Vitali Kravtsov was 10 years old, a hockey player growing up in the Pacific port city of Vladivostok, Russia, when his father, Yuri, told him there was one skill he needed to master if he wanted to play in the NHL someday.
"My father said you need to learn English, because if you go to the U.S. ever, or Canada, you need to speak in English," the New York Rangers forward prospect said. "It's the first language in the whole world."
Nine years later, the 19-year-old is speaking English almost fluently, confident enough to shoo away a translator and answer questions from the media himself at Rangers development camp in June.
It's a major step for Kravtsov, whose grasp of the language barely existed a year ago, when the Rangers selected him with the No. 9 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.
"I think that says a lot about who he is and where he's going," New York general manager Jeff Gorton said. "I think his eyes are on the right thing."
Kravtsov began to learn English with the help of his sister, a student at the University of Toronto. He hung out and spoke it with the North Americans on his Kontinental Hockey League team, Traktor Chelyabinsk, including former NHL players Ryan Stoa, Christian Thomas and Paul Szczechura.