Vegas Golden Knights: Valentin Zykov Brings Youth And Promise To The Lineup

The Vegas Golden Knights may have found a diamond in the rough by claiming Valentin Zykov off waivers.

After plunging into their prospect pool to acquire the likes of Tomas Tatar then Max Pacioretty, the Vegas Golden Knights needed a young player with some potential. With Nick Suzuki out of town, and every other Golden Knights prospect is still a year or two away of making it to the show, general manager George McPhee needed to get creative.

Last year, McPhee went out and claimed Ryan Carpenter off waivers from the San Jose Sharks. The move bolstered roster depth and stability to the Golden Knights bottom six forward group. He ended up becoming a key piece down the stretch and showed signs of potential.

This time around, McPhee knew he needed to add some skill, size, and youth to his lineup. It’s awfully tough to find that kind of player combination on waivers. However, on December 28th, McPhee saw an opportunity to take a player with all of those qualities in Valentin Zykov.

When Zykov arrived at the 2013 NHL entry draft at the Prudential Center in New Jersey, he was expected to go in the first round and become a high impact player. Although, he slipped into the second round where the Los Angeles Kings selected him with the 37th overall pick. Despite not making the club in three seasons, Zykov stayed hungry until another opportunity presented himself.

The Kings traded Zykov to the Carolina Hurricanes for Kris Versteeg on February 28th, 2016, thus opening the door to make an impact at the AHL level and debuting in the NHL. In 2016-17 with the Hurricanes AHL affiliate, Charlotte Checkers, he compiled 16 goals, 18 assists, and 34 points in 64 games played. He also scored his very first NHL goal with Carolina at PNC Arena.

The following season he put big numbers with the Checkers where he notched 33 goals, 21 assists and 53 points in 63 minor league games played. The Saint Petersburg, Russia native, played a ton at the end of the 2017-18 regular season for the Hurricanes where he accumulated three goals, four assists in 10 games.

Despite making the team out of camp, Zykov disappointed out of the gate. Carolina then needed space on the roster, and they could only do that by placing Zykov on waivers and hope he slips back to the Checkers. That didn’t turn out to be the case because the Edmonton Oilers swooped in and claimed the 23-year-old.

After a less than stellar five-game audition with Edmonton, management felt they’ve seen enough out of Zykov and once again placed him on waivers. And this is finally where the Vegas Golden Knights come into play.

The Golden Knights coaching staff wanted to feel out Zykov in practice before rushing him into a game, and I think that was the right move.  When the team claimed him on the 28th of December, Vegas gave him two full weeks of preparation before putting him in a game situation. After seeing five complete games of Zykov, this guy fits in with this hockey club.

Head Coach Gerard Gallant has put Zykov with first line talent in William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault in an effort to get them trending in the right direction, and it has worked thus far. Zykov has not only provided scoring chances for that line, but he has also given that line a ton of defensive responsibility. I can honestly say I was shocked how many smart plays this kid makes in his own zone.

Putting Zykov on the top line also meant the demotion of Reilly Smith. However, I don’t see it as a demotion at all, as he currently plays on the third line against weaker competition. The move could also provide a positive impact for Smith and the team overall.

All in all, it seems as though he has bought into Gallant’s system and given the top line a necessary spark. Whether that continues in the right direction or not remains to be seen. Nevertheless, this could look like one of George McPhee’s best move in his tenure with the Vegas Golden Knights if this works out.