Perhaps the most compelling and unusual story of the NHL entry draft is unfolding on a Friday afternoon, at a downtown restaurant, as Viktor Tikhonov, the 20-year-old grandson of the legendary Russian hockey coach, is talking about his goals and dreams, in fluent English, without a trace of an accent.
Or if there is an accent, it tends to be from Northern California, falling somewhere between Stanford undergrad and radical surfer dude.
This is because the younger Tikhonov, despite his surname and hockey pedigree, is about as American as apple pie. He didn't set foot in Russia until he turned 15, and he entered the country for the first time on an American passport. He grew up in the Silicon Valley, where his father, Vasily, worked as an assistant coach and then on the player development side in the San Jose Sharks' organization.
Tikhonov, the No. 7-rated European player in the draft, looks and sounds like a typical California teenager. When there wasn't ice available, he'd play hockey on rollerblades. He skates with current Sharks captain Patrick Marleau in the off-season and grew up admiring Viktor Kozlov, who he said "pretty much babysat me" every summer when the two were in Brainerd, Minn., for the hockey schools run by former Sharks executive Chuck Grillo.
In short, if it wasn't for the famous surname, the 20-year-old would look and sound just like any of the other North American prospects up for grabs in the NHL's draft class of 2008 - poised, well-coached, funny and oozing with charisma.
In an era where NHL clubs are shying away from Russian prospects because there is no transfer agreement with the International Ice Hockey Federation, Tikhonov's most pressing need is letting clubs know that he wants to play in the NHL, as soon as possible, and that he is not under contract to any team in Russia after playing for Cherepovets last season, meaning he is free to come right away.
"Growing up in San Jose, watching all the games, it's always been my dream to win the Stanley Cup," Tikhonov said. "This whole experience, I just want to get drafted, sign the next day, play here and work my way up."
It is difficult to get your head around the fact that this young man and the legendary iron-fisted coach of the Soviet Union's national teams are from the same family. And yet, they are. Tikhonov has heard all the stories about his grandfather, but says, for him: "He's just like a normal grandpa. I would expect a lot more pushing because of stories I've heard, but it's the other way around - he's just loving and caring."
There was one time when the younger Tikhonov found himself alone in Moscow, visiting his grandparents and needing a place to work out, so he went to the gym at Central Red Army headquarters.
"Every day, I'd go over to eat with my grandparents and the last day he came with me and said, 'I'm just going to watch you work out and see what you're doing and maybe give you a few pointers.' So I went in, spent half an hour working out and then he stopped me and said: 'Turn the music off. You're not going to do this again. Forget this.'
"Then he took me through a workout that was probably 20 or 30 minutes - the time flew by - little weights, lots of jumping, all legs. I couldn't walk for two days. He said, 'This is 30 or 40 per cent of what you should be doing every day.' I said, 'Oh, my God.' "
Tikhonov eventually did get a Russian passport, and last January made a splashy international debut at the world junior championships, where he was chosen as the most valuable forward of the tournament.
However, his dad, Vasily, said he saw both the talent and the drive at an early age in his son and knew it was only a matter of time before the rest of the hockey world discovered him.
"He would skate five or six hours a day at San Jose Arena after our practices," Vasily said. "I saw the willingness to work, the desire."
Vasily still owns the family home in Los Gatos, just outside San Jose. His daughter, Tanya, lives there and Viktor returns every summer. The real culture shock came only after he went to play in Russia.
"The first two years - the school, the language, the culture, everything's different. I guess I got used to it - and feel more Russian with every passing year.
"Everyone asks me about the draft, but I don't really think about it. I've done what I can do. I'll just sit and wait and see what happens."
The son and grandson of two career coaches ends the interview by noting: "It doesn't matter where you're drafted. Everybody goes to training camp. It's what you do in training camp that matters."