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CHANGE IS GOOD

by Royal Reign / Los Angeles Kings
As we all know, change can be a scary thing. Taking that next step to see what lies in wait around the corner is an often-daunting dilemma.


Will the spotlight of fame and fortune be waiting? Or will that glare be the headlights of a onrushing train?

But as the old saying goes, change is good. Just ask Alexander Frolov.

Born in 1982, the young Moscow boy began trudging down to the local skating rink with his parents when he was only six years old. Whether he realized it or not – and he probably didn’t for who at that tender age has worries of politics – he first began honing his hockey skills during the height of the post-Cold War period of transition that Russia experienced. Talk about change.

By the time he was 14, Frolov was signing on the dotted line, joining Spartak Moscow’s club team. He was now a professional hockey player, which though exciting, brought a certain set of challenges.

“It was kind of a hard time in Russia,” said Frolov. “My parents didn’t make a lot of money, so when I signed, I made more than them. And, I couldn’t tell anyone because you wanted to keep it a secret how much you made.”

Two years later, during the 1998-99 season, Frolov was excelling in Russia’s First League, the equivalent of a Double-A minor league circuit, earning a one-game promotion to the Upper League. The next year he not only collected 24 points (11-13-24) in 25 games with Torpedo Yaroslavl in the First League, with another 16 goals in 11 playoff games as well, he also caught the eye of the NHL.

That following June, he and his parents were on their way to Calgary for the 2000 NHL Draft. Los Angeles quickly chose the just-turned 18 year old with their first pick, the 20th selection overall.

“I was really surprised when the Kings picked me,” the 6-2, 210-pound winger admitted. “I had probably 24 interviews before the draft with different teams. There were a couple of teams that I thought were going to pick me, but didn’t. It was kind of a stressful day.”

Instead of immediately crossing the Atlantic to play in the junior ranks, Frolov chose to stay in Russia for the next two seasons. For the 2001-02 campaign he was loaned to the Moscow Soviet Wings in the Upper League, where he proceeded to net 20 goals and 39 points with a plus-39 rating in 44 games, helping the club advance into the Super League, Russia’s top circuit. Signed outright by the Wings for the next season, Frolov was named the Super League’s 2001-02 Rookie of the Year after leading his team in both goals (18) and points (30).

Having proved that he could compete with his county’s best, Frolov realized the time had come for another change.

“The (Super League) is pretty good, too, and when I realized I could play there, I thought I could try coming to the NHL,” he said. “I thought I was ready.”

Frolov landed in Los Angeles with the burden of high expectations. He was young, only 20 years old, but he was seen as an immediate offensive weapon for a team that needed a little more offense. However, what surprised those that soon began to watch him night in and night out was how well rounded Frolov was as a player despite his age.

“(Young players) that usually have offensive abilities tend to expose themselves defensively a little bit, but that wasn’t the case with him,” said Kings radio analyst and former NHL forward Daryl Evans. “When he first came in he was a very responsible player defensively. I know [former head coach] Andy Murray used him in a lot of situations.”

By nearly everyone’s standards, the new left winger’s first year in the NHL, 2002-03, was a successful one. He tied for sixth among league rookies in goals (14) and was ninth in assists (17) while finishing fifth overall on the Kings in scoring. Frolov also finished second on the club with a plus-12 rating, which placed him third among NHL rookies.

One would have expected Frolov to struggle in his new country, but the growing pains of playing in the World’s best hockey league seemed minimal.

“The rinks are smaller, and you have to make decisions right away, and everybody finishes their checks here, but I knew it was going to be hard,” Frolov explained. “I prepared myself.”

The next year would see even more improvement from Frolov as he led the Kings with 24 goals and finished second overall on the club with 48 points. Among sophomore players in the NHL, he ranked in the top five in goals, assists and points.

And then, change came again. This time in the form of a work stoppage.

He returned to his home country and spent the 2004-05 season primarily with CSKA Moscow, picking up 37 points (20-17-37) in 42 games. He was then loaned to  Moscow Dynamo at the end of the year where he helped lead that team to the championship.

