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  • Writer's pictureBrandon Caputo

Rookie Artem Frolov gaining confidence on Niagara's blueline

Brandon Caputo

Photo Credit: Vivid Eye Photography


Artem Frolov was recently drafted by the Niagara IceDogs second round selection (28th overall) in the 2023 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection draft, but the 16-year-old Volgograd, Russia native has already become a mainstay on the IceDogs defence core in only his first OHL season, something that many players before him have found to be a major challenge.


Frolov came to the IceDogs having been known for his offensive ability coming up through the ranks of youth hockey with the Vaughan Kings the prior three seasons, but the 6'0 180 lbs left shot defenceman is gaining confidence on a game-to-game basis through the first 56 games of his OHL career.


"I feel like I'm really working on my confidence, first and foremost," said Frolov. "Of course when you play your first full season in the OHL it's a lot of quality experience and I am so proud that I played and continued to earn more trust from the coaching staff. Of course the skill is a major level up when you're working with the OHL guys, they also have such a high complete level, so you have to adapt quickly to be successful."


"Artem has come a long way," said IceDogs assistant coach Brandon Shaw. "You look at his games back in October or November, we focused a lot on his details in defending, which maybe doesn't come as naturally to him. He has come a long way in doing that and making it a positive part of his game."


"If we had a magic ball at the beginning of the year and we said that Frolov was going to turn into this type of player by the end of the year, I think everybody in our organization would for sure take that," Shaw elaborated.



Mentorship from a fellow countryman

Photo Credit: Matt Tidcombe via Canadian Hockey League


The IceDogs made a strategic move in the offseason acquiring overage import defenceman Daniil Sobolev from the Windsor Spitfires. This move was key for many reasons early on in the season but no person was more excited to learn from a guy like Sobolev than his fellow countryman Frolov.


"When I found out that Sobolev was going to be here when I arrived I was so happy," Frolov said. "He had a lot of experience and we lived together in the summer. He told me about life, how I could get better, and what I should work on. It was amazing having him here and his overage experience and speaking the same Russian language he was able to explain a lot of stuff to me so that I could understand it easier."


Assistant coach Brandon Shaw, who works closely with the team's defenceman, believes that the mentorship of Sobolev helped expedite Frolov's adjustment period to the OHL level. Due in part to the language familiarity and the young Russian's openness to listen and respect what a guy of Sobolev's stature brought to the defensive core.


"It helped big time," said Shaw. "Just learning what it takes to play on the smaller ice and play in the OHL. It was huge for him to have a mentor like Sobolev with the at experience, it was invaluable and you can't put a price on it. Those two still have a good relationship to this day and they train in the summer together."


"I'm sure Artem is thankful and Sobolev was a good leader while he was still here with us so he's a valuable person have in Artem's corner as he continues to develop. I don't think you could have written something better for him as his first defence partner" Shaw added.


The aforementioned Sobolev has since been traded to the Brantford Bulldogs at the trade deadline, having been given an opportunity to have a run at the OHL Championship this season with the IceDogs still in their building phase but Frolov is grateful for the short time he was able to play alongside Sobolev.


"I couldn't have asked for a better defence partner for me to start out my OHL career with and wish him well with Brantford the rest of the season, just not when they're playing us," Frolov said jokingly.



Entrusted with large role from the start

Photo Credit: Vivid Eye Photography


Despite his young age and inexperience at the OHL level, Frolov welcomed the challenge of inserting himself right away on a nightly basis, having played in 56 of Niagara's 57 games this season. The rookie defenceman is appreciative of getting a large opportunity and role right from the start with a young IceDogs core group that includes four 16-year-old players who have earned significant roles this season in Ivan Galiyanov, Ethan Czata, and Ryan Roobroeck.


"Frolov gets to understand what it is like to play in this league, it's not easy and he'd also describe himself as a 200-foot defenceman," said Shaw. "He had a lot to work on the defensive side and he's put the work and gotten a lot better in that aspect. We're all really proud of him to do that, it's not easy and it's tough to learn."


