After a long summer of travels, the Stanley Cup has finally ended its world tour. Last week, 53 Kings names were forever etched on hockey’s holy grail. People from ownership, management, the scouting and training staff, and, of course, players were represented on the newest addition to the Stanley Cup. Besides the obvious selections from those groups, it turns out that getting your name on the Cup, even if you are closely affiliated with the team, can be quite challenging. As I’m sure is the case with each champion, there are snubs in this process. For the Kings, Andrei Loktionov’s omission seems to stick out the most.
Obviously, it would make no sense to include every player that suited up for a Kings game this year. Trent Hunter and Ethan Moreau were impediments, rather than contributors, to the Kings’ Cup run over their short stint with the team. On the other end of things, Davis Drewiske and Kevin Westgarth both deservedly got their names on the Cup (approved by petition); they spent all year with the team and filled in well when necessary. Loktionov fits somewhere in the middle on this spectrum. He played in nearly half of the Kings’ regular season games (39, to be exact), which was more than Simon Gagne. However, because he did not suit up in a Stanley Cup Finals game, he did not fit any of the automatic criteria. This was an unfortunate omission for the talented Russian center. But this news also merits thinking about his role on the team going forward.
Loktionov has always been seen as a prodigious talent. Scouts laud his vision and playmaking ability, despite his lack of size and strength. It thus makes most sense for Loktionov to play in a top-six role in the NHL, where he can take advantage of his ability with skilled line mates because he does not possess the defensive ability to anchor a third or fourth line. As this past year showed, breaking into the Kings’ top six is no easy task, leaving the 22-year-old pivot in a nebulous spot in the organization. At a certain point, burying him in the minors is a waste, because he has at least some trade value in the open market. Conversely, at this point he probably should not occupy a roster spot, because his best chance at developing is by playing every night as the number one center in Manchester.
One of these forces will give eventually. He will either be traded or he will get a chance with the big club through injury. My guess is that Los Angeles will keep him until it gets a chance to see where its club can improve this year. Once its weaknesses are revealed, I think the Kings will be comfortable trading him to address these problems.
Unfortunately, Loktionov’s best chance to get his name on the Cup might have passed. Time will tell how long the young center stays in an organization full of stars down the middle.