Back in April of this year the Maple Leafs announced they had signed highly sought after Russian forward Alexander Barabonov to a $925,000 entry level deal for the 2020-2021 season. Most hadn’t heard of him, but if his results playing in Russia at the junior and pro levels are any indication, the Maple Leafs may have landed a pretty special player.
Career Highlights Include:
- In the MHL (Russia’s Junior League), Alexander had a point per game average, recording 177 points in 175 games with SKA-1946 St. Petersburg.
- In 262 games playing on SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL, he scored 62 goals & 75 assists, while winning the Gagarin Cup twice in 2014-15 and 2016-17. He averaged under 16 minutes per game of ice time during the regular season but saw over 20 during the KHL playoffs, recording three points in four games played.
- Named top-three player for Russia at the U-18 World Junior Championship in 2011-12.
- Won a bronze medal at the World Junior Championship in 2013-14 where he earned six points in seven games.
- Won an Olympic gold medal with Russia in 2018.
- Earned bronze medals at the 2017 and 2019 IIHF World Championships.
But as some would say, oh here we go again, another skilled player with no bite to his game whatsoever. But these stats don’t tell the full story, most scouting reports I could find describe Barabanov as having strong offensive skill, but who can play and thrives in the dirty areas of the ice with a strong net front presence. His strength on and off the puck make him a coach’s favorite where he doesn’t have off nights in the effort column.
What stands out in these scouting reports the most is that he plays a similar game to two fan favorites here in Toronto in Zach Hyman and Ilya Mikheyev. Two players coaches, management and fans have come to respect for their work ethic, drive and tenacity in all areas of the ice. How much better does the forward unit look heading into next season if the Maple Leafs can bank on Marner, Nylander, Hyman, Mikheyev and Barabanov on the wings after the departures of Kapanen and Johnsson? That isn’t touching on the additions of Wayne Simmonds, Jimmy Vesey, Joey Anderson on the wing as well.
Barabanov will in some circles have to carry the weight of previous failures of Russian players coming to Toronto (Nikita Zaitsev & Igor Ozhiganov), but playing defence is harder when coming over to the NHL than playing third or fourth line minutes on the wing. Given the appropriate role and ice time, this can help acclimatize Barabanov to the NHL, additionally having one of Joe Thornton or Jason Speeza as his centre will be a boost in his development and growth this season as well.
Overall, the signing of Barabanov is a lower risk, high reward situation wherein if he doesn’t pan out, his contract isn’t too burdensome on the cap however if he can have similar results to Mikheyev then Kyle Dubas and the Male Leafs have hit a homerun on his contract and the bottom six is that much more of threat for rival teams to concern themselves with when playing the Maple Leafs.
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