"I'm trying to be more than just a two-way defenceman, I want to take a step forward with my offensive game," Frolov said. "I got better in the second half of the season all around and I gained confidence game by game and now with an exciting opportunity to play powerplay. I will have a bigger role next season and will be able to take on more responsibility and step forward to help the team more with my offensive production."


"I'm hoping next season will be a turnaround like that and will be a lot better as a group. A lot of us 2007 born players played full seasons as 16-year old's and it will hopefully be a great experience for all of us to go through as we step up going into our second seasons."


Frolov has earned eight assists through his rookie season in the OHL, still awaiting that first goal, but playing on an every game basis is knowledge that his assistant coach doesn't believe he would have been able to get playing in a lower league this season.


"Instead of playing Junior A or Junior B, the amount of game's he's played in the OHL this year will be priceless for him going forward and will help him a lot in his development going into his second year here in this league," said Shaw.


"He's just excited to get going offensively, which is extremely difficult to do as a 16-year-old," Shaw added. "He's got 8 assists on the season and most of them are primary helpers so that's a big thing for him as a young guy or person in life, you want success right now but we forget sometimes that it's a process and he's stuck to the process as the year has gone on."


"He has played in big games for us where he's played against the opposing team's top six forwards and he's done a fine job. We forget sometimes that he's still only 16, so he's still learning and the next 11 games you're going to see him be able to showcase his offensive skills."



Finishing off rookie campaign on a high note

Photo Credit: Vivid Eye Photography


The Niagara IceDogs are in much of a teaching phase this season with such a young core of players who have all been given big responsibility and room to grow through their first OHL seasons but Shaw believes that the coaching staff and fans should expect to see more from Frolov as they wrap up their final 11 games of the 2023-24 season, building positive momentum going into next season.


"The last 11 games he's going to play a bit more of an offensive role which is going to be fun to see. You'll see a little more offensive flare but also not abandoning defence. Consistency is something that is talked about a lot around the league and even the NHL, but him learning how to play consistently at both ends of the ice is going to be huge," said Shaw.


"Doing that game in and game out and all we ask from Frolov is get better each shift and each game step by step and if we do stumble, get right back up and do it again. Focus for him is just one shift at a time and not looking too far ahead of himself. I think he will have an exciting final 11 games of his rookie season."


Along with the departed Sobolev, Frolov also credits longtime teammate Ivan Galiyanov and Kevin He; Niagara's rookie standout from last season on making his transition down to Niagara a smooth one.


"Kevin He is a guy I will go to for help if I have any questions and Ivan Galiyanov is my best friend as well," said Frolov. "We live a 30 second walk from each other and we always hang out together off the ice. We played together with the Vaughan Kings and when we got drafted together I knew that he would continue growing into one of my best friends. I know Ivan's family pretty well now and we're very close. I went to his house for Thanksgiving as well and they're also very supportive of me like they are with him so that is special."


Frolov is optomistic about the team moving forward, having played on some losing teams throughout his younger hockey career who came out the other side better by going through major adversity and hard lessons.


"My first five years in hockey I lost every year and we were the worst team in Russia. And my first season in Canada we were near the bottom but then made the OHL Cup the following year. I think Niagara is on the right path and I am confident that we have the right coaches and players to get it turned around quickly here," said Frolov.


 

The IceDogs number 26, who chose the number thanks to his NHL idol Rasmus Dahlin of the Buffalo Sabres, wanted to acknowledge and thank his coaches for everything they were able to help him with through his rookie season in the OHL as a promising young defenceman in the league.


"I want to say thank you to the coaches for trusting me with the bigger minutes that I've played this season, I want to continue growing as a player to make them proud for investing their efforts into developing me and my skills as a hockey player and as a young man," Frolov concluded.



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