ONTARIO, CA — When we last checked in with Los Angeles Kings left wing prospect Maxim Kitsyn in December 2014, his head coach said that “he wills his way, every shift.”
A couple of months later, that hasn’t changed.
“You know [that] when he puts on the uniform, he’s going to give you 110 percent,” said Jason Christie, head coach of the Ontario Reign, the Kings’ current ECHL affiliate. “You see him out there—he works, he competes. That’s why he got a call up—because he battles. He’s determined. I think that’s the biggest thing—how determined he is, as a player.”
Kitsyn was recalled on January 3 by the Manchester Monarchs , the Kings’ current American Hockey League affiliate, to fill in for injured players.
“We had a couple of injuries, and we had called up [center prospect] Nick Shore at the time, too, so we were down a little bit on numbers,” said Kings assistant general manager Rob Blake, who also serves as the general manager for the Monarchs. “Max came in and played five games. Then, we seemed to get pretty healthy coming off the break, so we sent him back down to continue his success [with the Reign].”
Kitsyn scored a goal in his first game with the Monarchs after recall for his only point during this stint with Manchester.
“I played on the second line with skilled guys, so we had a lot of chances, and [we got] a lot of ice time, so it was easy to create opportunities to [score] goals,” said the 23-year-old, 6-4, 202-pound native of Novokuznetzk, Russia. “In the second game, we didn’t score, but we had some opportunities, too. But then I played on a lower line. I had to do something else [in order to be effective], but I didn’t, so then I played on the fourth line for a couple of games.”
Kitsyn, who was selected by the Kings in the sixth round (158th overall) of the 2010 National Hockey League Entry Draft, was also a healthy scratch for four games, and as Blake mentioned, he was assigned back to the Reign on February 6.
“I was disappointed [to be sent back to the ECHL], but there’s nothing you can do…you have to keep doing what you’re doing, no matter what happens, and wait for the next chance,” said Kitsyn. “Hopefully, I’ll get that chance.”
“It is tough,” added Kitsyn. “They’re the number one team there, three guys are [among] the top five scorers, and to be around them, to compete with them in practice, and learn something from them is good experience.”
“I enjoyed it there, but the coaches said that it’s better for you to play [a lot, rather than be a healthy scratch]. They said that they can’t guarantee that I’ll play, and I knew that.”
Although disappointed not to remain with the Monarchs, Kitsyn returned to Ontario and picked up right where he left off, with his nose to the proverbial grindstone.
“He puts in the time,” said Christie. “He’s the first one here at the rink, and the last one to leave. That doesn’t go unrecognized, and when you’re a coach, you feel comfortable with a guy like that who’s going to battle each and every night.”
“At this level, a lot of players get lost because it’s a tough league,” added Christie. “Scrambly, at times. But you’ve got to stick to your game, you’ve got to go through bodies, you’ve got to compete, and he does set that example.”
Christie is not the only one who has seen Kitsyn’s growth.
“That growth has to continue to get there at the American league level, too,” said Blake. “At times, he’s going to be able to show it, for sure. But the good thing is the process. He’s come down here, he’s worked hard, and he’s had success scoring.”
Skating is the biggest obstacle in Kitsyn’s advancement.
“They said I have to work on my speed and my first few steps,” said Kitsyn. “I try to fix that, I have to fix that, somehow. That’s my biggest weakness.”
“I’m a big guy, I can handle the puck, and I can protect the puck in the corners, but the next step is to improve my skating,” added Kitsyn. “That’s the big thing, the main thing they told me to work on.”
“To take that next step, his skating is something that needs to be worked on,” Blake noted. “It’s one of the hold-ups [for him]. But that’s not anything we haven’t seen [in other young prospects] and it can be worked on.”
Blake also pointed to the pace of the game as a challenge for young prospects, Kitsyn included.
“You’ve got to be able to play at pace, and consistently, too,” Blake emphasized. “When I talk about pace, it’s not just skating fast. It’s moving the puck, it’s reading the play, sorting things out. There’s a pace of the game at the ECHL level, the American league level, and the NHL level. It’s all different, and for the majority of the guys playing to get [to the NHL] level, it’s the pace. You’ve got to have that pace of the game.”
“[Kings head coach] Darryl [Sutter] talks about that all the time,” Blake added. “When we bring up guys from the American league, he says that they’ve got to have a better pace. They’ve got to be ready consistently.”
During his first stint with the Monarchs early last season, Kitsyn was more than a bit stubborn, and reportedly talked back to then-head coach Mark Morris, who is now an assistant coach for the NHL’s Florida Panthers.
He was gone after twenty games last season, sent down to Ontario, his maturity and attitude being a factor. But as Christie indicated, Kitsyn turned things around quickly, and is dedicated to his craft.
“Now I don’t argue with the coach,” said Kitsyn. “I take what they tell me to do. [Monarchs head coach] Mike Stothers is a good coach. It’s nice to be with him in the room. Of course, he’ll put better players in the lineup, but we weren’t enemies. I like him.”
Blake indicated that there is an adjustment period, especially for young players coming from overseas, and that Kitsyn appears to have his head on straight now.
“It’s the transition [from Russia and the KHL to North America],” he said. “When you think about where [Kitsyn has] come from, where he is now, and the way he’s contributing here, if he keeps the steady progression going for another year, it would be good to see.”
Kitsyn knows that the only thing holding him back is himself.
“It’s not them (the Kings and Monarchs), it’s not the coaches, not anyone [else],” Kitsyn stressed. “It’s just me. I have to be better, and do a little bit more than I did. It’s not anybody else.”
Frozen Royalty’s Maxim Kitsyn Coverage
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