AUDIO: Interviews with Los Angeles Kings prospects Zach Leslie and Valentin Zykov are included.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — When most people who follow the National Hockey League look at a team’s prospects coming up through their system, the focus is almost exclusively on a particular player’s development, in terms of how they are improving their play.
But equally important in player development is how they handle themselves off the ice, and especially in terms of intangible qualities that can either benefit or hurt a player, especially a young, up-and-coming one.
One of those intangibles is leadership, and for a young prospect to exhibit leadership qualities often means that he is a step ahead of his peers. The Los Angeles Kings have two young prospects in their 2015 Development Camp, which began on July 5 and runs through July 10, who have, over the last year, picked up their game, so to speak, in terms of being a leader.
One such prospect is right wing Valentin Zykov, who was selected by the Kings in the second round (37th overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft.
During the Development Camp, Zykov has been helping lesser experienced players, including fellow Russian prospects forward Alexander Dergachyov, who was selected by the Kings in the third round (74th overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft just a few weeks ago, and defenseman Damir Sharipzyanov, a camp invitee.
“The really neat thing here is Zykov,” said Nelson Emerson, Director of Player Development. “Val has taken a real leadership role in our camp in that regard, and he’s actually been kind of a mentor to some of the other players.”
“We didn’t really have to say anything to him,” added Emerson. “He did it on his own, and that’s just kind of the leadership role where we just went ‘wow, good job Val.’ He just did it on his own. It was great.”
For his part, the 20-year-old, 6-2, 215-pound native of St. Petersburg, Russia shrugged the whole thing off.
“It’s my third year in Development Camp, so [taking the initiative to help the younger players] probably [happened] by itself,” Zykov said, flatly. “With all the stuff we’ve been through, and not only me, but other guys, too, [have displayed] leadership during the camp.”
When asked if the fact that Dergachyov has virtually no English language skills at all was a factor in his thinking, Zykov said there was really no language barrier.
“It’s not about a language barrier,” he said. “[Dergachyov and Sharipzyanov] understand what’s going on, and I think they did a pretty good job [the first two days of Development Camp. But] this is their first time, [so] I helped them, a little bit.”
Emerson noted that Zykov’s leadership role has shown up both on and off the ice.
“It’s interesting,” Emerson noted. “We saw it on ice, when we were trying to explain drills and he was right there trying to help us with that. Then, off ice, we see him taking a leadership role with that. He’s always got a couple of guys around him, the younger players, and it’s not just the Russian players, it’s the other players as well.”
Fellow 2013 NHL Draft classmate defenseman Zach Leslie who was selected by the Kings in the 6th round (178th overall), is also in his third Development Camp with the Kings, and like Zykov, he too has exhibited some leadership qualities. The only difference is that Leslie was doing that for most of the past season with the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League.
The 2014-15 season was a very different one for the 21-year-old, 6-0, 187-pound native of Ottawa, Ontario, going from a veteran Storm team that won the 2013-14 OHL championship to a young squad that failed to make it out of the first round of the OHL playoffs.
Before all that, Leslie was in the Manchester Monarchs (which was the Kings’ American Hockey League affiliate, at the time) training camp to start the 2014-15 season. But the Kings decided that Leslie would be better served by spending another year (over-age year) with Guelph.
“It’s always tough to get cut from a team that you wanted to have an opportunity to play for, so it’s not easy,” said Leslie. “On top of that, I was going back to a team that really had a big transition from the team we had the year before to a [much] younger team with a lot of new players, and a lot of guys [who were] really just getting their feet wet in junior hockey. That was a whole other experience for me.”
Like so many players who get a taste of the professional game, only to get sent back to their junior or college teams, Leslie found it difficult to get motivated when he returned to Guelph.
“I didn’t have the best start to the year,” he noted. “Coming back from Manchester, I wasn’t really into it as much. But as the season went on, I really came into my own. I was playing really well until I had to get shut down [due to a shoulder injury].”
Whether he was playing or recovering from his injury, Leslie was now one of the older, experienced players on the Guelph roster, placing him in the role of an OHL veteran.
“Like any player coming back, you mature over the course of a season, and I think [last] year, especially, I did a lot more maturing, having to help out, and be a bit of a mentor to all of the young guys back in Guelph,” said Leslie. “That was something I hadn’t had the experience of.”
“Most of the guys on my team were always my age or older,” added Leslie. “So that was a whole new experience. I think I did a good job helping the young guys. That’s going to help me mature, moving forward.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings right wing prospect Valentin Zykov. Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net.
SECOND PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings defenseman prospect Zach Leslie. Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net.
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Valentin Zykov (5:18)
Zach Leslie (4:15)
Frozen Royalty’s Zach Leslie Coverage
- LA Kings D Prospect Zach Leslie Remains Positive While Biding Time With Ontario Reign
- Adding Strength Is The Priority For LA Kings Defenseman Prospect Zac Leslie
- 2013 Late-Round LA Kings Draft Pick Defenseman Zach Leslie Did His Best To Get Noticed
- Frozen Royalty Video: 2013 LA Kings Development Camp – Interviews With Patrik Bartosak, Zachary Leslie, Derek Forbort
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