He had been so young when he made the move to North America, though, and after a standout transfer to OHL-Windsor as an 18-year-old, continued his trajectory by totaling nine goals and 24 points in 29 games during a highly impressive AHL debut the following season. He debuted in Los Angeles as a teenager that year.
But over parts of three seasons in Los Angeles, the hype surrounding Loktionov outweighed his actual production. He never appeared to be a drain on the team or a detriment to their structure under Terry Murray and Darryl Sutter, but he simply wasn’t scoring regularly. He wasn’t overly successful in chiseling out his role or identity as a player; did he profile as a top-six forward? A third liner? Was he a wing, or a center? Injuries early in his Kings tenure did not help him establish regularity, nor did a numbers game in which the team was at its deepest at the center position in years after the acquisitions of Mike Richards and Colin Fraser.
After posting seven goals and 14 points in 59 games with Los Angeles, he moved on to New Jersey, and then Carolina, and over 96 post-L.A. games racked up a solid if unspectacular 15 goals and 34 points.
Since then, he’s spent three years in Russia. His most recent campaign, in which he totaled 12 goals and 27 points in 58 games, was punctuated by a standout 12-point playoff run for KHL-Yaroslavl in which he was among the catalysts for Lokomotiv’s postseason run.
So, why return to North America after it had appeared that he had been growing into a good career in his home country?
“Because I want to try and play in the best league,” he said. “I want to say thank you to L.A. for giving me that opportunity, so I have to use it and stay here.”
He’s put in work since the last time we’ve seen him. A bit undersized at 5-foot-11, he’s bulked up since leaving Los Angeles and checked in at 180 pounds. He says he’s added five kilograms – that’s roughly 11 pounds – since his last appearance in Southern California.
“I feel much stronger right right now playing against the big boys, so I hope everything will be good,” he said.
He’s also 27 years old now, not 20, and should be in the prime years of what he’s able to accomplish physically.
“I want to show my best game,” he said. “The coach just wants to see how I play in the offensive zone, defensive zone, so I have to score some goals, I have to get some points. That’s what they’re looking for from me.”
For a team that needs to add to its scoring output to more successfully challenge for a postseason berth, his presence at training camp is an interesting marriage. Forwards Brooks Laich, Shane Harper and Brandon Prust are also attending camp on PTOs, as is defenseman Chris Lee. Up front, Laich and Prust offer experience and role playing grit, while Harper and Loktionov are younger and provide more skill and scoring potential.
Los Angeles invited more players to camp on PTOs than any other team, but that didn’t affect Loktionov’s choice of where to attend camp. He said his agent first started talking with the Maple Leafs, who had interest in signing him to a PTO. That’s when the Kings became involved, and he chose his former team because “everything feels like at home here.”
“I know a lot of guys, coaching staff, GM and assistant GM Mike Futa. That’s the reason why I came here,” he said. “…I feel like I’m home, you know, because I was drafted here. I spent five years here, so it’s nice to be back.”
And so he practices at Toyota Sports Center in preparation for what may or may not be a contract offer – from the Kings, or, if it doesn’t work out, another team. He said he doesn’t know whether he’d accept an AHL contract offer from the club. When he takes the ice, he does so underneath a giant 2012 championship team photo.
He doesn’t have his name on the Stanley Cup – the Kings did not petition to include Loktionov’s name, and such a request would likely have been rejected – and he understands why. There is pride in having played for a championship team, but Loktionov, who got into a pair of games against Vancouver in the first round after Kyle Clifford’s Game 1 injury, isn’t in camp because of nostalgia or Stanley Cup pride.
“I didn’t play that much that year. I played only 39 games and two in the playoffs,” he said. “Not in the pride, but I have to keep working and I have to deserve to be on the team and try to help win again.”
-Lead photo via Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesWhen most of us had last focused our gaze on Andrei Loktionov, he had been traded to the New Jersey Devils for a fifth round draft pick that was transferred to Florida in exchange for Keaton Ellerby less than a month into the delayed start to the 2012-13 season.