The following article is part of a continuing series this season, where MayorsManor correspondent David Hofreiter provides commentary on prospects playing in the Canadian-based major junior leagues and US-based college hockey programs. He’ll spend time tracking a player, then offer some opinions and observations based on a single game or multiple games, depending on the points being presented.
Not every game by a top NHL prospect will be a star performance. Valentin Zykov’s recent performance is a perfect case in point.
Kings GM Dean Lombardi saw his scouting staff pounding the table when the young Russian forward was available at 37th overall during the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. So, LA’s top roster strategist went to work, trading picks 57, 88, and 96 to move up and select the reigning CHL Rookie of the Year.
Playing in only his first year in North America, Zykov had just completed a campaign in which he scored 40 goals and added 35 assists in 67 games, all while adapting to a new culture and style of hockey – at the ripe young age of 17.
Before his game against the Quebec Remparts on October 9, 2013, Zykov had continued to display a consistent scoring touch with nine points in his team’s first seven games of the season. He also recently made ‘The Hot List‘ for The Hockey News, a weekly feature where they discuss players they’re excited to see in the NHL one day.
All was right in the world until the Russian left wing hit the proverbial wall.
It’s important to remember, a player shouldn’t be over-examined based off of observations from one game. As witnessed in the Nikolai Prokhorkin article last month, we may see a player have a superstar performance right after looking average and vice versa. With that said, and understandably so, Zykov still has some growing to do.
Against the Remparts, he played right wing on what looked like the second line, and left wing on the second powerplay unit. He did not kill any penalties. His even strength work took him all over the ice, but he gravitated towards playing along the boards. When his team had the man advantage, he stayed around the left face-off dot, presumably to have a better angle shot. I regrettably do not speak or understand French, so I wasn’t able to hear an explanation, if offered.
Zykov’s game was based on a combination of primal and offensive instincts. He chased the puck down when it was in his territory, and he used his thick frame to fend off opponents. He also preyed near the enemy net, getting ready to pounce on any loose pucks or rebounds that came his way. He took the hunt a little too seriously, however, when he elbowed the goaltender and received an interference penalty. Quebec scored a powerplay goal 12 seconds later.
By contrast, Zykov’s presence in front of the opposing team’s net during a later powerplay created enough traffic for a goal to be scored. While he didn’t register a point on the play, it’s hard to argue the goal would have happened without him.
His combination of raw skills is not uncommon for young players, as his feet move a mile a minute and he generates good top end speed. With maturity, he will need to develop a more efficient stride to improve durability and effectiveness on the ice.
His defensive work also needs improvement. He wasn’t nearly the natural on the back-end that he was on the offensive side of play. When the puck was in the Drakkar zone, he stayed stationary at the high slot and watched where it was going. To play at a higher level, particularly if he wants to play priority minutes for coach Darryl Sutter in LA, he’s going to have to show consistent reliability on the less sexy side of the game.
Unfortunately, Zykov didn’t register a point in this game and his team lost 4-2. Even so, he played a strong physical game and had his share of hacks and whacks in the prime scoring areas. He’s still a young player [just turned 18 in May] who needs seasoning and instruction, primarily on his skating and defensive work.
Later this season, we’ll check back in on Zykov and provide an updated scouting report.
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