Currently ranked as one of the Kings’ top-3 prospects, forward Valentin Zykov has had a tumultuous nine months – from being injured, to missing the World Junior Championships, to being traded, to wrapping up his junior hockey career, and then to even spending a few weeks in Manchester training. The express train won’t be stopping anytime soon either, as the 20-year old Russian is expected to play in the AHL next season. As the Kings have relocated their top affiliate to Ontario, he’ll now get to adjust to life in Southern California – which, for the always joking youngster, seems to be like a wish come true.
The organization has been very high on him, with Mike Futa, Vice President of Hockey Operations and Director of Player Personnel, offering these quotes for a prospect profile we did for LAKings.com a while back:
“He really knows himself as a player; sometimes kids have a problem critiquing themselves. … He was a kid that fit the Kings’ culture. Not having a first round pick, we feel that we acquired a first round caliber player. … He’s a thicker body. He’s more of a Dustin Brown-type physical body, as far as where he should end up. He should be a real heavy puck guy in the corners, but a lot more vision and play-making ability, I would think… He’s always shown the ability to make plays and [be] a real strong passer who can finish, as well. I think that there’s a pretty high bar as far as the expectation.”
Following his afternoon session on the ice Tuesday at the Kings’ Development Camp, we had a chance to catch up with the 2013 draft pick, first one-on-one and then later in a group setting with other reporters. His English was already decent when the Kings traded three picks to move up and take him in the second round; and it’s only gotten better since then. Thus, while the interview below is not exactly word-for-word, it’s pretty close.
Q: On his plans to stay here and train during the summer…
Zykov: In America; I’ll be staying with one of the development coaches in Minnesota. I was there last summer training, as well.
Q: If there is anything in particular he plans on working on this summer to improve his game?
Zykov: Yes – work, work; get better. To do be honest, whatever they say, I’m going to do. That’s kind of how it works.
Q: Is he aware that coach Sutter allegedly views him as one of his favorite prospects in the organization?
Zykov: No. But if feels good anytime somebody likes your game, and it especially means something when the head coach of an NHL team notices something about you and says good things.
Q: Do you remember anything in particular that he might have said to you last summer?
Zykov: I would say, during the camp he’s not much of a talker. He focuses on little details. But, sometimes on the video stuff, he talks more. As I said, he focuses on the little details there, wants us to notice the little things.
Q: Nelson Emerson said you have taken a leadership role this year, and it’s something they didn’t even ask you to do…
Zykov: Well, it’s my third year in Development Camp, so it probably came about naturally. I guess, like all the stuff we’ve been through, and kind of like – not only me, but there are other guys who have been leaders during the camp too.
Q: Is the language barrier a concern?
Zykov: For who? (laughter} For me? No, I think it’s fine.
Q: On the language barrier being an issue for some of the other Russians, who don’t speak English nearly as well as he does…
Zykov: No, they good. It’s not about language barrier; I think they just understand what’s going on and I think they have done a pretty good job.
Q: Do you try to help them out?
Zykov: Yeah, a little bit. It’s their first time here, so I help a little bit.
Q: This team is really good at puck possession, is there something you really think you’re good at?
Zykov: That’s why we’re here, to get better at possessing, mostly I guess.
Q: What makes you a good possessor?
Zykov: I listen to the coaches pretty well.
Q: How did you learn English?
Zykov: I learned it before I came here. It was my dream to come to North America, so I learned English before I came here.
Q: What did you do to make your English better?
Zykov: Mostly, when you hear a lot of English every day it goes by itself; but you learn it better by itself.
Q: Does knowing English help you on the ice?
Zykov: I think it’s impossible to play here without English. You cannot play well without communication with other guys.
Q: When you were in the QMJHL the past few seasons, when you were frustrated on the ice, did you speak in Russian or English?
Zykov: It comes with either Russian or English, maybe a little of both?
Q: Is it fun knowing that several of the other players in Development Camp could be your teammates with the Kings in a couple of years?
Zykov: To be honest, I didn’t think about it. When you’re on the ice, you have to be focused on what you’re doing.
Q: Have you had a chance to process everything that went on over the past year, including the injury and the trade?
Zykov: Well, that’s experience I guess. It’s good experience anyway. Be it’s either bad or good.
Q: How long did it take you to recover from your hernia in November? And how disappointing was it to not play in the WJC?
Zykov: Two months. Injuries happen, it’s normal. Of course it was disappointing because there were a couple guys on that team that I have known since childhood, my good friends. But, you can’t change anything, so just let it be.
Q: You put up a lot of points after being traded in the second-half of the season [28 points (15 goals, 13 assists) in 26 regular season games]. Was that a sign of you being more motivated or just eager to play after the injury?
Zykov: I think the trade, shook me up a bit. I think it helped me a little bit. My new coach, Ben Groulx [of the Gatineau Olympiques], was a really good coach; he’s tough. He makes everybody do the right things the way he wants. I think we had a good run the second-half of the year.
Q: How close are you to the pro game?
Zykov: I don’t know, ask the Kings’ development coaches.
Q: Is that on your mind much and when you like to do it?
Zykov: The only thing I think about is just getting better; getting better and getting closer to the NHL. As I said, you better ask these guys because they know development stuff.
Q: What do they say you need to work on most to reach the NHL?
Zykov: There’s not special things; anything you can get better on will help you be in the NHL. There are no certain things; anything is going to help you.
Q: Have you been thinking about moving to Ontario?
Zykov: Well, there’s a month before season starts. I’m not trying to be ahead of things.
MORE ZYKOV RELATED CONTENT:
Catching Up With Kings Top Prospect Valentin Zykov – April 2015
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