It turns out the very thing many (thought to be paranoid) Kings fans had feared could happen, actually almost happened. At least, he thought about it.
Three weeks before the trade that sent shock waves through the NHL and turned this season around for the Los Angeles Kings [...], Dean Lombardi sat down with rookie defenseman Slava Voynov [...] and broke the news that he was sending him back to the minor leagues.
It was heartbreaking news for Voynov, who had already spent three full seasons with the Monarchs and was the final cut coming out of training camp last fall. He came up for five games in October [and] was brought back in November [...] and thought he would stick around for good, but then came the devastating news from Lombardi.
Voynov, 22, said he thought about giving up on his dreams of playing full-time in the NHL and returning to his native Russia, where he could become just as rich and famous playing in the Kontinental Hockey League.
But with the demotion came assurance from Lombardi that Voynov [...] would soon be back.
“When I got sent down, I thought about the KHL because, you know, I’m mad and sad,” Voynov said Friday afternoon [...]. “My friends told me not to think about it, just wait and trust yourself and Lombardi.”
I LOVE YOUR FRIENDS.
Voynov followed their advice and returned to Manchester, where he continued to play like a man among boys. Meanwhile, the Kings went 2-5-2 without Voynov in the lineup [...]. Lombardi [...] pulled the trigger on the league’s biggest trade-deadline move, sending defenseman Jack Johnson to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for high-scoring winger Jeff Carter.
“I wouldn’t have been able to make that deal for Carter, moving a defenseman like Jack Johnson, without [Voynov] allowing me to do that,” Lombardi told SI.com last month. “As much as we needed Carter, I wasn’t going to leave my back end exposed, and I had in the back of my mind that this kid was ready.”
The maneuver paid off like triple 7s on a slot machine, as the Kings went 13-5-3 down the stretch with both Carter and Voynov in the lineup and secured the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.
And 26-7-3, if you include the crazy 13-2 playoff run. Is that the best streak in team history? I’ll have to look it up, and then slip it in the post later to make you all think you’re losing your mind when it appears out of nowhere.
“What an experience,” Voynov said. “I’ve been dreaming of this season since I was 2 years old. I’m so excited.”
One way to measure Voynov’s value to the team is in the plus-minus category. Johnson was a minus-12 in 61 regular-season games with the Kings this season,
And that was good for JJ.
Voynov was a plus-12 in 54. He sits at plus-2 in the postseason with a goal and two assists. More important, counting the regular season and playoffs, the Kings are 43-18-8 with Voynov in the lineup, and 10-11-7 with him either scratched or in Manchester.
“I’m the guy who’s supposed to be there, on most nights, to settle things down, cover up for him, but he’s a good young player,” Mitchell said. “Sometimes, he’s covering my butt out there.”
Like he did at least once in Game One, blocking a shot after Mitchell got burned.
[...] The sky’s now the limit for Voynov. He’s signed through next season at $787,500 a year and then will become a restricted free agent.