There is only one player in NHL history to be born in Uzbekistan.
That player is Arthur Kaliyev.
It's been quite the journey for the 20-year-old from the small nation in Central Asia to the bright lights of Hollywood, one that featured its fair share of twists and turns before finally landing him on an NHL roster.
Now, as a key piece on a surging Los Angeles Kings team, that journey seems to be paying off.
"Well, with COVID there have been some positives, and the positive is that he got to spend half a season in the American League," said Kings coach Todd McLellan prior to his team's matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday night.
"Had he not done that, I'm not sure that he would be with our club right now"
Kaliyev took his COVID-induced stint with the AHL's Ontario Reign last season and ran with it, racking up an impressive 31 points in 40 games as a 19-year-old playing for the first time against grown men, and opening a number of organizational eyes in the process. The jump from Junior to the AHL can be a difficult one. But Kaliyev's was a debut that certainly exceeded expectations, as the young winger exhibited the poise and offensive acumen of a player far more his senior. From there, Kaliyev has only continued to build upon that first taste of the pros, earning a spot on the Kings roster out of camp just two years after being selected in the second round.
He's had to earn his stay, though.
Kaliyev is logging fewer than 13 minutes per night this season, giving him one of the smallest workloads of any Kings forward. And yet he's still made the most of it, with 3 goals and 5 points in 10 games – including four in his last five. That streak, which coincidentally coincides with a four-game Kings' win steak, has rocketed Kaliyev up the Calder Trophy odds list and helped solidify his role as an NHL regular.
"He's getting more and more confident every game," explained McLellan.
"We've moved him up and down the lineup for different reasons. He's effective on the power play, and is picking a lot of things up that, I would call him a natural scorer, that a natural scorer needs to pick up away from the puck."
Natural scorer, indeed.
Kaliyev has filled the net at every single level he's been at throughout his young career, netting a career-high 51 goals with the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2018-19 and even potting his first NHL marker in his first-ever game last season. The kid has a nose for the net, a fact of which his teammates are well aware.
"His game is 'shoot the puck and get it back,'" describes Alex Iaffallo of his young teammate.
"He's obviously got a really hard shot and he's been using that very effectively, especially on the power play, and that's helped us win games"
Kaliyev has indeed thrived on the man advantage to this point, giving the Kings a dynamic young weapon that their power play has lacked in years past and forcing opposing penalty killers to key around someone on the perimeter that isn't Anze Kopitar. That multi-faceted attack has resulted in Kaliyev owning two of the Kings' nine power-play tallies this season, leading the team.
"Artie's obviously been a big part of our power play," explained Kopitar.
But his progression goes deeper than that.
"I think he's just grown as a person, as a player," the captain continued.
"Young guy coming in, you've got to learn some stuff. And I think he's doing just that. He's taking it in stride, which is nice to see"
With Kaliyev improving seemingly by the game, Monday's contest with the Maple Leafs provides yet another opportunity for his star to shine. Only this time, it will be on hockey's biggest stage.
No pressure, kid.