When the Kings began to shake off their slumber and assemble their club for the 2005-06 term, they had Frolov penned in as one of their top returning forwards. Unfortunately, Frolov himself wasn’t so sure he wanted to return to the sun and fun of L.A., even signing with Super League team Avangard Omsk prior to the season.

“They’re starting to make some money in Russia and I had some good opportunities there,” he said. “I had an opportunity to play on one of the best teams in Russia, make some good money and be one of the leaders.

“But, the NHL is the best league in the world. It’s where you want to be and where you want to prove yourself.”

And so, he thankfully returned to the U.S. and joined his teammates in what had become a revamped NHL. Not surprisingly, this change was easy to swallow.

“I like the new rules very much,” Frolov said in a 2005 interview. “Forwards feel more comfortable. Players aren’t allowed to hook and hit as they did before, so effectiveness has gone up. It’s more fun to watch hockey these days.”

He responded with a then-career-high 54 points in 2005-06, totaling 21 goals and 33 assists, all of which ranked among team leaders. Frolov also continued his defensive success, posting a plus-17 rating, the second-highest mark on the Kings.

“He’s still a player you put out there to kill penalties, a guy that’s pretty dependable and reliable, a guy who can get the puck out of the zone,” said Evans. “A number of teams we’ve played against, people with them have said, ‘You know, this kid is really good. He protects the puck well.’ The players in the league are respecting him.”

Based on how Frolov began this 2006-07 season though, that could have been questioned. The start of this year brought more change to not only Frolov, but the entire Kings organization. The transition took some getting used to, which showed in his production, a total of eight points (4-4-8) in 14 October games.

“There have been a lot of changes in our locker room,” said Frolov, “Almost everything changed – management, coaching staff, old trainers, doctors, even the players, too. It always takes some time to get used to it. It takes some time to know your coach, his system, his philosophy, and he needs to get used to us, to see what we can do, also. I think that’s normal.”

Whether the problem was learning a new system or just regaining a certain confidence, Frolov certainly found the remedy. Over the course of 13 games played in November, he totaled 10 goals and 17 points, which included two-goal efforts on three straight nights. He then followed that with 20 points (7-13-20) in just 14 games.

This sudden outburst had many clamoring for Frolov to be named to the Western Conference’s All-Star Team, an honor that will have to wait for another year.

Frolov finished the 2006-07 campaign with career highs in goals (35), assists (36), points (71), power-play goals (10), game-winning goals (6) and games played (82).

So, after all this success, what changes lie in store for him in the future? Perhaps leadership. Although he’s now just 24 years old, Frolov has already become a mentor of sorts to the next wave of rising young Kings’ players. Guys like Michael Cammalleri, Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Konstantin Pushkarev.

“Even the young players in the NHL, they are really good. It’s not like I can teach them [on the ice],” said Frolov. “But [off the ice], yeah maybe a little bit. I try to help them get used to the routine.”

“Arguably, our best players this year have been our young players, and I think once a few of the older players move on to the next step, you’ll see him evolve more into that position [leadership],” said Evans. “He’s not an overly vocal guy, but I think he’ll take on that responsibility and become a go-to guy.”

As he awaits that changing of the guard, so to speak, Frolov will continue to put the puck in the net for the Kings while also anticipating this summer’s World Championship, which will be played in Moscow.

A veteran of Russia’s National Team, Frolov won a Gold Medal with their Junior National squad in 2002, leading the team in goals (six) and tying for first in points (eight). He also has participated in the 2004 World Cup and was a member of Russia’s 2006 Olympic squad.

“We really want to win,” Frolov said. “The fans are excited, especially since we haven’t won [the Gold Medal] in over 10 years. They’re expecting us to do something. It’s a big deal.”

Just as Frolov is becoming, or has perhaps become, a big deal in Los Angeles.

His life has been one of change, of taking that next step, of reaching beyond. And, in each instance he has found what he’s been looking for right around that next corner. Now, he’s readying himself for even more, for leadership, for greater offensive responsibility, for a Stanley Cup, for who knows what?  All he knows is that change will always come.

And for Alexander Frolov, change has indeed been good.

 -Written by Kurt Daniels for the Royal Reign.

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