Loktionov is back, so I repost: Cheshire Cat Floats on Air

New England Hockey Journal: Manchester's Loktionov 'floats on air'
[...N]o help is needed to [spot] Monarchs center Andrei Loktionov. He’ll be the one flying down the ice, leaving a trail of chips — and a few harried defenders — behind him and a very nervous goaltender dead ahead. What the 20-year-old Russian will do when he hits the blue line is anyone’s guess. Squeeze the puck through a crowd to a winger with an open shot, or drive it to the net himself. Only Loktionov knows for sure.

"It’s unbelievable," said Monarchs right winger Bud Holloway, who often rides Loktionov’s flank. "He’s a great hockey player. He’s so skilled that you’ve got to make different reads with him. He can put the puck into spots that guys like myself wouldn’t be able to. It’s a privilege to play with him." Watching him is quite a perk, too. Especially with a bird’s-eye view from the bench. "It’s like he’s floating on air," Manchester coach Mark Morris said. "A cushion of air."

And if the skill isn’t clue enough, there’s another. The smile. It’s as much a feature of his round, cherubic face as his goal-hungry eyes. It would be easier to knock him off the puck than to remove that Cheshire Cat grin. [...]

"It’s because I’m happy to be playing hockey," said Loktionov, testing his improving English [...]. "I feel good on the ice. Free. I’m playing. Doing what I want to do." [...] It would have been easy to hang out in Voskresensk (about an hour outside of Moscow) and be content with being just another dipsy-doodler. He wouldn’t have to leave Mother Russia and speak anything but his mother tongue. But that wouldn’t have gotten him to the NHL, where fellow "Voskie" Igor Larionov starred for so long.

"It was a big step," Loktionov said. "(But) I wanted to play in the National Hockey League." It was Larionov, who is now his agent, who urged Loktionov to make the Atlantic jump and persuaded the Spitfires that he was worth the CHL import draft pick. "It was hard for maybe the first four months," Loktionov said, "because I didn’t speak English. I didn’t know anything. How the Canadian guys played. Sometimes I thought they played selfishly. It was very different. Then after New Year’s, I started playing like the rest of team. I adapted, and started playing better."

[...]"I missed my home," he said. "It was the first I’d been away from home. But I talked to my friends on Skype, and I felt better." Loktionov, a fifth-round pick by the Kings in 2008, [scored] a hat trick in his AHL debut. As for that first NHL twirl, against Edmonton a month later, that was a lot more painful. A freak, low-contact play near center ice left his right shoulder out of joint, and put Loktionov out of action for four months. Even so, he found a way to look at the sunny side.

"After my injury, I was so happy," he said, "because I had played in my first (NHL) game. I just started working again after the surgery. Two days. Bike riding, work on my legs and abs. I did everything, just not with my shoulder." When he finally was as good as new, Loktionov helped the Monarchs make a strong playoff run to the Eastern Conference finals, then had an impressive enough September training camp to earn a spot with the big club. He even scored his first NHL goal, a carom off the back of unsuspecting Carolina goalie Justin Peters. It wasn’t one of his trademark rink-long, locks-flying flights down the wing. But did that matter?

[...] "It mattered that I scored, not how I scored. It was good. It didn’t matter."

[The Kings assigned] him [...] to [Manchester], where he continues to work on those considerable skills. And that includes getting a handle on his adopted language. He’s making great progress [...]. "He reduces it to its basic terms," Holloway said. "Broken English. It’s good. He knows what I’m talking about, and I can sometimes pick up what he’s talking about. It’s pretty fun deciphering what he’s saying."

And it’s plenty of fun watching what he’s doing.

Loktionov has 31 points in 31 games for Manchester this season. I would like to see him get a shot at second line center this year. In any case, next fall I will be pulling for Kopitar / Loktionov / Schenn / Lewis down the middle.

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