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LA Kings Top 25 Under 25: #8 Valentin Zykov

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Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Jewels from the Crown was pleased when the Kings traded up to grab Zykov at 37th overall last year. Zykov had lots of raw talent - scouts praised his shot, puck skills, and physical game - and backed that up with a solid 75 points in 67 QMJHL games. Add in that most pre-draft rankings had Zykov much higher (TSN had him 25th, for example) and this seemed like a good value pick.

Rank DOB Nationality Draft Vote Total
8 5/15/1995 RUS 2nd round, 37th overall, 2013
249

Over the last year, Zykov has not done much to improve his stock. His scoring rate in the QMJHL remained basically flat (1.12 points/game his draft year, 1.19 points/game his draft+1 year). Junior players should naturally be expected to score more as they get older - by one calculation, each year of age beyond 17 is worth about .17 points per game. It's a bit discouraging that Zykov showed a little less progress than that.

Unfortunately, I must point out that most forwards with similar scoring profiles in junior hockey, selected near the end of the first round, tend to not turn into stars. It's not that Zykov's numbers are bad; in fact, they're pretty good for his draft position. It's more that drafts are very random after the first few picks, and projecting anyone taken this late as a likely top-six forward is probably unfair.

With that harsh dose of reality out of the way, we can look at some promising things buried in Zykov's stats. Thanks to @butyoucarlotta, quite a bit of individual skater data from the CHL is available, and it paints a flattering picture of Zykov's defense. Zykov played for the team that allowed the fewest goals in the QMJHL and it seems like he might have been a big part of that. Zykov was on the ice for only 16 even-strength goals against in 53 games, a very low total. His 74.20% GF% was the best on his team, which did 11.60% better with than without him. He also seems to have been deployed defensively, as his estimated quality of competition (31.50%) was the highest on his team.

All of that is promising, but it bears the caveat that goals against and GF% are both very random over 53 game samples. It's a good sign that Zykov's team posted excellent defensive results whenever Zykov played, but with only one season of data the possibility remains that Zykov just had a lucky year. Zykov himself sees real improvement - he pinpointed defense as his area of greatest progress in the 2013-14 season.

I remain excited about Zykov. His physicality and willingness to play defense will help him. Even more importantly, he has real skill; scouts love his shot and puckhandling abilities. The big problem is skating. The Kings have had some notable successes targeting prospects who can do everything but skate (most famously Tyler Toffoli), but I don't think that has much bearing on what will happen with Zykov. Every prospect is a unique case, and I would advise against getting caught up in specific comparables.

For whatever it's worth (not much), the Kings also have a lot of praise for his character. In numerous interviews Michael Futa has waxed poetic about how Zykov's presence brightens up a room. After watching some interviews, I tend to agree about that.

As a side note, North American hockey analysts seem to be confused that a Russian could play a strong-checking game and have such a vibrant way of carrying himself. Futa actually said Zykov has a "North American personality" - apparently meant as a compliment. What an ugly thing to say.

Conclusion

I don't think we're dealing with a future superstar here, but a good two-way second-line winger with some offensive punch? That I could see. Needless to say, there is plenty of development, and plenty of risk, before he gets there.

Zykov will spend 2014-15, his last year of junior eligibility, in the QMJHL. Even if all goes well, the NHL is at least a year, more likely two or three years, away.