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Fedotenko brings color to Lightning

Wing's talent, and a rosy outlook, could help team avoid playoff blues.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 15, 2002

BRANDON -- The first thing you notice about Ruslan Fedotenko are his cheeks, which he sheepishly refers to as rosy.

Get the legs and blood of the Lightning left wing churning on the ice and it doesn't take long for the color to intensify to bright red.

"Everybody asks me about that," Fedotenko said Saturday after Tampa Bay's first day of practice at the Ice Sports Forum. "I don't know why it happens."

"To me he's like a little kid," coach John Tortorella said. "He brings enthusiasm and energy."

It is what Fedotenko produces, though, that will color his time with Tampa Bay.

The Lightning expects the Ukraine native to score between 20 and 25 goals and to be a responsible defensive presence on a line with center Vinny Lecavalier. If he can do that, Tampa Bay's chances of contending for the playoffs leap forward.

It also would be good for general manager Jay Feaster, who was criticized by some for not getting enough in return when he acquired Fedotenko from the Flyers for the No. 4 pick in the draft.

It is a lot for anyone to shoulder, much less a 23-year-old who has 33 goals in his first two NHL seasons and never has been a marquee name.

Fedotenko said he did not realize that is what Tampa Bay expected of him. But after numerous interviews, including one on the radio, he is getting the idea.

"In Philly they have press and they interview you after games, but definitely here it has been more of the time, especially before the season starts," he said. "Now I realize what they expect from me. I know what my role is on the team. I will try my best to do the job."

Fedotenko, 6 feet 2, 195 pounds, is so engaging and earnest it is impossible to believe he will not succeed. His perseverance makes it even tougher.

Undrafted out of juniors, Fedotenko so impressed Flyers scouts at a prospects camp that they signed him in August 1999. He began the 1999-2000 season with the Philadelphia Phantoms, the Flyers AHL affiliate, but coach Bill Barber sent him down to ECHL Trenton to, as he said, "learn to go to the net harder and pay the price in the corners."

Eight games later, Fedotenko was back with the Phantoms and scored 16 goals.

Fedotenko scored 16 for the Flyers in 2000-01. Last season, with Barber as his coach, he scored 17 despite being stuck on the third line behind Mark Recchi and Justin Williams and getting no time on the power play. He also was plus-15.

"He's a committed young player who has a passion to play," said Barber, now the Lightning's director of player personnel. "He's a very coachable player who will do whatever asked and play whatever the role may be."

"I always want to do the best I can do," Fedotenko said. "That way you can't look back to say if you could have done a better job, so there are no regrets."

It is a lesson Fedotenko said he learned from his parents while growing up in Kiev.

Fedotenko said there wasn't much on television in the Ukraine and there certainly were no video games. That meant the family spent a lot of time together. Fedotenko said the relationship was good, and life lessons came easily.

"I saw how they reacted to things," he said. "I learned a lot from them. I always try to find positive things."

"He's just a good kid," Tortorella said.

"He's one of those kids who don't seem to have a bad day. There's always a smile on his face. He wants to play."

Fedotenko, who signed a two-year, $1.6-milion deal during the summer, should see a nice increase in playing time over last season's 13 minutes, 56 seconds as he gets regular turns on the power play and penalty kill.

"This will be a better position for me and my development," he said. "It's exciting to play with a young team."

You might even call the situation rosy.

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