Kirill Marchenko ‘Wasn’t Happy’ in U.S., Now Loving Vagabond Life in Columbus

min read
Columbus Blue Jackets' Kirill Marchenko plays during an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022, in Philadelphia.
(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Rachael Millanta @rachaelmillanta Mar 08, 2023, 1:53 AM
  • Kirill Marchenko signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Blue Jackets in May 2022.
  • He moved from Russia to the United States two months later.

When Kirill Marchenko arrived in the United States from Russia last summer, he knew very little English. Yet, just seven months later, he’s accepting interviews without a translator.

“The first month or two for me was hard,” Marchenko told me recently in Columbus. “I came to North America in July. The first month, I stayed without my wife, and I wasn’t happy. My English was bad. I tried to speak but couldn’t. 

“Now, I know more words. I understand a question and how to answer. It’s good for me. When I came, it was really hard.”

The Columbus Blue Jackets selected Marchenko 49th overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Then, after four seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with SKA Saint Petersburg, he signed a two-year, entry-level contract with Columbus on May 2, 2022. He arrived in the United States in July 2022 and played 16 games with the AHL Cleveland Monsters before getting called up to the Blue Jackets in December.

The 6-foot-3 right winger has quickly become a fan favorite in Columbus. Marchenko’s tough offensive skills make him fierce on the ice, but it’s his outgoing and flamboyant personality that’s caught the attention of fans and teammates. 

Still, communicating has been one of his biggest challenges.

“I just ask guys, ‘What does this word mean? What about this one?’” Marchenko said. “If I don’t understand, I just say, ‘What does this mean? Save me, please!’ 

“I try to listen and remember what the guys say. When I hear guys in the locker room, I listen and think, ‘Right, he said this,’ and I remember. It’s cool for me, but my brain has to work at 200%.”

For international players, the road to the NHL is a lot less linear than it usually is for American or Canadian players. Getting scouted in the first place is hard enough, but continuing to develop in the NHL style while still playing in an overseas league takes  a lot of dedication and adaptation. 

And that’s before the language barrier.

“I knew it was going to happen for him,” Columbus defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov said. “I played with [Marchenko] for two years back in Russia, and during the summer, I met him at a restaurant. 

“He started asking, ‘How’s Columbus? Do you think I can play there?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, Marchy, of course, you will get there. It takes a while, but don’t stop working because you can make it. It’s going to be okay.’ He told me he wanted to try, and that’s exactly what happened. Here we go. He’s here. I’m glad to see him.”

Kirill Marchenko: Stats

Marchenko didn’t take long to prove he belonged in the NHL. 

Through 34 games with the Blue Jackets this season, he’s recorded 14 goals, one assist, 15 points, and 67 shots. His 14 goals are tied with Sonny Milano (2017-18) for the fifth-most by a rookie in franchise history, and with both his and Kent Johnson’s (12) goal count in double digits, this is only the third time in Blue Jackets history that two rookies have at least 10 goals.

“Marchy’s an elite scorer with a great shot, and he’s consistent in battles,” teammate Cole Sillinger said. “He gives us all he’s got every night, and that’s about all you can ask for, so it’s nice to see things go his way right now.”

From Russia to America

“It’s a very different life here,” Marchenko said. “It’s hard to say exactly what’s different because it’s all different. Just everything.”

When Marchenko arrived in America, he had a hockey bag, hockey sticks, and a backpack. His wife arrived around a month later with two more bags, but the couple’s living situation has proven chaotic.

The first month, he lived with ex-Blue Jackets player and fellow Russian Fedor Tyutin, who helped him get set up in America. Once Marchenko’s wife arrived, the couple rented an apartment for a month, then moved to a hotel in Cleveland when he was sent to the AHL. After 10 days, they got an apartment in Cleveland, but a month later, Marchenko was recalled to make his debut in the NHL. 

The couple is still living in hotels in Columbus, moving to a new one each month.

Adjusting to the NHL style of hockey has been a surprise, too.

