It’s taken a while to get here, but the time is finally upon us. No, not the arrival of training camp – well, that too – but the pro debut of forward Maxim Kitsyn.
Originally selected by the Kings at the 2010 NHL Draft held at Staples Center, it’s been a long and winding road for the 6-foot-3 native of Novokuznetsk, Russia. Six months later he was skating in the premier showcase for players of his age, the World Junior Championship. Shortly thereafter he was allowed to play in the OHL. After posting 19 points in 20 playoffs games, naturally, terms like ‘sleeper pick’ were being thrown around.
But, the following season he was required to return home and fulfill two more years of contractual obligations in the KHL.
Even with that commitment on the books, it’s still a bit of a mystery how he ever fell all the way to the sixth round. Kitsyn entered his draft year ranked near the top of all European skaters by NHL Central Scouting. So, seeing his name on the board late in the day, GM Dean Lombardi swapped two picks with the Atlanta Thrashers.
When the window finally opened to sign him back in early July, the Kings once again jumped at the chance to bring him into the organization. It wasn’t long before the two sides quickly agreed on a three-year Entry Level Contract.
And the timing couldn’t be better.
He’ll join 56 other players hitting the ice on Thursday, the start of Darryl Sutter’s first official training camp as coach of the Kings. With too many roster players already included among that large group, there would seem to be little room for Kitsyn. Look deeper though and perhaps he brings a certain secret weapon, if you will – the ability to play left wing.
Outside of Dustin Brown, the Kings offense didn’t generate much offense at all from the left side. So following the departure of Dustin Penner and what was a less-than productive season from Dwight King, Kitsyn could find some way to sneak onto everybody’s radar.
“I’m going to try and make the Kings,” said the 21-year old. “I’ll try to play my best. As a rookie, you do anything you can to make the team. So, just play hockey, do your job. Then we’ll see what happens.”
He’s even willing to play on his off-wing, anything for an opportunity to one day make the NHL.
“I used to play just the left side, said Kitsyn. “But in the OHL [Mississauga], the coach changed me and I played both. Sometimes I played left, sometimes I played right. So, I’m OK with left and right. I’m a natural left, but guys are different in hockey. In Russia, all the big [left wings] aren’t comfortable at right wing. Here, I’m OK with it.”
Off the ice, he’s naturally admired the way fellow Russian, Slava Voynov, ascended through the Kings system and eventually secured a starting role in Los Angeles.
“He’s a good example, Slava Voynov,” remarked Kitsyn. “He was waiting so long to make it, then one day he got his chance…Of course he was frustrated, but he knew it was his job. He had a goal, to win the Stanley Cup. He was waiting, working hard. We talked about it, and he never gave up.”
Over the summer Kitsyn has also been studying other Kings prospects – first at Development Camp and more recently at Rookie Camp. He’s partly used their behavior and actions as a guide while he readjusts to being back in North America.
“Even when we play a scrimmage, the players here try to play the same way the Kings would play. So, you try to watch them and try to get something from them to improve your game. It’s also been kind of cool to play with some NHL stars. To have them on the ice with me was pretty cool.”
In the end, if Kitsyn doesn’t make the Kings roster out of training camp, he wants everybody to know one thing.
“If they send me to Manchester it’s not a problem,” he declared. “I came to America to make the Kings, but I’ll wait.”
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