The rationalization? Voynov doesn’t speak English.
This may be a slight exaggeration, being that Voynov had been in the United States for four years at the time, but it’s no secret that he is still learning the language and settling into the North American lifestyle.
Being one of only three players on the Kings current roster born outside of North America – Anze Kopitar of Slovenia and Robin Regehr of Brazil are the others – Voynov is the only one who didn’t grow up learning to speak English. There is never a swarm of reporters waiting by Voynov’s locker stall in the Kings’ dressing room, and a TV request for the Russian defenseman is virtually unheard of.
“Even though he’s not the best at English just yet, he’s getting there,” commented fellow defenseman Drew Doughty.
Doughty and forward Trevor Lewis are two of the teammates Voynov admits to spending the most time with away from the ice.
“We drive to games together, go for dinners when we’re on the road and we have a lot of fun together,” added Doughty. “I think around here he seems serious, and on the ice he seems serious, but he’s so sarcastic and he’s goofy. He’s kind of like me and immature at times and in ways, and that’s why we get along so well.”
Veteran Rob Scuderi, Voynov’s defense partner since Willie Mitchell has been out of the lineup, can also attest to Voynov’s off-ice personality.
“He’s been in the States for a while, so he has a pretty good understanding of the sense of humor and the jokes and stuff and he’s certainly not afraid to jump in himself either,” Scuderi revealed.
After spending three seasons with the Manchester Monarchs, the Kings’ minor league affiliate, Voynov is in his second season with the big club. He also seems to be adjusting to life in California the way any other 23-year-old would.
Initially a bit timid to begin the interview for this story, Voynov eventually opened up with the personality his teammates alluded to.
“I like California, it’s so great here, the weather is all the time sunny, so I like playing here,” said Voynov, who lives in Hermosa Beach.
Although his favorite part of LA is the beach, Voynov will often tag along with Doughty and Lewis to a movie – sometimes he understands it, and sometimes he doesn’t.
“I think my English is stuck,” Voynov confessed. “Might be a little bit better, but still bad.”
Never having been formally taught English, Voynov knows that learning by listening in the locker room isn’t the best language learning method. However, when asked if he ever reads books to brush up on his new vernacular, he chuckled.
“Play hockey every day, not enough time,” he insisted.
Make no mistake, hockey is Voynov’s priority and sole reason for being in California in the first place.
Selected by the Kings in the second round on the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Voynov had high expectations placed on him, which he promptly began to fill last season, after being called up from Manchester. Voynov’s development helped enable Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi to trade offensive defenseman Jack Johnson for scoring winger Jeff Carter just prior to the trade deadline.
“He’s a complete defenseman. He plays well in his ‘d’ zone, he’s responsible as far as his responsibilities go, but when the opportunity arises, he doesn’t hesitate and he jumps into the play,” said Scuderi. “He joins the play which I would call ‘smartly’ – he doesn’t lead the rush, he follows it up, he knows where to go, he knows the right spots to pick and he always seems to be in the right place.”
Voynov’s numbers this season support Scuderi’s assessment, as going into last night’s game against Colorado, Voynov led all Kings defenseman in scoring with 23 points. He was also second among defensemen in plus/minus with a +12.
“I think he’s just going to get better as he gets more experience,” said Doughty. “Ever since playoffs last year you could see the player he was going to become and I think he’s starting to become that right now.”
After playing in Manchester for a portion of last season, Voynov has played in every game this season for the Kings, and that experience is already translating into confidence.
“Every year is better. I feel trust from coaches right now, so I get much more ice time,” Voynov said. “I feel better on the ice and I play better, too.”
Voynov may not understand all the dialogue in the movies he watches, and it may be a few more seasons before he becomes a reporter favorite, but on the ice, it’s a different story, and maybe even a whole new language.
“He understands everything, he talks loud on the ice,” Scuderi reported. “You can’t see everything out there, so communication is a really important part of the game and his English is totally fine.”
Numbers don’t lie, and if Voynov can continue to communicate through his play on the ice, words won’t be necessary.