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It’s not a 2nd chance, but Zykov has new opportunity

Valentin Zykov isn’t getting a second chance.

Not really.

It’s more like, well, a chance.

He has never been as good with the Golden Knights as his Sunday performance. He gave his team a lead it wouldn’t relinquish and then forechecked furiously during a 6-3 victory against Vancouver before an announced gathering of 18,066 at T-Mobile Arena.

His first goal of the season and first point since returning from a 20-game suspension for violating the league’s Performance Enhancing Substances Program came via a power play at 9:51 of the first period.

Max Pacioretty shot. It rebounded to Zykov. He scored.

It gave the Knights a 2-1 advantage on the scoreboard and Zykov even more confidence, a trait that should prove valuable during his current opportunity.

Nobody knows how long that will last. But more efforts like that of Sunday might at least cause management to take a much longer look in the direction of the 24-year-old Russian.

“He played real well,” Knights coach Gerard Gallant said. “I like his overall game. He has played well and worked hard and really come to the forefront.”

Zykov wasn’t made available for comment following the victory. And if he’s not going to talk after a performance that saw him named one of the game’s three stars, I’m not sure we will ever hear from him again.

Not that he says much, anyway.

He followed a short-and-sweet outlined script when addressing the suspension for the first time last week, stating time and again he was only focused on playing hockey. That’s fine.

He was asked legitimate questions about a situation in which he obviously ingested illegal substances and chose not to answer. Nothing new in these types of cases.

But make no mistake, no matter what they say now, the Knights were hardly believers in Zykov at the time of his suspension and again as it neared its end.

On the day it was announced that Zykov tested positive, the team threw him headfirst under the proverbial cheating bus, with president of hockey operations George McPhee stating the forward had told him he had been taking supplements for four years.

The Knights then welcomed Zykov off his suspension by putting him on waivers.

None of the 30 other teams claimed him — gee, I wonder why — and so the Knights sent him to Chicago of the American Hockey League.

But then something happened on his way to an endless stay in AHL purgatory.

The Knights showed some belief in him. Or they just liked how little money he makes.

Cody Glass and Cody Eakin are out with injuries, yet neither center is on injured reserve. But they were hurt badly enough that someone from Chicago had to be summoned.

It could have been Brandon Pirri.

It could have been Nicolas Roy.

It was neither.

Money matters?

It’s true Zykov makes less than both and his NHL salary of $700,000 is a friendly number for a team that has spent most of the season filing out paperwork while (supposedly) sending players up and down to accrue cap space.

For this, promoting Zykov makes sense.

It makes even more if he can continue being active on both ends. When he forechecks as he did Sunday, Zykov’s role becomes that much more clear.

He was the team’s best player in the first period along the third line with Paul Stastny and Alex Tuch, finishing with his goal and five shots in 12:27 of ice time.

Zykov might act lost in translation when it comes to dealing with media, but not so when the puck drops.

“I say hello to him every morning and ‘Have a good practice, have fun, let’s go to work,’ ” Gallant said. “He’s not perfect in English but he understands the hockey part of English, so there are no issues. He’s a good teammate and the guys enjoy that he’s come back and played real good hockey for us.”

Eakin and Glass will eventually return. Yet it’s difficult at this point seeing why the Knights would send Zykov back to Chicago. He could play well enough to remain in the lineup or simply become a healthy scratch.

He wasn’t all that great before being suspended (just two assists in seven games), but perhaps the time off lit an internal fire.

He was really good Sunday.

It’s not a second chance. Suspended. Thrown under the bus. Put on waivers.

It’s just a chance.

More Golden Knights: Follow at reviewjournal.com/GoldenKnights and @GoldenEdgeRJ on Twitter.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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