Timing is everything in life, even in the game of hockey.
Last Tuesday, Kings’ prospect Nikolai Prokhorkin celebrated his 20th birthday in grand style by posting a four point night in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) – racking up three goals and one assist.
MayorsManor correspondent David Hofreiter, who will be providing commentary on various prospects throughout the upcoming season, has been tracking the young forward’s progression this month and was preparing some thoughts for an article, largely based on what he saw after watching a KHL game a few days prior.
For those who just want the highlights, here’s Prokhorkin’s hat trick (he’s wearing #74 in red)…
If you prefer more detailed observations, here’s a report prepared by Hofreiter just prior to the above game taking place:
For those unfamiliar, Prokhorkin was drafted by Los Angeles in the fourth round, 121st overall, at the 2012 NHL Draft. He had a brief stint in the AHL a few months later, picking up one assist and six penalty minutes during his eight game stay in North America. After some legal battles with the KHL (detailed and explained here), it was then ruled that Prokhorkin was still under contract back home and needed to return to Russia and honor the final three years of his contract.
Although the Kings staff was very high on him last year and had hoped he would be able to stay with the Monarchs much longer, Prokhorkin’s numbers were limited after he returned to Moscow. Skating in just 14 games for CSKA, he finished last season with two goals, one assist and 10 penalty minutes.
Bear in mind, I don’t speak Russian, so I wasn’t able to understand what the announcers were saying during a recent game vs. Riga Dinamo. However, maybe in some respects, this is a less biased report, as I wasn’t influenced by what others were saying.
It appeared Prokhorkin played on the third line and was mostly given defensive responsibilities by his coach. This wasn’t surprising though, given that Prokhorkin was about eight years younger than the average age of the two teams playing. That’s also really not much different than what you’d expect from a 20-year old player on this year’s Kings roster, which will have an average age of about 27 (using last season’s playoff line-up, but replacing Dustin Penner with Matt Frattin, Rob Scuderi with Willie Mitchell, etc).
So, the fact he’s getting a modicum of playing time is a pretty good feat.
Coached by former Kings bench boss John Torchetti (albeit, he was only in LA for a very brief time), Prokhorkin didn’t see any action on the power play. He was given second-unit minutes on the penalty kill though, along with his third line minutes during 5-on-5 play.
He was used as a center the entire game, even though the Kings drafted him as a left wing. It’s an amusing twist of fate, considering LA has an abundance of centers – so many in fact, they’ve converted a few to wingers (such as Jeff Carter and Trevor Lewis). During the game, Prokhorkin took key face-offs in the defensive end and on the penalty kill, sometimes even just taking the face-off before going to the bench. He did not play at all in overtime of the game vs. Riga, nor did he get an opportunity in the shootout.
In terms of Prokhorkin’s style of play in this game, it would best be described as a dedicated blue collar game. He didn’t punish anyone with a big hit, but he did rub out players along the boards. He also battled multiple times along the boards for loose pucks. He didn’t win those battles too often – so, hopefully that’s a skill he will develop with more strength and savvy.
Prokhorkin even took a penalty amidst losing a board battle. However, the effort was there.
Defensively, he was always the first forward back to support his defense, and stayed in the low slot when the puck was behind the net. He also circled around in the defensive zone to support the breakout for his teammates. Offensively, he made his efforts to battle in front of the net. His efforts were once rewarded by drawing a penalty when the defense became too zealous in pushing him around.
Regarding his individual skills and decisions, he still has a lot of work to do. While he does have a good combination of skating and stick handling, a mixture which allowed him to maneuver the puck around a defenseman for a scoring opportunity at one point, he currently lacks the savvy to put himself in a better position to succeed on a consistent basis.
He shared a big part of the responsibility for a goal against Moscow because he was caught in No Man’s Land while the opposition was cycling the puck on the attack. He didn’t position himself to cover any passing lanes, which led to a one-touch pass, one-timer goal.
His offensive positioning needs equal work; while he did battle in front of the net at opportune times, he didn’t space himself away from the defense efficiently to create a passing lane for his teammates who were cycling the puck. With experience and maturity, his positioning and board battles should improve.
In summary, Prokhorkin, a promising prospect, played like a young man in a men’s league. And there’s nothing wrong with that at this point considering his age.
Usually there is at least some concern when a player’s development is largely taking place outside of North America. Yet, he seems to be doing the little things right. He’s being counted on in defensive roles, and he does have a dedication to the less sexy side of the game, which can be taken as a positive.
UPDATE: A few days later he scored a hat trick and looked like the second coming of Cam Neely. Timing can be a wonderful thing. You just never know what you’ll get from night-to-night, especially when evaluating young players.
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