Nikolai Prokhorkin started last night’s game in Anaheim as the fourth line center. As the first round of the 2019-20 Freeway Faceoff progressed, Prokhorkin shuffled his way up the lineup, working his way in between Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli on the listed second line.
“It’s very good, they’re very good players, smart players,” Prokhorkin told reporters after today’s practice. “[They are] really good hockey players, they can pass, shoot and they [think the game well]. I think everybody who plays with these guys have fun.”
Following his bump in the lineup, Prokhorkin responded with his fourth goal of the season (in 11 games played), with his effort against the Ducks the most dazzling of the bunch. The 26-year-old winger took a stretch pass from defenseman Sean Walker, shrugged away from a pair of Anaheim defenders and deked to the backhand around Ryan Miller for the finish.
While an impressive move to watch, Prokhorkin didn’t see it as anything special. “I don’t think about it like that,” he said.
His head coach, however, was a little more impressed, noting that Prokhorkin’s hands and offensively ability have been showcased as he’s settled in.
“He’s got great hands, soft hands, he makes plays and he can control the puck,” McLellan said. “I think he can help with the offensive part of the game, the pace of play, he’s able to keep up. Defensively, he’s getting better, but certainly the hands and the offensive part, we saw that on the goal that he scored.”
Settling in for Prokhorkin has been key, in more ways than the average new player on an NHL roster.
Prokhorkin’s only North American experience prior to his NHL debut was an eight-game AHL span with the Manchester Monarchs during the 2012-13 season and four games in October with Ontario. Now 26, Prokhorkin has moved his family (his wife and two daughters) from Russia to California, while also trying to best adapt to a completely different culture, a new primary language, a smaller ice surface and a different game.
Not quite as simple as just switching jerseys. McLellan has praised Prokhorkin’s progress through two months, from training camp to where he stands today.
“I think he’s progressed a fair amount,” McLellan said. “Coming out of training camp, we felt he needed some playing time, just to get used to the environment, the size of the rink, the pace of play, it is a different game. He went to the minors and did that, then coming up here, he had to be patient and wait for his opportunity. For the most part, he’s been able to take advantage. Like all players, not just young ones, we’re looking for some consistency, he’s put together some good games and he’s worked himself into the lineup. Now, it’s about him keeping that spot. I think he’s better equipped to do that now, I think he understands the systems, the language, he knows how to read us as a staff and his teammates, I think he understands our language now. In fairness to him, he’s much further along now than he was two months ago, now we’ve got to see it night in and night out. Last night was a good start.”
For a few of the variables working against him, Prokhorkin feels he’s made significant progress. In terms of communication with and understanding of his coaches, Prokhorkin indicated that they don’t talk a ton, but he has spoken with the staff a few times and that he “knows what we’re doing.” Additionally, the Chelybinsk native feels he’s starting to better adapt to the size of the rinks in North America.
“Yes, of course,” Prokhorkin said, when asked if he feels more comfortable on the smaller ice sheets. “The first game wasn’t comfortable for me, it’s a smaller rink, but now it’s been better.”
As far as adjusting to California…well maybe that one hasn’t been the most difficult adjustment, coming into the lifestyle that the state has to offer. “It’s all good,” Prokhorkin said. “The weather, the team, it’s very nice.”
Still a work in progress though is the language barrier, but today’s interview, the first time he’s held court formally with local media members, marks a noted sign of progression. Continuing to knock down that language barrier is helpful for Prokhorkin, not only as he continues to adapt to living and playing in North America, but as he fits in as a teammate in the locker room as well.
“He is, the guys have fun with him,” McLellan said, when asked if Prokhorkin is fitting in with his teammates. “He’s laughing and he’s joking around. He was sitting in the lounge today and the TV was on, he had a coffee – I said what are you watching, he says I don’t know! He’s got a little bit of a comical side to him, so that’s always appreciated by teammates.”
Looking at the Kings schedule ahead, Prokhorkin has a fellow Russian player, a quite well-known one in fact, on the horizon tomorrow as Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals visit STAPLES Center.
Prokhorkin acknowledged the fact that he’s excited to face off against Ovechkin, but stopped short off calling him a hockey idol of his growing up. That honor falls to forward Pittsburgh Penguin and Russian National Team legacy Alex Morozov.
A first-round selection by Pittsburgh in 1995, Morozov played 451 NHL games with the Penguins from 1997 – 2004, before he finished his career back in Russia, during and following the NHL Lockout. Morozov captained the Russian National Team to a pair of gold medals at the World Championships (2008 & 2009), as Prokhorkin was coming up through the ranks with the Under-16 national team.
As he continues his progression towards the ultimate goal of being an everyday, NHL contributor, Prokhorkin feels he’s in a good place right now, as confident and comfortable as he’s been in his time so far in North America.
“I’m comfortable, feeling good,” he said. “Good practices and a couple of games. I feel good.”
A Look Ahead….
It’s almost World Juniors season! With a potential full slate of Kings prospects in attendance, LAKI will soon feature scouting and profiles on those eligible to participate in the tournament with their respective nations. First to come will be a look at players in the OHL- Enjoy a sneak peek below, with a tidbit from Mark Yannetti on forward Arthur Kaliyev, who has lit up the OHL to a goal-per-game pace this season so far.
And the stuff with our development staff has done with him, I mean, he’s doing he did last year, but he’s doing it all better. He and Jenik have found some pretty good chemistry together, too. You have to give credit both ways. Jenik has made Kaliyev a better player and Kaliyev has made Jenik a better player. It’s a pretty good symbiotic relationship, and they both really benefited each other. When you have two smart guys playing together like that, again, his goals, it’s like Caufield, it’s like Kaliyev. They have that knack, that scoring knack. It’s something you can’t teach. No one would’ve expected this level of play, but he certainly had it in him. It’s fun to watch.