Evgeny Medvedev has had a busy NHL career for a 33-year old rookie. He was a training camp and preseason revelation, creating high expectations from the fanbase and the organization alike. His early season performance was stellar, as we noted back in late October. Then, after a poor stretch of play, he was a surprise scratch for a game against the Vancouver Canucks.
After that, things got really interesting.
Medvedev informed the Flyers training staff after the Canucks game that he was suffering from the effects of a concussion, and he was sent back to Philadelphia for further evaluation. After a four-game absence, the Russian defenseman was back in the lineup last Thursday against Washington. But his return was marred by turnovers and indecisive play, and Dave Hakstol apparently made the decision to scratch Medvedev for the following two games.
This morning, Medvedev practiced in full during an optional skate. Then he met with members of the local media to briefly discuss his current situation. During the interview, Medvedev seemed to imply that he was re-injured in some way during the Washington game. As the game against the Capitals was his first action since suffering a concussion, a prevailing theory on social media was that Medvedev's concussion symptoms had returned, and that was the real reason for the defenseman's absence over the past two games.
Shortly thereafter, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall put an end to that talk.
"Meddy's healthy," Hextall said. "He's been practicing good, actually I watched him again today, he looks good. He's healthy and he's an option for us. He has been the last two games."
So is this a case of the player saying one thing and the general manager saying another? Not exactly.
What needs to be taken in account is Medvedev's lack of fluency in English at this time. He's working on his language skills daily with a tutor, as Jeff Neiberg of the Daily News reported back in October. But the defenseman is not fully comfortable with the language as of yet. He rarely has been made available to the media, and when he is available, reporters are asked to only pose basic questions to Medvedev.
It's a totally understandable request, but it does make life very difficult for journalists, even if most questions posed during post-game or post-practice scrums are usually basic. To a player like Medvedev, those same questions are anything but easy to comprehend. For example, here's one posed to Ryan White after last week's game against the Capitals.
Did it seem like you had the charge that you wanted in the opening period with six power play minutes and opportunities?
That's a straightforward question, without much nuance. But imagine you are a foreign hockey player without a firm grasp on the English language. Maybe you hear "charge" and you think he's talking about a charging penalty that you took. But you didn't take a charging penalty last night, so the question makes little sense.
As a result, the beats are asking Medvedev very simple, direct questions. But issues can arise when the player provides an unexpected answer. Not only is it impossible to tell if he misunderstood the initial question, follow-up questions in the moment can be even more difficult to present in a clear, easy-to-understand way.
Let's take a took at the questions and answers from Medvedev this morning.
How are you feeling?
I feel better, I feel better.
How long have you felt better?
Three, maybe four days.
This is from the hit in Washington, against Washington?
Washington, no feel good.
How many games did you sit out healthy?
I don't understand, sorry.
When can you play again?
I don't know. Maybe two, maybe three games. Head coach.
The issue today arose from the "How long have you felt better?" question. Once Medvedev mentioned the three or four day timetable, that raised eyebrows, as he had played six days ago against the Capitals. Combined with his response to the direct question about the Washington game, it was understandable that one could jump to the conclusion that Medvedev didn't feel great after facing the Capitals.
The problem is that the questions lack nuance, which again, isn't the fault of the writers. To an English speaker, the "How long have you felt better?" question would have likely made a direct reference to his recent concussion. But in attempting to keep the questions simple, gray area is unfortunately created.
Maybe Medvedev didn't feel great during and after the Washington game - after all, it was his first game back. But there is a difference between "sore" and "injured." Unfortunately, it's very difficult to parse that nuance when speaking with a player who is still trying to grasp the intricacies of the language. A reporter cannot just ask Medvedev to clarify if he means that his concussion symptoms resurfaced, or if it was general "first game back" soreness like they could ask a player such as Claude Giroux or Matt Read.
And there are more than enough quotes that support the Flyers' official report on Medvedev. At the start, the player states that he feels better, and he even implies that his next game will be up to the head coach, rather than the training staff.
What complicates everything further is the unique status of Evgeny Medvedev. He was signed to a $3.0 million contract to leave his native Russia and play a major role on the Flyers defense. His statistical performance has been solid, and via the eye test, he appears to possess more natural ability than the majority of the current blueline corps. Therefore, his scratching is undeniably odd and worthy of discussion.
Skepticism is understandable. After all, even when Medvedev was at his worst prior to the initial scratching on November 2nd, he was still outperforming players like Nick Schultz and Brandon Manning from a statistical standpoint. A secret injury would actually make some sense.
At the same time, Hextall has good reason to be frustrated with reports that contradict the team's official story. He's trying to run an organization that is trusted by journalists, the public, and the hockey world at large. So the assertion that the team's official story is false is a heavy charge.
In conclusion, it's fair to take the Flyers at their word regarding Medvedev. Hakstol showed a willingness to scratch the blueliner even before learning of his concussion, and a poor game from Medvedev against Washington likely didn't change the coach's mind about the defenseman's play. Unfortunately, due to the fact that Medvedev is still learning to master the English language, it will be difficult to expect more detailed information from the player while he awaits a return to the lineup.