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Andrei Loktionov Looks to Make the KHL-to-NHL Jump; Can He Stick the Landing?

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The onetime King is getting a chance to be this year’s Professional Tryout Success Story, but the history of similar players moving back to the NHL is spotted.

2012 NHL Stanley Cup Final – Game Six Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI/ Pool/Getty Images

A couple weeks ago, the Los Angeles Kings announced that Andrei Loktionov will be getting a professional tryout (PTO) agreement in advance of the 2017-18 season.

PTOs are common; Devin Setoguchi, Paul Bissonnette, and Tom McCollum are among those to receive PTOs from the Kings in recent years. PTOs for guys who already have pictures of themselves drinking out of a Stanley Cup for that team? Less common! The forward has been around the block since departing Los Angeles at the age of 22, though, and it certainly doesn’t hurt the Kings or Loktionov to see if this works out. This could fizzle out very quickly, but it’s way more fun to try and figure out a way in which it doesn’t.

When Loktionov was traded four and a half years ago, I cited his inability to fit on the bottom six as a major reason. Unfortunately, he’ll probably have to fit in the bottom six in order to stay with the Kings this time around. There’s certainly no room for a center, and even as a wing, the production is a major question mark. Loktionov posted 27 points in 58 games last year, which is not a total which will blow anyone away in the KHL. For the sake of comparison, here are some other scoring totals from the KHL last season:

  • Brandon Kozun (an undersized Kings prospect who found success in Russia) led Lokomotiv with 56 points in 59 games.
  • Max Talbot (who, in his last NHL stint, had 7 points in 38 games for the Bruins in 2015-16) posted 36 points in 60 games for the same team.
  • Justin Azevedo (like Kozun, a late-round LA pick with small stature and nice hands) had 34 points in 53 games.
  • Ziga Jeglic (a Slovenian teammate of Anze Kopitar) matched Loktionov’s output with 27 points in 58 games for a Slovakian team.
  • Oscar Fantenberg (an LA signee on defense) scored 23 points in 44 games.

One way of projecting Loktionov’s output over a full season is by using NHL equivalencies (or NHLe for short). Every year, Rob Vollman has calculated translation factors to use as a rough estimate of how a player’s scoring will change when switching leagues, and the current translation factor for the KHL is 0.742. This would project Loktionov to score 28 points over a full season, though this assumes quite a bit... mostly, that Loktionov would play regularly.

For the sake of comparison to the 27-year-old Loktionov, I looked at skaters between the ages of 25 and 30 since the 2013 lockout who played in the NHL the season after playing in the KHL.

KHL One Season, NHL the Next (2013-17, NHL Age 25-30)

Player Pos KHL Season Age GP G A PTS NHL Season Team Age GP G A PTS
Player Pos KHL Season Age GP G A PTS NHL Season Team Age GP G A PTS
Justin Hodgman C 2013-14 25 49 11 15 26 2014-15 ARI 26 5 1 0 1
Jori Lehtera C 2013-14 26 48 12 32 44 2014-15 STL 27 75 14 30 44
Leo Komarov C 2013-14 27 52 12 22 34 2014-15 TOR 28 62 8 18 26
Dylan Reese D 2013-14 29 45 2 5 7 2014-15 ARI 30 1 0 0 0
Sergei Plotnikov LW 2014-15 24 56 15 21 36 2015-16 PIT/ARI 25 45 0 3 3
Jim O'Brien C 2014-15 25 22 2 10 12 2015-16 NJ 26 4 0 0 0
Viktor Tikhonov LW 2014-15 26 49 8 16 24 2015-16 CHI/ARI 27 50 3 3 6
Nikita Zaitsev D 2015-16 24 46 8 18 26 2016-17 TOR 25 82 4 32 36
Roman Lyubimov LW 2015-16 24 52 7 7 14 2016-17 PHI 25 47 4 2 6
Michal Kempny D 2015-16 25 59 5 16 21 2016-17 CHI 26 50 2 6 8
Philip Larsen D 2015-16 26 52 11 25 36 2016-17 VAN 27 26 1 5 6
Alexander Radulov RW 2015-16 29 53 23 42 65 2016-17 MTL 30 76 18 36 54
Vladimir Sobotka C 2016-17 29 41 9 21 30 2017 Playoffs STL 29 11 2 4 6
Andrei Loktionov C 2016-17 26 58 12 15 27 2017-18 LAK 27 ? ? ? ?

As you might expect, the history of KHLers is rather checkered. The two standouts are Alexander Radulov and Jori Lehtera, who had a history of KHL excellence and were able to translate that to a full-time NHL role. Loktionov doesn’t have that. His best-case scenario is probably that of Leo Komarov, who hovered in the 25-35 point range in the KHL and then did the same in the NHL. (He did make the 2016 NHL All-Star team, but his scoring rate fell off hard after that.) Vladimir Sobotka is another interesting player; he played in the KHL last season but returned to St. Louis for Game 82 and the playoffs, and looked solid. Sobotka had a history of full-time responsibilities in the NHL, though, as an excellent penalty killer and faceoff man. Loktionov has 155 games over five seasons.

Could this work? There are positives...

  • He’s no Sobotka, but as Sheng Peng’s recent look at Loktionov noted, Andrei did receive a larger dose of penalty kill responsibility in Russia, and was quite good. That’s encouraging for someone who is smaller than pretty much everyone else on the list above, and certainly can’t rely on size the way Plotnikov or Tikhonov can.
  • He’s also no Joe Thornton (I can see you rolling your eyes already), but if LA wants another center who can pass and carry the puck, Loktionov is worth the flier. All About the Jersey, our sister blog in New Jersey, tracked passing stats for the 2013-14 season and found that in his 48 games, Loktionov was the team’s second-most accurate passer (min. 100 pass attempts). He also was second-best at exiting the zone with possession, behind Jaromir Jagr.
  • In his last NHL stint, Loktionov got a long look on Carolina’s power play and picked up two goals and four assists in 20 games with the man advantage. That’s a 25-point full-season pace; for the sake of comparison, Jeff Carter led the Kings with 22 points on the power play last year.
  • Finally, as you might remember, Loktionov can hold his own in the possession game. He put up a 54% Corsi For% as a 21-year-old for the Kings, and the next year that jumped to 59.2% with the Devils. That figure dropped with tougher zone starts the following year, but it’s at least plausible that he can find that aspect of his game upon his return.

All of the above could be outweighed by Loktionov’s size, his time away from the NHL, and the fact that the Kings already have a bunch of bottom-six forwards. And I certainly wouldn’t have spent 900 words on Andrei if he wasn’t once a member of a Stanley Cup-winning Los Angeles Kings team. But if Loktionov has a great camp, or if injuries strike other forwards, who knows? Crazier things have happened.