I’ve seen and heard much talk about Andrei Loktionov lately. How is he performing? Should he stay with the Kings or be swapped for someone in Manchester like Brandon Kozun, Linden Vey or Marc-Andre Cliche? Opinions vary though one thing is certain, Loki is a scorer who isn’t scoring.
OK sure, Kopitar is a scorer who isn’t scoring much lately, along with the majority of the Kings’ roster. But when the Kings do manage to pot their share of goals, like they did last night against Washington, Loktionov’s name is all too absent from the stat sheet for a guy who is first and foremost a playmaking center. As such, we have to consider his linemates. He isn’t centering Dustin Brown, he is centering Brad Richardson, a workhorse spark plug and Trevor Lewis, a defense first, defense last forward. Loki himself is not a very good shooter and his vision and passing abilities are often wasted on Richie and Lewis who we only really expect to finish their checks. The trio, while being the best line Loki has been a part of this season, also has 3 goals between them (all belonging to Brad Richardson) and 6 measly assists. Lowest scoring team in the NHL or not, is 4 points in 22 games enough to warrant the continued ice time of a forward who is not large, does not play physical, isn’t all that fast and does not play special teams.
Ah, but there is the crux of my opinion concerning Andrei Loktionov, special teams.
Loki belongs on the powerplay. Coach Sutter has been much better than Murray was in terms of making the obvious decision, like not to put Westgarth of Kopitar’s wing or not to sit Quick in the middle of the hottest streak a goalie has seen and probably will see this season. However, Sutter has continued Murray’s failure in his refusal to make this obvious choice. From memory, I’ve seen Loki get two powerplay shifts in Sutter’s short time with the Kings, both in the travesty against Columbus. They were very short and more along the lines of the PP being almost over so let’s put out the line we want going at even strength in 30 seconds as opposed to bona fide powerplay shifts. The kind of game Loki plays, mischievous and intelligent, is a perfect fit for the powerplay, particularly one that is struggling as much are ours has this season. Put Loki on a unit with Doughty, Kopitar and Richards or Brown and I am confident you will see a unit that finds and creates seems and cashes in on the ever elusive back-door play our man-advantage so desperately lacks. Not to say that Loktionov will be the scalpel needed to hurriedly remove the warts covering Jamie Kompon’s finest work, but it sure can’t hurt, for either the unit as a whole or Andrei as a developing forward. Only after I see Loktionov on the powerplay for significant time will I even entertain the notion of sending down a player who, despite his miniscule point total is truly coming into his own as an NHLer.
But let’s say Loktionov continues not to score, powerplay time or not. Is he the kind of player we want centering our third line?
I say yes. Loki’s defensive came is coming along in much the same way Kopitar’s did. While he will never be able to knock guys off the puck with his size, his confidence is getting better as his composure to make reads at NHL speed improves. Andrei knows where to put himself to intercept passes or engage opposing forwards in stick battles over pucks. His board play is picking up as I no longer see a kid getting knocked off the puck by players twice his size. His deception and strength have improved to the point where he can hang onto to the puck in a corner long enough for the play to open up around him. His intelligence on the ice and ability to read the play and predict the next move of both team’s players are an asset I want on our third line.
The scoring will come, of that I have no doubt. If he can improve his shot he will be a true threat in the offensive. However for now I am content with the Loki who passes the puck to himself by bouncing the puck high off the glass in front of him to keep possession. The guy who strips the puck on backchecks more than any player on the Kings since Ziggy Palffy. And no, I am not saying he is as good as Ziggy, just that he brings skills to the table with which we aren’t exactly overly burdened.
So keep Loki around until he becomes an active detriment to the team, something I don’t see happening any time soon. The other guys in Manchester will have their time eventually, there is no miracle worker waiting in the wings. Andrei has finally found himself a consistent role at center on the team. His line is contributing as all good third lines should, by hemming the opponent in their own zone. Loktionov will only get better from here and should Sutter wisen up and give the boy power play time, the points will soon follow.