EL SEGUNDO, CA — Since he scored two goals, including the game-winner, in just his sixth National Hockey League game, a 5-2 victory for the Los Angeles Kings at Dallas on October 27, 2011, rookie defenseman Slava Voynov has shown that he is no longer just an NHL prospect. Rather, he has proven to be ready for the rigors of the NHL right now.
Voynov has since made the journey between the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League (Kings’ primary minor league affiliate) and the Kings three times this season. But after the February 23 trade that sent defenseman Jack Johnson, along with a conditional first round draft pick, to the Columbus Blue Jackets, in exchange for forward Jeff Carter, Voynov figures to be in the NHL to stay, securing a spot on the Kings’ blue line.
With his six goals and ten assists for 16 points in 43 games with the Kings this season, including three power play goals, Voynov has proven to be gifted offensively. He has a good shot from the point, and appears to know just when to move in from the point, behind the penalty-killers, for the back door chance on the power play.
Even better for Voynov and the Kings, that all seems to come naturally for the 22-year-old native of Chelyabinsk, Russia, who was selected by the Kings in the second round (32nd overall) of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
“He’s a good defenseman, who moves the puck really well, shoots the puck well, and has good offensive instincts,” said veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell, who is paired with Voynov on the Kings’ blue line. “I partnered with him in training camp, while Drew [Doughty] was a [contract] holdout, so I got partnered with him [now]. He’s a young, offensive defenseman. He’s played [at the professional level] for a long time. He played over in Russia, too, so it’s not like he’s a young guy who hasn’t played the pro game.”
“Slava has a great shot, and he lets it go a lot, which is something we need, especially since we were struggling to score goals for awhile,” said veteran defenseman Rob Scuderi. “Getting pucks to the net is always a big thing, and he’s been doing a great job.”
“That’s something you can’t teach,” added Scuderi. “[He has] it, and we expect [him] to do it. [He has] that knack for knowing when the play is going to be there, and to get to the right spot at the right time.”
Indeed, Voynov, who has scored two goals in his last three games, has shown that his greatest strengths are on offense. But as a defenseman, although he is no slouch in the defensive zone, he has a long way to go.
“Defensively, he’s pretty darned good for his age,” Mitchell stressed. “We all made mistakes at that age—we all continue to make mistakes, all of us, as a group. But he’s good back there. Having to log some minutes there when Jack got moved to bring in some scoring up front with Carter, he’s done a great job.”
Nevertheless, when strong defense is what the Kings need at a particular moment in a game, Voynov is more likely to be watching from the bench.
“If we’re up by a couple of goals late, [veteran defenseman Matt] Greene and I play together down the stretch, but if we’re down, it’s Slava,” said Mitchell.
At 22 years old, Voynov is still developing, and it also worth noting that, generally speaking, defensemen take longer to develop than forwards, primarily because of their heavy defensive responsibilities.
“The biggest thing for any young guy coming up, especially a defenseman, is consistency,” Scuderi noted. “At times, he’ll still try to do a little bit too much. But when you have that kind of talent, that’s your stumbling block.”
“We’ve been trying to work with [Voynov] on the defensive part of his game, so that we can play him against higher-end players,” said head coach Darryl Sutter. “The big thing I’ve tried to work with him on is his stick. He’s not a big guy, but he’s going to get stronger, and he’s usually the youngest defenseman on the ice.”
“It’s just the use of his stick,” added Sutter. “The best guy I’ve ever seen who was his size, and could use the stick to make himself play bigger, was Chris Chelios. That’s what he has to learn. He’s got to use his stick as a deterrent more, and take full [advantage of it] more.”
“If keep your stick in close to you, you’re only covering two to three feet. But if you get it out, and you’re strong on it, you can cover five or six more feet.”
Another challenge for Voynov is his mastery of the English language.
“I’m trying to get him talking a little bit more, but that’s tough to do, right? [English] is not his [first] language,” Mitchell explained. “He understands, and speaks English fairly well, but, if you think about it, if you were in a pressure situation, and had just learned Russian, and you had to say something really quick in Russian, a lot of times, it wouldn’t come out how you want. He has to think about it, where we don’t. It’s just reactive. That’s something he’s had to work on, and I’ve had to work on being more aware of where I am on the ice, because, as partners, we try and help each other. I’ll try to make a call for him, and sometimes, he can’t make that call because of him not knowing the language.”
“That’s something we’re trying to get better at,” Mitchell elaborated. “But he’s a good player. He’s developing, the coaching staff has confidence in him, based on the amount he’s playing. He sure adds a lot for us on our power play.”
“I enjoy playing with him. We’re getting better and better, as far as understanding each other, as players, [in terms of] our reads. He’s fun to play with.”
In Mitchell, Voynov has a great partner to learn from.
“He’s learning,” said Sutter. “He’s got those great offensive instincts. He’s going to play with Mitchell, so he’s going to develop.”
Tickets for the Kings’ upcoming home games against the Nashville Predators (March 17, 7:30 PM – Predators vs. Kings), the San Jose Sharks (March 17, 7:30 PM – Sharks vs. Kings) as well as for other games on their schedule, are available from Barry’s Tickets, an official partner of the Los Angeles Kings. Use the code, “Royalty010” to get a 10 percent discount on their “Best Value” tickets.
Frozen Royalty by Gann Matsuda is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may copy, distribute and/or transmit any story or audio content published on this site under the terms of this license, but only if proper attribution is indicated. The full name of the author and a link back to the original article on this site are required. Photographs, graphic images, and other content not specified are subject to additional restrictions. Additional information is available at: Frozen Royalty – Licensing and Copyright Information.