It's been quite a year for Nikolai Prokhorkin. First, he was labelled a top prospect for the 2012 draft. Although he fell to the end of the fourth round, he was picked up by the Kings, and then impressed at development camp that summer. (Here is Niesy's excellently comprehensive post-draft profile on Prokhorkin.) The team promptly signed him to a three-year entry-level deal, with the expectation that he would suit up as a Manchester Monarch to start the 2012-13 season. If he didn't make the Monarchs out of training camp, there was always the OHL, where the London Knights held his rights before trading them to the Barrie Colts. Then, things got weird.
Prokhorkin's KHL team, CSKA Moscow, declared that they had previously signed the young forward to a three-year contract expiring in 2015, rendering his NHL contract (and all of his North American playing rights) void. And then he...disappeared? The Mayor reported that Prokhorkin had gone into hiding, failing to report to CSKA or even to respond to their communications. As you can imagine, the KHL was super cool and did not make a big deal about that or anything.
Just kidding! Both CSKA Moscow and the KHL started publicly denigrating the Kings and the NHL, as the Kings assigned Prokhorkin to Manchester anyway. Prokhorkin surfaced in Manchester in time for training camp (in news broken, as I recall, by the Monarchs' Instagram account...), and went on to play eight AHL games while the NHL-KHL dispute played out. There was a grievance hearing in October, vague Hammurabi-esque threats from KHL President Alexander Medvedev, and then finally, on November 14th, the KHL announced that the NHL had refused to register Prokhorkin's contract with the Kings.
Niesy wrote about what happened after that: namely, that Prokhorkin went back to Russia and then disappeared for another month, before returning with CSKA's farm team in the VHL (the KHL's AHL), THK Tver. He spent the rest of the 2012-13 season bouncing between the VHL and the KHL, registering a fairly disappointing season likely derailed by the new cold war he almost started. Like I said, Nikolai Prokhorkin: international man of mystery.
|18||17/09/1993||RUS||121 (4th round)||74|
(Regarding the vote total: please remember that there were 10 voters, ranking from 25 to 1. Thus, the maximum possible vote total was 250.)
|2010-11||Krasnaya Armiya Moscow
|2011-12||Krasnaya Armiya Moscow||MHL||15||9||17||26||47||16||2
In terms of actual hockey playing, it's not hard to see why Prokhorkin was projected to go in the second or third round in the 2012 draft. He lit up the MHL (the primarily Russian junior hockey league) almost at a ppg pace in 2010-11, helping lead the Red Army to the Kharlamov Cup. His 2011-12 season was shortened by injuries, but he dominated again at the MHL level, and was starting to perform in the KHL with very limited ice time.
The scouting reports on Prokhorkin all read similarly, in that he is not considered a "typical" speedy, smooth-skating Russian forward. In fact, the poorly-translated-by-Google Russian reports that I have seen cast him as a North American-style forward, using words like "tough" and "grit", which we know are Dean Lombardi's favourites (and which, not coincidentally, probably was the major deciding factor in drafting Prokhorkin over similarly-rated Russian compatriot Anton Slepyshev, now an Oilers prospect). Prokhorkin apparently has the instinct to play a hard-nosed physical game, although at 6'2", 190 lbs, he will need to bulk up a bit before hitting the NHL.
Also frequently praised are Prokhorkin's vision and puck-handling, which you can observe & admire in the highlight video included in Niesy's profile of Prokhorkin, linked above. The only time I've actually seen Prokhorkin play is during the Canada-Russia challenge, where I thought he did fairly well. He's got good hands, and he's a great passer, although he was less tenacious on the forecheck than I might have expected based on what I'd heard and read. Still, quite a bit of that "ability to finish" really just reflects experience and familiarity with the North American game, and that will come with time.
At the time he was drafted, Prokhorkin was a great get in the fourth round, but it's difficult to get a grasp on his progress since then. He barely got started in the AHL before he went back to Russia, and then he seemed to be doing okay in the VHL (4 points in 5 games), but he played limited minutes in a bottom-six role with CSKA in the KHL. Did his poor KHL numbers mainly reflect his low ice time, or a genuine struggle to perform? Did his increased production in the playoffs signify that he was playing better, or was it just a statistical fluke? Who knows? (Well, probably somebody who watches the KHL. But I don't. Sorry!)
What we do know is that it's kind of rough that Prokhorkin essentially lost a fairly critical year in his development as a young hockey player. Given that he'll be with CSKA Moscow until 2015 (or unless he's traded), however, he does have plenty of time to re-establish himself with the team, earn more playing time, and work on strengthening himself and his game before he joins the Kings organisation.
If I were ranking Prokhorkin's 2012-13 season, I would give him a DNC and advise Kings fans to wait and see what happens next year before we start to draw any conclusions about the trajectory of his career. He had the skills and the work ethic to stand out at the junior level, and it's clear he has the desire to play in the NHL some day, so I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and hope that he bounces back shortly. I know we've said this a lot about these first few guys in the Top 25 Under 25, but if Prokhorkin reaches his projected status as a top-six winger, it would be excellent value for a low fourth-round pick.