Since then, he has certainly seized that opportunity and then some.
Loktionov’s stint with the Canes began at the fourth-line center position as the coaching staff wanted to get a feel for his capabilities within the team’s system.
“The coaches put me on the fourth line because they wanted to see me out there and how I fit with the system,” Loktionov said. “For the first four games, the system was a little tough for me because when I was playing I was still thinking about the old system in New Jersey. It was kind of tough, but right now everything is going good.”
From that first game on March 7 against the New York Rangers, he’s seen his ice time swell and his role elevated. Loktionov, 23, now centers captain Eric Staal and Jiri Tlusty in the Canes’ top six.
Against Columbus on March 29, Loktionov logged 19:50 of ice time, the most in his 12 games with the Canes and 10 seconds shy of his season-high of 20 minutes posted with New Jersey at Toronto in November. That marker, though, is well ahead of his season average of 12:36.
“Overall he’s done a great job. Five-on-five, his play defensively, all-around, what he brings to the special teams – he’s been a great addition, and he’s earning it,” head coach Kirk Muller said after Saturday’s game. “He’s come in here and played well right from the start.”
Asked if he could consistently handle playing nearly 20 minutes, Loktionov smiled and said, “We’ll see.” But if the opportunity is presented to him, he’s going to take it.
“I was excited,” Loktionov said of his ice time versus Columbus. “The coach trusted me, and I played.”
“He’s had a history of being a kid that’s known to have some good offense and skill level. It’s just a matter of getting that out. He was in LA’s system, a real structured team, and New Jersey, so I’m sure his NHL experience gave him an opportunity to learn the game more systematically,” Muller said. “So maybe we just caught him at the right time. He’s a guy that we felt, if he’s given the chance, has the skill level and knows how to play the game two ways. And that’s what he’s bringing right now.”
Loktionov has recorded six points (3g, 3a) in his last six games and is riding a three-game point streak (2g, 2a).
“The stats prove it,” Muller said. “He’s the half-wall guy we were looking for that could control it and make plays. He’s scoring, as well. Overall he’s done a great job.”
Loktionov has played a crucial role in recharging the Canes’ power play as of late. From March 18 through March 25, Carolina tallied at least one power-play goal in four straight games, their longest stretch of the season. Loktionov had one of the five tallies and was involved in another.
“The coaches put me on the PP, so I have to use that and have to prove to them that they were right to put me there,” he said. “They put me back on that half-wall, and I feel more comfortable there. Everybody is playing for each other, and everybody opens up for each other. They make nice passes, and Harry shoots pucks at the net. That’s all we need.”
The last time Loktionov played the half-wall position on the power play was with Manchester of the AHL, he recalled, and his task as the playmaker is simple.
“I have to find the guys, Skinny, seam pass for the one-timer. Find Harry, he’s got the good shot, you know,” he explained. “I have to use them.”
On Saturday against Columbus, the Voskresensk, Russia, native accepted a pass from Riley Nash, stepped up and scored on the man advantage to give the Canes a brief 2-1 lead in the third period.
“Yeah, sometimes you have to shoot too,” he said with a smile.
“He’s shown that he can be a power play guy, play those minutes and put up points. Can he sustain that? It will be a good challenge for him,” Muller said. “He’s been a great addition, and we hope he continues at that kind of pace.”
Loktionov is sandwiched between fellow countryman Alexander Semin and linemate Tlusty in the locker room. Conversing with Semin and Anton Khudobin in his native tongue is nice, he says, but the adjustment to a new room goes beyond that.
“It’s nice to speak in Russian, but you have to speak with the other guys too,” he said. “There should be no small groups. We are all one team. We have to be all together.”
A pending restricted free agent, Loktionov’s future with the Canes is yet unknown. But he’s certainly made an impression in his first 12 games with his new club.
“I’m just playing. I’m not worried about a contract,” Loktionov said. “I have to just play and do my job.”
“He’s had the opportunity, and he’s made the most of it,” Muller said. “He’s been given a chance on the power play, and he’s done well there. He started out on the fourth line, and he’s moved his way up. That’s nice to see. When a guy gets a chance, he has to take it, and he’s doing it.”