The Russian Factor: What’s Going On With Nikolai Prokhorkin?

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For those LA Kings fans that follow prospects as peripherally as I do, the name Nicholas Nikolay Nikolai Prokhorkin is associated with a degree of mystique.

When Prokhorkin left the Manchester Monarchs under a haze of legalese, Kings fans were left wondering, first, why he had left Manchester in the first place, and second: when he could possibly join the big club in Los Angeles.

I want to say that the answer to the first question is a simple “because Moscow is way cooler than New Hampshire,” but anyone that watches as many Russian dashcam videos as I do (which is to say, once in a blue moon) will be able to tell you that Russia is a terrifying place where rules are totally arbitrary.

I was listening to the recent edition of the fantabulous All the Kings Men, featuring the marvelous Jon Rosen. The LA Kings Insider dropped a bomb: special assistant to Dean Lombardi, Jack Ferreira, traveled recently to Scandinavia to watch Kings’ prospects Adrian Kempe (MODO, in Sweden) and Prokhorkin (CSKA Moscow, who were playing Jokerit in Finland). Rosen noted that Ferreira was impressed with Kempe’s play, but wasn’t able to see Prokhorkin play, as he was stricken with a “sore throat” and didn’t travel with the team.

Now, we all know the stigma surrounding Russian players in the NHL, and that is that they tend to be “soft.” Personally, I think that anyone that straps plastic to their body and runs into other people where plastic – all while wearing razor blades on their feet – is anything BUT soft, but hey, I’m weird.

A few days after missing the Jokerit matchup, Prokhorkin was assigned to CSKA’s minor league affiliate (in the VHL, which does NOT stand for the Vietnamese Hockey League). This curious turn of events left me thinking: What the heck is going on in Russia? (Don’t we all think that?)

Given that I am, in fact, a trained journalist, and not someone limited to posting reactionary GIFs and likens grown men to household outside pets, I knew where I had to start to get to the bottom of the Prokhorkin mystery (I can’t lie: it was a little Conradian): Google.RU.

Who Is This Prokhorkin Character?

“With some hand was unexpected, because nothing is reported,” said Prokhorkin to SovSports.ru [via Google Translate]. “I went to the gym after an illness, he went with the team to warm up the room, and then came and said. I just do not understand. If sent to the ‘Buran,’ can be said in advance.”

The Mumps outbreak aside, it was highly unlikely that Prokhorkin wasn’t playing because he really had a sore throat. Despite being a KHL all star as a rookie, Prokhorkin’s history with the West has had him at-odds with his Russian compatriots.

Prokhorkin was drafted in the fourth round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft (No. 121 overall), at the height of the “Russian Factor” that surrounded any and every Russian player: Will this player bolt to play for the thriving Kontinental Hockey League? The fact that he lasted four rounds indicates plainly that every NHL team was worried that he would be difficult to pull out of Russia; Prokhorkin’s size and talent were considered borderline NHL-ready, but the problem was getting him to North America.

The Kings clearly felt that they had done their due diligence with Prokhorkin and his people, and were comfortable taking him where they did.

Although he was drafted in the fourth round, Prokhorkin wasn’t in the type of situation that typically faces other Russian players. Instead of being at the point in his career where he would consider coming to North America to play in the CHL, or staying in Russia to play in the KHL’s farm system, the VHL, Prokhorkin had two choices: Come to North American and play for the Kings’ farm team, the Manchester Monarchs, or stay in Russia and split time between CSKA Moscow and their VHL affiliate.

A major factor that led to the Kings drafting Prokhorkin was their strong belief that he would choose the former, and come to the Kings’ training camp before heading to Manchester to begin his life as a professional hockey player in the good ol’ USA.

And that’s what he did, reporting to the Kings’ Development Camp that year and doing well-enough to earn an entry-level contract. He played in eight games for Manchester, where he earned one assist. That’s when the problems started. The KHL came calling. alleging that Prokhorkin already had a contract in place with CSKA.

John Hoven of Mayors Manor did some stellar work to get to the bottom of the Prokhorkin situation, which involved hiding, exile, and eventually legalese that culminated in it being determined that Prokhorkin had a legal contract with CSKA Moscow, and was breaching said contract by not reporting to the team.

Ultimately, Prokhorkin returned to Moscow, where he split time with THK Tver of the VHL and CSKA Moscow, combining for a total of seven points in 19 games.

Professional Hockey Player

“Nicholas spent this part of the season below what we expected of him,” said CSKA general manager Sergei Fedorov to Championat.com [via Google Translate]. “Recently, he got sick, we have restored, but he lacked match practice, and we decided to send him to Voronezh that he played a little hockey. I think it goes in his favor. And if not, will play the way will be, and we will draw the appropriate conclusions.”

The 2013-14 season, his rookie campaign, saw the 20-year-old center tear-up the KHL, scoring 37 points in 52 games while playing first-line minutes for Russia’s premier hockey program.

To start the 2014-15 season, Prokhorkin’s pace slowed a bit, but at the time of his demotion to Buran Voronezh (CSKA’s VHL affiliate), he had 18 points in 38 games, with 15 penalty minutes, and a +16 rating.

Considering that he is a 21-year-old player, these numbers shouldn’t strike anyone as particularly surprising, but given the fact that Prokhorkin openly talked about his intentions to head back to North America at his earliest convenience. To be fair: Prokhorkin COULD have terminated his contract with CSKA, but isn’t too savvy with the paperwork, and CSKA took the opportunity to negotiate a one-year deal to keep the perpetually-confused looking Prokhorkin in the Motherland for what was perceived to be a victory lap. (To be fair, Prokhorkin IS getting paid more).

Justice

On Feb. 17, it was reported (not by me) that Prokhorkin had been recalled from Buran, and would join the Red Army team for their matchup against Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. Per Rsport.ru, a spokesperson for CSKA was quoted saying, “‘Hockey Nicholas Prohorkin join CSKA in Yaroslavl,’ – said the spokesperson of the army.”

This is the type of gold you get when you use Google Translate to translate things from Russian-to-English.

During his time in the VHL, Prokhorkin did everything but light-up the scoreboard, with LiveSports.ru reporting, “There’s seven matches 21-year-old hockey player scored one goal.”

The move to call-up Prokhorkin makes sense; CSKA allegedly (and apparently) won the KHL regular season title, and getting Prokhorkin some work at the end of the year would ensure that he’s physically ready to play in the playoffs (if there is a playoff).

Whether Prokhorkin entered the season with a one-foot-out-the-door mentality or Fedorov is attempting to build a case for the Kings not to sign the prospect (or a combination of the two) the curious case of Nikolai Prokhorkin appears to have reached a turning point. While he is still under contract for the season, his stated intention to leave Russia for Manchester/Ontario/LA would seem to be the driving force behind his somewhat lackluster play, his sore throat, and his demotion to Voronezh, which doesn’t sound nearly as appealing as Moscow (to anyone).

While rumors fly that Fedorov may be making his own way back to the NHL, coupled with the uncertainty of Prokhorkin making the Kings’ roster next season, the waters are still murky. With Prokhorkin now back with the Red Army, and with his contract coming to an end, all signs continue to point to him heading to North America for the 2015-16 season.

John Siegel is a lunatic who writes about hockey, east coast bias, and content marketing. He rarely takes anything seriously, there's a good chance he's drinking right now. You can follow him on Twitter @JVNSiegel but you probably shouldn’t.
  • typicaljs

    An update here would be nice. Hockeysfuture just put up an article about him being the top KHL center prospect.