It was New Year’s Eve 2008, still living in Ottawa and wanting to take advantage of the World Junior Championships that were in town. Since I didn’t feel like making the trek out in the middle of nowhere to Scotiabank Place where the pool featuring Canada, the United States and Finland were playing, I wanted to check out the action – at a much cheaper price, mind you – at the Civic Center (home of Tyler Toffoli’s OHL team, the 67’s) so I got front-row seats for my friend and I to watch Sweden and Russia battle it out.
A couple days prior, I went to my local LIDS to buy a Sweden hat and have “Moller #9” embroidered on the side. Like my story with getting O’Sullivan’s name embroidered on my Team USA hat, while it was against company policy to embroider players names on their hats, no one knew who Oscar Moller was so it was fine.
Leading up to the game, I was getting excited at the chance to cheer on and hopefully meet Oscar Moller who was playing for the Los Angeles Kings at the time. Despite my knowledge of another Kings prospect playing in said game, my focus remained on Moller as I was there wearing my new hat and my Tommy Salo Sweden jersey (don’t ask) ready to cheer on the Swedes.
Unfortunately, luck was not on my side as while Sweden won the game, Moller was the only player that afternoon that left the game with an injury. As for other Kings prospect, I should have been more interested as unlike Moller, he became a mainstay in Los Angeles. He was Moller’s opponent that day for Russia. His name was Slava Voynov.
Earlier in 2008, the Kings selected Voynov 32nd overall in the Entry Draft and like many of their highly-touted prospects, the Kings’ brass sent Voynov to the minors for a few years so he could develop.
After four years with in the AHL with Manchester, Voynov was called up to the big club early in the 2011-12 initially to replace an injured Drew Doughty. While the Russian blueliner did return to the A once Doughty was healthy, his stay in the minors was a brief one as before 2011 was out, Slava Voynov returned to Los Angeles to stay – rightfully so.
In his 54 games in his rookie season, Voynov scored eight goals and added 12 assists to go along with a +12 rating before adding a goal, two assists and a plethora of defensive skill that postseason en route to Los Angeles’ first Stanley Cup win.
Voynov proved so good in so little time that the Kings were able to afford to trade fellow D-man Jack Johnson to Columbus. The Kings went along as if they never missed a beat.
By the time last year’s lockout ended, Voynov had already established himself as a top defenseman in the City of Angels and was expected to carry a significant load with the likes of Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene sidelined with injuries.
Having participated in all 48 regular season games last year, Voynov scored six goals and added 19 assists to go along with a +5 rating. But that wasn’t all.
In 2013, Voynov’s 22:18 of average of ice time ranked second among Kings defensemen after Drew Doughty and his 48 blocked shots were also second among Los Angeles blueliners behind only the now-departed Rob Scuderi.
Of his six goals last season, one of Voynov’s goals came on the power play and led all club defensemen with two game-winning tallies.
Even despite his relatively small 5’11, 199-pound frame, No. 26 certainly wasn’t intimidated by the opposition as he dished out a total of 83 hits during the regular season.
In the playoffs, Voynov was just as impressive if not more. While the Kings weren’t able to win hockey’s Holiest prize for a second-straight year, they were able to reach the Western Finals which was, in large part, thanks to the play of the 23-year-old blueliner.
Defensively, Voynov was a great presence as he registered 41 hits (tied for second with Robyn Regehr among Kings’ D-men) and blocked 19 shots which wasn’t quite as impressive a ratio as his totals during the regular season but still good enough to keep his team competitive while giving netminder Jonathan Quick a much-deserved break.
Offensively, Voynov was better. In 18 games, he scored six goals and seven assists to go along with a +9 rating. Of those six goals, four were game-winners with one of them being scored in overtime.
If you combine his career regular season and playoff totals, the native of Chelyabinsk, Russia has amassed a staggering plus/minus rating of +29. That number may not be leveled in the same ranks as those of Bobby Orr or Larry Robinson but it is still something worth bragging about.
For Slava Voynov and his future, which includes six more years in Los Angeles thanks to a recently-signed contract, it’s simple: it just keeps getting brighter and brighter.