Aaron Fox convinced Russian winger will prove inspirational at Sheffield Steelers

A PREVIOUSLY-established trust helped Sheffield Steelers’ head coach Aaron Fox convince winger Nikolai Lemtyugov to become the club’s first-ever Russian signing.

Nikolai Lemtyugov

Having spent the majority of his career in the KHL, a ruptured spleen forced the 33-year-old to miss the majority of the 2017-18 campaign, his fourth season for Avangard Omsk.

Last summer was the first time the Russian had difficulty in finding himself a team in the highly-respected league which allowed Fox to pounce and take him to Medvescak Zagreg, the Croatian team having previously been a member of the KHL before dropping down into the EBEL.

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Last season never worked out for either coach or player as Medvescak hit financial troubles. Both eventually went their separate ways, as did John Armstrong who left to start a second spell at the Steelers in November.

Fox was eventually appointed as successor to Tom Barrasso in South Yorkshire in April, while Lemtyugov finished 2018-19 with Anyang Halle in the Asian League.

Just over a month ago Fox, having seen first-hand the quality of Lemtyugov, approached him for a second time, hoping to convince him that, on this occasion, his future lay in the UK.

A KHL-out clause was inserted into the agreement with a time limit until the end of June. With no sign of a KHL deal coming his way, Lemtyugov opted for a second stint under Fox, this time at the FlyDSA Arena.

“Nikolai’s working real hard this summer and was hoping to get another KHL gig,” explained Fox. “But we signed him about a month or so ago with a KHL-out clause until early July here. Then, at the weekend, he gave me word that he is 100 percent committed to the Steelers and we got the agreement finalised.”

Lemtyugov was drafted 219th overall in the seventh round of the 2005 NHL Draft by the St Louis Blues, but remained in Russia for the next two seasons before heading back to North America to spend 18 productive months with the Peoria Rivermen in the AHL, where he scored 27 goals in a 56-point haul from 96 games.

His first taste of the KHL then followed with Severstal Cherepovets, with spells at several other teams in the league before settling for the first of four seasons with Omsk in 2014, where he first came to the attention of Fox who, at the time, was sporting director for Zagreb.

“I knew Nikolai’s game quite well when he was in Omsk, he was a really high end player,” added Fox. “So we just kind of took a chance on him, his English is pretty good, not perfect and his character is through the roof, the guys just love him in the room.

“He can be one of those guys who is almost impossible to get off pucks, sees the ice real well, skates well, is physical, will fight - he’s a real complete player.

“It obviously helps that he was with me last year and even though things didn’t go the way that I had expected or he had hoped, me taking that chance on bringing him in went a long way for him.

“There were potentially some other jobs in Europe that he could have dropped on this summer, but he’s got a wife and two kids and they are going to come with him.

“I think that the lifestyle here is something that they looked into a little bit, and saw that it could be an interesting set up for them. And he wants to win - that is the one thing that he said to me: ‘If I come, I want to win - can we put a team together that can win?’ I said, ‘Yes, you're a big piece of that.”