October 12, 2011
What a long, strange trip through major junior hockey it's been for Kirill Kabanov — and now it might be coming to an end.
Igor Eronko of the indispendable sports.ru, who published a far-ranging interview with the prodigal son of the New York Islanders organization and Russian hockey reported this morning that Kabanov might be loaned to a Swedish Elite League club for his age-19 season. From a Canadian Hockey League perspective, that should clear up why Kabanov has not appeared on the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada's roster even though the Islanders sent him back last week. (The Armada added Kabanov in last summer's Lewiston Maineiacs dispersal draft; of course, Kabanov had a small part in hastening the Armada's launch, since he helped Lewiston bounce the Montreal Juniors out of the playoffs.)
It would be a novel step for Kabanov to join the Elitserian. It is also an inventive way for the Islanders to skirt the CHL-NHL agreement and perhaps do right by a young talent who needs a bigger challenge. Kabanov's progress has seldom been a question of ability but one of focus; anyone who watches major junior knows full well that the more talented 19-year-olds can drift mentally, due to big-fish-in-small-pond syndrome. The Armada are also in a youth movement, as indicated by trading top defenceman Charles-Olivier Roussel to Saint John last week. (Another overage, Victor Hertzberg, is apparently also trying to play overseas instead of joining the Armada.)
While this might seem unusual, in hindsight Kabanov's plan never called for being a three-year player in the QMJHL. Kabanov told Evonko (stick tap to Dmity Chesnokov for the translation), "Perhaps I made a mistake that I didn't stay [in the KHL] and went [to North America] hoping I'd be the No. 1 pick."
Coming to the Moncton Wildcats in 2009-10, essentially, was a way to fast-track to the big league, the same way it is this season for Mikhail Grigorenko with the Quebec Remparts. There was still a Russian chill over that draft class, which seems to have increased the urgency to cross the Atlantic Ocean and show a willingness to play in the NHL. Coming over worked well for Kabanov's countryman Alexander Burmistrov, who was taken No. 8 overall from the OHL's Barrie Colts and now plays regularly for the Winnipeg Jets.
Kabanov, as has been well-documented, suffered a broken scaphoid bone early on in Moncton. That limited him to 22 games in his draft season, along with the Wildcats having a deep lineup that didn't need fixing because it wasn't broken. Then came the character questions flowing out of being dismissed from Russia's under-18 team, his outspoken comments about the KHL and Russian hockey and talk about a pushy hockey dad, the agent-switching.
By most accounts, Kabanov got his act together last season in Lewiston and was a main reason the Maineiacs made the league semifinal. He's still a character (you already know how he accepted a Facebook invitation to play ball hockey), of course. If he can keep developing and keep that human side, he'll be a great asset in the NHL.
The other big takeaway from the sports.ru feature is that Russian world junior coach Valery Bragin has said Kabanov, 19, will be looked at for Team Russia. That's not saying he'll play for the defending world junior gold medallists, but it's quite a break from past history.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports . Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.