It is safe to say that the Ilya Mikheyev experiment has been well received so far. Much more debatable is that the Leafs had some modest success with Nikita Zaitsev initially, Soshnikov showed some promise, and that Igor Ozhiganov, was well, Igor Ozhiganov was an admirable attempt.
What is safer to say is that the Leafs have had success with appealing to Russian players that coming over to play for the Leafs is in their interest. That will probably be made easier by the fact that Mikheyev will likely become a fixture on the Leafs for the future and that Egor Korshkov has some potential to join the club as well in the near future.
With all that in mind, it’s time to shift our eyes to a new Russian, Alexander Barabanov.
From Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts:
“A name to learn: Alexander Barabanov. The Russian left-shot winger will be 26 in June, and word is a few NHL executives will be going to see him in person. His 46 points in 58 games for St. Petersburg were 18th in the KHL last season. He’s at three points in the first 12 games this year, but his ice time is down from 15:26 to 13:19. There’s always a concern that when a player in Barabanov’s situation sees that drop, it’s because the organization feels it will lose him.
“We’re already looking for Toronto’s ‘Russian Whisperer,’” one of my overseas contacts joked. That’s Senior Director of Player Evaluation Jim Paliafito.”
Perhaps a couple of the more interesting things about him are that he’s small. Well, that probably makes him less appealing to a lot of people, but at 5’10, he’s a bit smaller than who the Leafs have been targeting in the past. Another interesting thing about him is that he plays for SKA St. Petersburg, a club that can easily compensate him at a level in excess of a NHL entry level contract. Coming over likely means coming over at a pay cut.
He’s never been drafted by a NHL team, he was an Olympic gold medalist in the Olympics that no one cared about, and is coming off a year that he put up 17 goals in 56 games. He’s off to a much slower start with only 3 points in 13 games so far this year, but like Elliotte said, the fact that Alexander might not be in the club’s future is going to be working against him.
Overall for his career he has 52 goals and 120 points in 232 games, scoring at a .52 point per game pace. Recognizing that scoring totals in the KHL are a little lower, he remains an interesting option for the middle six wing positions.
Here’s a highlight reel that will endear him to you…
He seems fast and shift, with soft hands and not prone to rush a play. If you are to judge him entirely on how he looks on his best days. A lot of those advantages can disappear on smaller ice against more skilled defenders and goaltenders.
It never hurts to bring good players from other leagues over and see what they can do and there’s always the mutual agreed on contract termination that would send him merrily back to Russia if it doesn’t work out.
Cheap skilled wingers are the backbone of what the Leafs will be built on in the future, or at least as long as they’ve got a small fortune locked up in their core and have to budget wisely on the rest of the lineup card. Barabanov looks to play with a lot of energy and could be a contributor on the 2nd or 3rd line depending on who’s around next year. He’s not a bad player to keep an eye on.