2018-19 Player Review: Valentin Zykov was in the right place at the wrong time

The Golden Knights need to figure out what they have in Valentin Zykov.

In the 2018-19 Player Review series, we will evaluate the 2018-19 performances of each member of the Golden Knights. Players were evaluated based on overall performance in both the regular season and playoffs, especially with regard to pre-season expectations and how that player performed in his particular role.

The Vegas Golden Knights claimed Valentin Zykov from the Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 29, marking the 24-year-old’s third NHL team in 30 days. Zykov had a difficult time cracking the Vegas lineup, making just 10 appearances in the team’s 41 regular-season games following the acquisition. It was unclear then what the plans were for the Russian winger, and things are no less murky now.

Season in review

It’s hard to adequately review a player who barely played over 100 minutes with the Golden Knights. Zykov appeared to be quite a bit like other young scorers — dangerous when advancing the puck forward and somewhat lackadaisical on defense. He potted two goals for the Knights, and made gaffes that allowed the same number to come back the other way.

Zykov, 24, scored both of his goals from about the distance from your face to the screen of your computer right now, showcasing his ability to be where the puck is going and making no mistake once the puck was on his blade.

It is hard to understand just why Zykov bounced around so much in 2018-19, as his relative Corsi was always positive. This means that for the lowly Oilers, the high-powered Knights and the Bunch of Jerks™, Zykov had better possession numbers than his teammates.

The Golden Knights decided to answer the question, “What do we say to the God of Corsi?” with “Not today!” when they opted to not use Zykov. Across the past three seasons, no player with 40 or more games played has a higher Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5 than Zykov. Not one.

Corsi is not everything, so let’s look at his isolated impact, courtesy of HockeyViz:

Small sample size, of course, but this is excellent. Generating 11 percent more offense and 13 percent less opposing offense, all while drawing considerably more penalties than he took? Sign me up.

Granted, he did have the benefit of skating alongside Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson for a spell, but it appears that his ability to generate is separate from his talented linemates:

Zykov ‘n’ Pals

Zykov (VGK)108.9752.8%52.0%33.3%50.7%50.0%51.8%
Zykov (CAR/EDM/VGK)235.3358.9%56.9%33.3%54.6%53.1%52.8%
Zykov w/o 71 or 8157.7549.5%50.0%25.0%55.3%58.8%48.1%
Karlsson & Marchessault w/o 71,004.0752.8%53.3%49.5%53.4%52.1%53.9%

Zykov’s scoring, while limited, has been quite good on a rate basis. His 1.78 5-on-5 points per 60 minutes ranks 138th out of 864 since the beginning of the 2016-17 season (350+ mins), ahead of Max Pacioretty, Jakub Voracek and Anze Kopitar.

Yes, that’s very misleading. But it’s also true.

Standout moment

Oof. I’d say there are three options — his claim, goal 1 and goal 2. Let’s take a look at his first goal as a Golden Knight:

Zykov toys with 14-year veteran Braydon Coburn before finishing off a give-and-go with William Karlsson. Offensive flashes like this are what enabled Zykov to lead the AHL with 33 goals in 2017-18 despite playing in just 63 games.

Any potential postseason glory was snuffed out when Zykov was scratched for all seven games against the San Jose Sharks. Hindsight is 20/20, but you have to imagine Zykov could not have been worse than Ryan Reaves, Tomas Nosek, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, William Carrier and Brandon Pirri, who combined for 28 games and zero points.

Looking ahead to 2019-20

The biggest question moving forward is not how well Zykov will play next year, but rather if he will play and how he will be deployed. Through 40 NHL games, it is clear that Zykov thrives on the possession side of things, and his scoring touch is apparent if given the minutes.

Having said that, it is difficult to see just where Zykov will fit in. Assuming no major departures, the top-nine is likely to look something like this:




This would leave just a fourth line spot open, which would mean once again that Zykov is competing with the likes of Nosek, Carrier and Reaves — reliable wingers with significantly lower ceilings.

Thanks to a lack of deployment and a couple defensive miscues, Zykov’s trade value is the lowest it has been in his career. Zykov has already demonstrated that he is too good for the AHL, but finds himself in a tough spot on a loaded Golden Knights offense.

One thing does remain clear, however — we are never going to know just how good Zykov can be until he plays more than 10-11 minutes a night.

Wasn’t that the case with Wild Bill?

How would you grade Valentin Zykov’s 2018-19 performance?