AUDIO: Story includes audio interviews with Los Angeles Kings forward prospect Maxim Kitsyn and Ontario Reign head coach Jason Christie.
ONTARIO, CA — Back in 2010, when the National Hockey League Entry Draft was held at Staples Center in Los Angeles, Los Angeles Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi was in a gambling mood.
For the Kings, that draft was highlighted by their selection of right wing Tyler Toffoli in the second round (47th overall).
Toffoli, now a Stanley Cup Champion, made it to the Kings to stay last season. But the Kings selected four other players in the 2010 draft, including defenseman Derek Forbort, who was their first round selection (15th overall), center Jordan Weal (third round, 70th overall), and defenseman Kevin Gravel (fifth round, 148th overall).
As reported in this space at the time, four years after Lombardi took over as general manager, the Kings finally made the playoffs (2009-10). That allowed him to change his thinking and select players who were not on a fast track to the NHL.
In fact, Lombardi even referred to Forbort as a “project,” at the time. Weal, and Gravel can probably be considered to be projects as well.
Another project selected by the Kings in the 2010 draft was left wing Maxim Kitsyn, who they chose in the sixth round (158th overall).
At the time, Kitsyn was under contract for three more years with Metallurg Novokuznetzk (he also played for Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo) in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL)
Kitsyn played a 32-game stint with Mississauga (Ontario Hockey League) in 2010-11, but returned to Russia to fulfill his KHL contract.
Kitsyn, who will be 23 years old on December 24, made his way back to North America for the 2013-14 season, and played in twenty games with the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, before being assigned to the ECHL’s Ontario Reign (Kings’ ECHL affiliate).
In 33 regular season games with the Reign last season, the 6-2, 202-pound native of Novokuznetsk, Russia, scored 14 goals and tallied 16 assists for thirty points, with a +15 plus/minus rating and 27 penalty minutes.
Although he was only in his first full season in North America, Kitsyn’s dedication to making the transition from Russia was already plainly evident in that, although accented, his English language skills were excellent—close to fluency, unlike a number of European/Eastern European players who have been in North America longer, but still possess little to no command of the English language.
Indeed, back in 2010, when Kitsyn met the media after he was selected in the draft, he didn’t speak any English at all—he had to have his agent translate for him. But now, he has no problems communicating with his coaches and teammates.
More evidence of his dedication to improving is his hard work off the ice.
“He’s a guy who works every day,” said Reign head coach Jason Christie. “He’s the last one to leave the rink every day. When you have that, when you’re dedicated like that, good things will happen to you.”
That attitude also translates to the ice.
“He wills his way, every shift,” Christie emphasized. “He finds a way to compete, he finds a way to get to the net. He [was] leading our team in scoring because he battles. He doesn’t take a shift off.”
This season, Kitsyn has played in 25 games, scoring ten goals and adding seven assists for 17 points.
“He’s got a great shot, a great release, and he’s strong on pucks,” Christie noted. “He’s great to have on the bench, and he’s great to have on your team. He’s got to make sure that he has that edge in every game.”
Like any young player would be, Kitsyn was a little disappointed that he was unable to remain with the Monarchs after the Kings’ 2014 training camp.
“I went to Manchester, played one exhibition game there, and then, practiced there one more week,” he said. “Then, they said to go to Ontario, [where] I’d play and get more ice time.”
“It was disappointing, but you have to take it, and try to do your best every day,” he added. “It’s tough, but there’s nothing I can do about it. You have to be better, nobody else. It’s all you.”
Christie has been impressed by Kitsyn’s attitude.
“The only thing he can control is himself, and that’s what he’s doing,” said Christie. “He’s a prime example of that. [Young players] have got to come out and work, and he’s leading by example in that way. Every day is a work day for him.”
Kitsyn indicated that every part of his game improved last season.
“I think [I improved on] a little bit of everything,” he noted. “When you play a lot, you get the opportunity to build your skills in [all aspects of the game]—skating, hockey sense, you can work on everything. When you play a lot, it’s better for [your development].”
But Kitsyn still has work to do.
“He’s got to get quicker,” said Christie. “He’s got to move pucks more. He likes to hang onto it a little too much. Those are the give-and-gos—stuff that he’s got to be stronger with.”
“[I have to improve on] everything,” said Kitsyn. “I would say positioning, but here, it’s a little bit different from Manchester or L.A., so I have to work on every aspect [of the game].”
Kitsyn believes that he has made good progress over last season.
“I think I’ve become more calm here [in his play], and positioning [has improved],” he said. “Last year, I was jumping on everything. Now I know better—where to stop, when to start. I’m getting better, a little bit, in the offensive zone and in the defensive zone. Every aspect, I hope, is better than last year.”
“I think I’m getting a little bit better than last year, and I’m trying to do my best, every game, every practice, and in the gym, every day,” he added. “I’ll keep getting better every day, this way, I hope.”
Kitsyn’s hard work in the gym is noticeable—he looks bigger than he was last year, with more muscle definition. But he did not take all the credit for his added strength.
“Thanks to the Kings, I came [back] to North America a little bit earlier [this past summer],” he explained. “I went to some secret place to work hard with the L.A. [development staff], in the gym, and on different aspects [of the game].”
“I had a good summer,” he elaborated. “[I got into] pretty good shape. I feel pretty good. [I’m] never tired, [which] helps a lot.”
Another significant sign of improvement is that Kitsyn is playing a key role for the Reign on their penalty-kill.
“This year, I’m playing [on the penalty-kill],” Kitsyn said. “Last year, I didn’t. That keeps me in the game and [in better shape]. It’s tough for guys [who don’t play in all situations] to have to sit and be ready when it’s five-on-five.”
“It’s big thing to [play on the penalty-kill],” Kitsyn added. “It’s a big responsibility. It’s a very good thing for me, and [that experience] helps you with your defensive game, five-on-five.”
Older, wiser and stronger—all three qualities have helped Kitsyn this season.
“Skating with experience, getting older, bigger and stronger, and there’s trust from the coaches,” he noted. “When they trust you, and put you on the ice a lot, you have more freedom. You don’t focus on ‘if I make a mistake, I’ll be benched,’ [making it easier to play the game].”
“The big thing is minutes, ice time. That’s the main thing.”
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Ontario Reign Head Coach Jason Christie (1:41)
Maxim Kitsyn (8:33)
Frozen Royalty’s Maxim Kitsyn Coverage
- Dedication, Determination Continue To Drive LA Kings Prospect Maxim Kitsyn Forward
- LA Kings LW Prospect Maxim Kitsyn: “It’s Just Me. I Have To Be Better…It’s Not Anybody Else”
- Dedication And Work Ethic Are Pushing LA Kings Prospect Maxim Kitsyn’s Development Forward
- Transition To North American Game Hasn’t Been Easy For LA Kings Prospect Maxim Kitsyn
- Playing In Traffic (No, Not Like That) Is The Plan For LA Kings LW Prospect Maxim Kitsyn
- LA Kings Take Some Risks In 2010 NHL Entry Draft
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