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Zykov could be latest King to fast-track to NHL

by Curtis Zupke / NHL.com

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Los Angeles Kings prospect Valentin Zykov won't allow himself to think about the significant change that is about to happen in his hockey career.

By the end of summer he will go from the cold climes of the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League in Southern California.

Not only will Zykov change coasts, he will begin his professional career under the excitement of the Reign, who will play their inaugural season as the Kings' AHL affiliate.

"Well, there's two months before the season starts," Zykov said. "I'm not trying to [think] ahead."

Zykov, 20, is the left wing in the Kings' system closest to the NHL, even if that's probably years away. If anything, the 37th pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, has the power-forward tools to get fast-tracked to the NHL much like Kings right wing Tyler Toffoli, 23, and left wing Tanner Pearson, 22.

"He is ready to test his game against the pros," Kings assistant general manager Rob Blake wrote in an email.

Zykov, who's 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, was drafted with considerable buzz. He was ranked third, behind Nathan McKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, in NHL Central Scouting's preliminary rankings for the 2013 draft.

Zykov has at least outgrown juniors, where he spent the past three seasons and persevered through a bumpy first half of the 2014-15 season. This development camp was his third with the Kings, and it showed.

Coaches couldn't help notice Zykov giving his peers direction in drills and dispensing advice off the ice.

"He's always got a couple of guys around him, younger players," said Nelson Emerson, Kings director of player development. "Not just the Russian players. The other players as well.

"We didn't really have to say anything to him. He did it on his own, and that's kind of a leadership role that we just kind of went, 'Wow, good job, Val.'"

Zykov missed two months because of a sports hernia injury last November, which made him forgo representing Russia in the World Junior Championship. That was supposed to be a redemptive tournament for Zykov, who went pointless in seven games in the 2014 World Juniors.

"Injuries happen," Zykov said. "It's normal. Of course it was disappointing because there was a couple of guys I've played with since childhood, my good friends, but you can't change anything so just let it be."

In January, Zykov was traded from Baie-Comeau Drakkar to Gatineau for Buffalo Sabres prospect Vaclav Karabacek and a 2015 QMJHL draft pick, a bold transaction considering Zykov was the QMJHL Rookie of the Year as a 17-year-old.

Zykov responded well in the second half of the season and finished as a point-per-game player.

"I think [the] trade really [shook] me up a little bit," Zykov said. "But I think it helped me a little bit. The new coach, Benoit [Drouix], is a really good coach. He's tough. He makes you do the right things."

Zykov said of the up-and-down season, "That's experience, I guess. It's good experience anyway. It's either bad or good."

Zykov, who learned English before he came to North America, could be a big draw for the Reign with his affable personality and joy for the game. Among his many YouTube clips is Zykov doing a brief dance at the postgame huddle. There is also plenty of videos of his go-to-the-net mentality and his strength on the puck.

It's not difficult to imagine Zykov putting those skills to use beside Anze Kopitar or Jeff Carter.

"He's a great student," Kings development coach Mike O'Connell said. "He's a great teammate, and he takes it very seriously. Everything we do. Every rep in everything he does, he tries his hardest. He's going to be fine. He's a good player. His work ethic and his attention … he applies himself every time he's on that ice and that's going to take him a long way."

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