Valentin Zykov might be a Russian playing junior hockey for a Quebec-based team, but the burly right winger proved he belonged on Team Cherry during the 2013 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game this week.
As one of the few Import players competing in the event, Zykov found himself matched up with Don Cherry, the infamous and often controversial celebrity coach. Over the years, Cherry has never minced words when it has come to expressing his opinions on European and French-Canadian players, with one of his latest targets being Import players in the CHL.
Despite these uncomfortable settings, Zykov was unfazed by Cherry's comments entering into the Top Prospects Game and set out to prove his coach wrong. Though Zykov, like the rest of Team Cherry, was held off the score sheet in the 3-0 loss to Team Orr, the 17-year-old was involved in the play from the start, crashing the net and creating chances.
A native of St. Petersburg, Russia, Zykov is currently in his QMJHL rookie season with the Baie-Comeau Drakkar. Second in the league standings, the Drakkar feature a combination of veteran savvy and young talent that so far has been a recipe for success. To his credit, Zykov has fit seamlessly into the team's lineup and he quickly adjusted to the North American style of play.
"Here there are more hits," says Zykov. "It's a small ice, so speed, everybody is faster, everything is faster, the game is faster. Faster and stronger. But my style of play is like a North American style. It wasn't that hard to compensate."
Listed at 6'0” and 209 pounds, Zykov has the frame to create room on the ice and battle through traffic to make a play. Far from a simple checking line forward, Zykov leads the Drakkar in scoring with 28 goals and 53 points in just 43 games. These totals are also tops among QMJHL rookies and place him 15th in league scoring.
Zykov had an immediate impact with the Drakkar, scoring a goal and adding two helpers in his first game with Baie-Comeau and his scoring pace has not slowed down since.
That attracted the attention of the Russian Hockey Federation, who invited Zykov to participate in the Subway Super Series in early November. Playing as a member of Team Russia in two games against Team QMJHL, Zykov scored a goal and added an assist. His strong performance could put him into consideration to play for Team Russia at the World Juniors in the coming years, but if nothing else, it simply proves that he continues to have a knack for putting up points, regardless of the situation.
In fact, since the calendar switched to 2013, Zykov has embarked on a six-game point streak, scoring a goal in every match and totaling 17 points so far in the run. It was enough to earn him CHL Player of the Week honors before he left for the Top Prospects Game in Halifax.
"I'm not a very fast player, but I have good hands," says Zykov, describing his play. "I'm able to put the puck in the net and work hard."
Committed in his desire to be drafted and eventually play in the NHL, Zykov's decision to come to North America was fueled by his dissatisfaction with his role as a member of CSKA-Krasnaja Armija Moskva in the MHL.
"My dream is to play in the NHL. I want to be drafted as high as I can. So I moved to Canada," explains Zykov. "I made the decision this summer because I didn't have