interview type of thing and I answered the best I could. That was really all though.

P&P: So after draft day what advice, if any, did they give you ahead of your freshman season?

AS: Getting stronger. That’s my biggest thing to work on. With strength everything comes together – as you get stronger your skating gets better, your shot gets better, you’re protecting pucks well, you can play that 1-on-1 game. That’s why I went to college instead of one more season in the USHL, the schedule.

In college, if there’s no Covid, you play 33-34 games and the rest of the time you have time to develop your body, develop yourself. Practice, workouts, watching film with the staff – there’s time for development. On the other side in the USHL, there’s (more) game development with lots of games. For someone that could be better, to play more games for their development and have that experience against guys that are the same age as you. Maybe that’s their path, but not mine. I sat down with my family and we decided it was best for me to take the path through college. I think it’s played out pretty well for me.

UConn = Hockey School

P&P: As a freshman at UConn you put up 9 points/1 goal while playing in all 23 games – which isn’t easy in a Covid-world. What did you learn and what things did you need to work on?

AS: I think the biggest thing coming to college was a lot of the guys are bigger, stronger, and faster but it doesn’t mean you have to stop playing your game. For me, it’s about making plays all over the ice. Winning my own battles, setting my teammates up, playing my 200-foot game at this level, and adapting to the speed. You don’t have to change the way you play, just tweak little details for college hockey.

I think that my first year taught me a lot, that sometimes you have to position yourself better, and then you don’t have to get into 1-on-1s against bigger guys. You have to think, process the game at a high speed – I think that is very important.

One of the biggest parts of hockey is confidence; you can’t go far if you’re not confident in yourself. Talking about myself, last year I couldn’t score for like 12-14 games. I just kept working, kept doing what I do, and believing in myself. Some people are stubborn and will do the same thing over and over, but if you see it’s not working maybe you have to tweak some things here and there, and it could benefit you in the long run. That season taught me to have confidence, no matter how things are going. Points and all of that will come eventually if you play the right way.

P&P: You led UConn and Hockey East in face-off percentage (.602%) as a freshman…is this something you work on a lot?

AS: It’s something that I do take a lot of pride in, and that started in youth hockey for me. I start each game with little goals. Such as: win your battles, win your face-offs.

If you win the face-off your team has possession of the puck. If you win more than 50% of face-offs, then your team has more possession of the puck. If your team has possession of the puck the other team has to defend, and you tire them out, and so on. Some people don’t focus on it as much they just think they’ll get the puck back eventually, but it is a big thing for me. Here at UConn we practice them, watch videos of other centers, NHL guys, and you try to take anything that can help you.

Developing Devil

P&P: After your freshman year do you talk with NJD? If so, what’s that discussion like?

AS: I talk with Patrick Rissmiller a lot, he’s my player development coach with the Devils. He’s seen me play maybe 7 or 8 times I think, at least that I know of, haha. But he’ll call me for like a weekly check-in and tell me the pros and cons of my game, where I have to get better. The biggest thing with him that we talk about is being aggressive, being on the puck below the dots in both zones and I think that’s the biggest thing for me. Play with the puck and make plays off the puck below the dots. That’s what he wants me to emphasize in my game and I think it has benefitted me a lot.

Mar 24, 2019; Storrs, CT, USA; The UConn Huskies mascot. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 24, 2019; Storrs, CT, USA; The UConn Huskies mascot. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports /

P&P: This season you’re already up to 15 points in 26 games (with less SoG: 59 last year, 50 this year) – how do you assess your season thus far?

AS: We have six games left and are currently in third place in Hockey East. In past years at UConn, they’d be happy in general, and I think we were satisfied with being in fourth place last season. This year we’ve taken another step as a team and we’re hungry; we’re not satisfied with third place – we want to get to second and then first, we want to win the conference, we wanna win Hockey East.

We talk about that in our locker room. Everyone contributes on this team, it doesn’t matter your role or the situation. I feel like I have a role on this team and I try to do as much as I can to help our team reach our goals.

P&P: Obviously, you have a busy schedule with classes, practices, and games, but do you ever check out other UConn sports during your free time?

AS: I’ve been to a field hockey game, multiple soccer games, a couple of women’s hockey games. I think it’s important to support the community that you’re in. All of those other sports, those games you can take something from I think, and learn something. I’ve always loved sports; growing up in Russia soccer is a big deal there, and I’ve always been interested in watching as much as I can. To have an opportunity here to go to these games for free, it’s a big part of who I am as a person and supporting my community.

P&P: When do you think you’ll turn pro?

AS: I think it’s important to have it in your mind that you want to play there (in the NHL) and play in the best league in the world. You can’t forget about that, but at the same time for me, I’m at UConn right now and focused on that. There’s nothing I can do but play right now and control what I can control and let the people in New Jersey control what they do. When the time is right they’ll let me know. That’s how I look at it.

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P&P: Do you follow the Devils when you can, keep tabs on how they are doing?

AS: I try to watch as many Devils games as I can when I have time, or I’ll check the highlights. I know Utica is doing great and I watch their highlights too, they have a couple of young guys that I played against – so it’s cool to see them playing there already. And also visualizing yourself being there soon when the time comes.