EL SEGUNDO, CA — Since he was selected by the Los Angeles Kings in the sixth round (158th overall) of the 2010 National Hockey League Entry Draft, left wing Maxim Kitsyn played one season with the Mississisauga St. Michael’s Majors of the Ontario Hockey League, but has spent the vast majority of that time in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, with the Novokuznetsk Metallurg and the Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo.
In Russia, the 6-2, 194-pound left wing (right hand shot) did not seem to be much of a factor in the attacking zone—his best season in Russia was in 2008-09, when he scored five goals and added two assists for seven points in 31 games for Novokuznetsk Metallurg.
Kitsyn got his chance in Canadian major junior hockey during the 2010-11 season, scoring nine goals and tallying 17 assists for 26 points in 32 regular season games with Mississauga (now the Mississauga Steelheads). He stepped up in a big way during the playoffs, scoring ten goals and contributing nine assists for 19 points in twenty games.
Kitsyn represented Russia at the 2010 World Junior Championships, tallying three assists in six games. He also won the silver medal playing for Russia in the 2008 Ivan Hlinka Tournament.
At the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, the Kings sent a sixth round pick (169th overall) and a seventh round selection (199th overall) to the Atlanta Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets) in exchange for a sixth round selection (158th overall), which the Kings used to select Kitsyn, who was ranked sixth among international skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau.
But why was a player who was ranked that high still available in the sixth round? What was wrong with him?
Kitsyn’s was being passed over, left and right, by NHL teams because of the red flag flying around the head of just about every Russian player, in terms of not only getting them to come to North America, but to stay here rather than bolt back to the KHL at the first small sign that their careers may be hitting a snag.
At the 2010 draft, Kings Co-Director of Amateur Scouting Michael Futa indicated that the Kings did not have those concerns.
“This kid has made a commitment…where he wants to come over and play major junior hockey,” said Futa. “He has a contract as such and, right now, he’s working through it. I think if he starts the season in the KHL, we’re not worried about it.”
“There’s a good chance, at some point, that he’ll end up playing major junior,” added Futa. “Whether it’s this year or next year, we’re not worried about it, we’re not going to put any pressure on him. He’s a young kid. As long as he’s getting regular ice, playing against men—we know his goal is just like [Slava] Voynov…he’ll be over here playing.”
“We’re not worrying about the risk of whether he’ll be here. We’re worried about getting him in the best development situation.”
Fast forward three years…with Kitsyn’s KHL contract having expired, he made his way to Southern California where he not only participated in the Kings’ 2013 Development Camp, but he quickly signed a three-year, entry-level contract on July 10.
Kitsyn was not made available for comment during the July 10 “Media Day” during the Kings’ 2013 Development Camp. But former Kings right wing Nelson Emerson, who oversees player development for the Kings, spoke exclusively with Frozen Royalty about Kitsyn.
First thing he noticed was that Kitsyn is no longer 6-2, nor does he weigh 194 pounds.
“He’s bigger, and I think he’s even grown [taller],” said Emerson. “He looks more like a man now than before, when he looked like a kid. That’s definitely a positive.”
Having spent so much time playing in Russia on the international-size rinks, it will take Kitsyn some time to adjust to the smaller rinks in North America, not to mention the physical play that the NHL-size rinks lend themselves to.
“He’s played in Russia for the past year, and he’s used to playing with more time and more space,” Emerson explained. “In North America, the rinks are smaller, and the players are going to be more physical and stronger. We need to get him to make the same plays in a tighter area, and with more pace, because the game is going to happen faster.”
Despite that, Emerson indicated that, like so many skilled players from outside of North America, Kitsyn will need to be able to handle playing in tight quarters.
“He still has habits that we’re going to need to break if he’s going to be a North American pro,” said Emerson. “We need to get him down, and get him more athletic. He’s got great offensive abilities and upside. I think those are natural, being that he is a Russian-trained player. But we need to get him [to be] a player who can play in traffic more, who can make plays out of scrums, and make plays when people are on him.”
“The biggest training that he’s going to have to do over here now is that he’s going to have to get accustomed to traffic, get athletic, and use his legs more. That’s what we’re going to work on with him.”
Emerson does not expect a lengthy learning curve for Kitsyn.
“He’ll be able to learn quickly, because of the fact that he played in Mississauga for a year,” said Emerson. “It’s an adjustment for all the kids, but I think, with him, it’ll be an adjustment that he’ll see, and he would’ve already seen it, having played in the Ontario Hockey League, so I think it’ll be something he’ll learn quickly.”
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