Valentin Zykov just wants to move forward and play hockey.
That was the message the Golden Knights forward repeated several times in a two-plus minute interview Tuesday, his first public comments since he was suspended for 20 games Oct. 17 for violating the terms of the NHL/NHL Players Association Performance Enhancing Substances Program.
Of course, it’s not that simple for Zykov, who was called up by the Knights on Monday and in the lineup Tuesday against the Chicago Blackhawks at T-Mobile Arena. There’s still a lot of unknowns surrounding his suspension. And he has to prove worthy of the second chance the Knights gave him.
“It’s been a couple months now,” Zykov said. “I don’t want to think about it. I just want to move forward. I’m glad to be back. I just want to play hockey right now.”
The Knights supported Zykov’s suspension. President of hockey operations George McPhee called the situation “black and white” the day the suspension was announced. He said Zykov had been taking supplements for four years and continued to do so after being claimed off waivers Dec. 29 without the team’s knowledge or consent.
But Zykov said in a statement after his suspension was announced that he didn’t know how he tested positive. He repeated that Tuesday. He did not answer questions asking for his response to McPhee’s statements and whether he was taking supplements.
“I don’t want to look in the past,” he said to the former question.
“Guys, (I) just want to move forward,” he said to the latter.
Zykov skated in Vienna, Austria, to stay in shape during his suspension and started practicing with the Knights again when he was eligible Nov. 19. He was waived Nov. 27 just before his suspension ended, went unclaimed and was sent to the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves.
He played well with the Wolves, recording a goal and three assists in five games. But he has performed well in the AHL before — he led the league in goals with 33 in 2017-18 — and not seen it translate to NHL success. He has 15 points in 47 NHL games, including two in seven with the Knights this season.
The team decided Monday that he deserved another look. Now he needs to make the most of it — on and off the ice.
“He’s a good hockey player. He was playing well for our team when he got suspended,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “He’s a big, strong guy. He’s an NHL player.”
“Tweak” helping Engelland
The Knights’ recent defensive zone “tweak,” as Gallant likes to call it — in which they’ve switched from playing man-on-man to a zone look — appears to have immensely helped veteran defenseman Deryk Engelland’s game.
Before the switch, the 37-year-old ranked last among the team’s defensemen in shot attempts percentage (46.14 percent) and scoring chance percentage (47 percent). He was third-worst on the team in both categories behind Zykov and left wing Brandon Pirri.
After the change, Engelland led the Knights with a 53.85 shot attempts percentage and 66.67 scoring chance percentage in the next six games. He said the “tweak” has given him more energy on the ice.
“You’re not chasing guys around as much when they don’t have the puck,” Engelland said. “You’re folding into the middle and taking care of that net front and helping our goalies out. I think maybe we’re not giving up as many grade-A chances playing that way.”
Valentin Zykov file
Birthplace: St. Petersburg, Russia
Career stats: 47 games, six goals, nine assists