Canes' Loktionov makes smooth transition

calexander@newsobserver.comMarch 26, 2014 

Hurricanes Bruins Hockey

Carolina Hurricanes' Andrei Loktionov (8) shoots past Boston Bruins' Adam McQuaid (54) in the third period of an NHL hockey game in Boston, Saturday, March 15, 2014. The Bruins won 5-1. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

MICHAEL DWYER — AP

— Walking into a new locker room and joining a new team is never easy, but Andrei Loktionov appears to have had a smooth transition with the Carolina Hurricanes.

Obtained in the trade this month with New Jersey that sent Tuomo Ruutu to the Devils, Loktionov has quietly gone about his business, been a responsible player on the ice and a good fit in the room.

“It’s a nice team with nice guys,” the Russian forward said this week. “It’s easy to be here. The guys support me. It makes it easy to just go play hockey and not worry about things.”

Loktionov had a goal and assist Tuesday in the Canes’ 5-4 loss to the New York Islanders. He was on the ice for three of the Isles’ goals, finishing minus-2 for the game, but did help spark the Canes’ comeback after a horrible start – the Isles taking a 4-0 lead in the first 11 minutes of the game.

“I’m really pleased with him,” Canes coach Kirk Muller said. “His attitude has been great in terms of wanting to learn and get better. He’s a smart little two-way player who has been dependable without the puck and he works hard. He competes. He’s earned his ice time.”

Loktionov, 23, also has given the Hurricanes something to consider heading to the offseason.

Loktionov, who has a $725,000 salary this season, will be a restricted free agent. The Canes must decide whether to give him a qualifying offer or make him an unrestricted free agent.

If the Canes feel a need for more size, he’s not a big guy at 5-11 and 190 pounds. He hasn’t put up a lot of points: two goals, two assists in 10 games. He has been with two previous organizations – the Los Angeles Kings and Devils – and been deemed expendable by both, playing almost as many games in the American Hockey League as the NHL.

There’s also the matter of the Kontinental Hockey League. Loktionov confirmed he received a lucrative offer from a KHL team after last season, but the Voskresensk native said he wants to stay in the NHL and play in the “best league in the world.”

Loktionov, with a smile, said the toughest part of the March 5 trade to the Canes was “packing my bags.”

“It’s not so much about the hockey,” he said. “Every team is much the same, the organization. It is tough learning new systems and on the ice where you have to go.

“They showed me before the first game how I had to play, but in my mind it was still the old system, you know. You have to think where to go and it was tough the first three games maybe. Right now it’s good.”

Muller recently shuffled his lines and has had Loktionov playing with Eric Staal and Jiri Tlusty. Staal opened on the wing but took most of the faceoffs Tuesday and saw time at center.

In the first period, Loktionov set up Jeff Skinner for a shot on the power play with a sharp circle-to-circle pass. Skinner didn’t score on the shot but did moments later on a rebound.

Loktionov then scored the Canes’ second goal. After a pass off the boards from Tlusty, Loktionov knocked the puck away from Isles defenseman Travis Hamonic in the neutral zone, sped down ice and beat goalie Anders Nilsson with a deft forehand from a tight angle.

“He hasn’t had a lot of games with us yet but he seems to be a good young player,” Staal said. “You can see the skill level he has, and he has the right instincts in areas of the ice that can be helpful.”

The Canes (31-32-9), who have a road game against the Florida Panthers on Thursday, figure to have an interesting, meaningful offseason. There should be a shakeup in management, possibly another with the coaching staff. It’s likely the look of the room will change, with some players no longer around.

Miss the Stanley Cup playoffs five straight years, as the Canes almost assuredly will, and those things can happen.

But Loktionov said he hopes to be a part of his new team in the years to come.

“The people here care about me, which is nice,” he said.

Alexander: 919-829-8945; Twitter: @ice_chip

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