“When we play in Russia, it’s more positional,” Marchenko said. “We go in the offensive zone, control the puck, pass, pass, pass, wait. We stay in the o-zone. If I have a shift in Russia of 40 seconds, I go on the ice, go in the o-zone, play in the o-zone, and then go to the bench. 

“Here, I go on the ice, forecheck, go back, forecheck, go back, forecheck, go back, and then guys give me the puck to go attack and I say, ‘No, I can’t, I am so tired, please no.’”

The talent level in Russia is famously high, but transitioning to the U.S. still takes some work. NHL games are much faster than those of the KHL, the hits are harder, and the ice size is smaller and more standardized. It’s a lot for players to learn in a very short amount of time.

But it’s all worth it, largely because of the fans, he says.

“American people smile all the time,” Marchenko laughed. “They love more sports, and they love every sport a lot more. In Russia, if I say, ‘I play for Columbus,’ they say, ‘Yeah, okay, go, good luck.’ Here? ‘Wow, cool, I’m excited, so cool.’ 

“We have a whole stadium every day, every game. A whole stadium. I love the smiles, you know? It’s important to connect to those people.”

Columbus Blue Jackets: Player Development

With injuries being a major issue for the Blue Jackets this season, Marchenko isn’t the only rookie on the roster making waves in the NHL.

While it may not have been the original plan for 2022-23, the team is heavily focused on long-term success and developing players for the future.

“You can see it with the development staff that the Blue Jackets provide for us here,” rookie Lane Pederson said. “There’s a ton of resources here with the organization, whether it be strength and nutrition, or all the coaches on the ice, so there’s always a ton of hands helping around here.”

It’s working, too. 

While the Blue Jackets’ record this season may not reflect the ongoing improvements, there is plenty for Columbus fans to be excited about. The team’s recent wins against the Toronto Maple Leafs (fourth in the league), Dallas Stars (eighth in the league), and Winnipeg Jets (10th in the league) prove they’re able to play with the best teams in the NHL, and the Blue Jackets’ prospect pool was recently ranked third-best in the league.

Add in the offseason signings of veterans Johnny Gaudreau and Erik Gudbranson, and it’s clear Columbus is moving in the right direction.

As for Marchenko, if communication issues were an issue when he first arrived, they definitely didn’t stop him from fitting in with his new teammates.

“Marchenko’s fit in off the ice really well — he’s so happy and such a nice guy,” captain Boone Jenner said. “He comes to the rink and works really hard every day. He enjoys doing it, you can tell. He loves the game, trying to get better, and being a good teammate. He’s working his best on the English, and he’s already got so much better at that. He’s a good energy in the room and he brings that every day.”

Welcome to Columbus

It’s been seven months since he moved to the United States, and Marchenko is still blown away by how his life has changed. He lights up as he talks about fans asking him how he is before games, holding up signs with his name on them, or asking him to sign things.

“So, you’re famous now?” I asked him.

“What’s ‘famous’?” he replied.

“Everyone knows who you are now.”

“Yes, I really love it,” Marchenko smiled. “I just gave a guy my stick. My wife said to me, ‘He wanted your stick?’ And I said ‘I think so, because it’s my stick, and I play in Columbus.’ She said, ‘No, he doesn’t need your stick.’ In Russia, it’s just a stick, but here, it’s more. I presented my stick to him, and he said, ‘Really? It’s for me? Thank you so much.’ I said, ‘Yes, of course, for you,’ because it’s just a stick. I have more sticks.

“Please don’t tell the equipment guys.”

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About the Author

Rachael Millanta

Read More @rachaelmillanta

Rachael Millanta is a Web Content Writer for BetMGM focusing on Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League. Her work has been published in SB Nation, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and Slackjaw Humor. Originally from Sydney, Australia, Rachael now resides in Chicago, Illinois.

Rachael Millanta is a Web Content Writer for BetMGM focusing on Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League. Her work has been published in SB Nation, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and Slackjaw Humor. Originally from Sydney, Australia, Rachael now resides in Chicago, Illinois.