According to a report from R-Sport, Kyle Dubas has taken a trip to Russia this week.
The article says that Dubas is in Yaroslavl, home to Lokomotiv, and he has already watched a game played by their MHL team today which they won 3-1.
This evening in Russia, this morning our time, he is watching the KHL team take on CSKA. Both teams are in a playoff position as the KHL season heads into the final stretch. Lokomotiv is the home of Leafs prospect Yegor Korshkov, and he is in his third game back after a long injury layoff. He is under contract to Lokomotiv until May 1.
CSKA is the former home of both Nikita Zaitsev and Igor Ozhiganov.
The R-Sport article mentions a couple of young players Dubas would be seeing: Alexander Yelesin (22 and undrafted right-shot defender) and Sergei Andronov (Centre, drafted by St. Louis). Also on the ice in this game is Wild prospect Kirill Kaprizov.
H/T to Igor Nikonov for noticing this article.
For fun, let’s take the joke seriously and see if that could be what Dubas is looking at. The right side D on CSKA in this game consists of: Klas Dahlback, Alexi Marchenko and Marsel Ibragimov. The first two have already had tours of the NHL, one in a familiar spot, but this Ibragimov is only 21, so let’s check him out.
He’s 6’3” and 203 lb, according to Elite Prospects, and he does shoot right. He’s from Kazan, which is in the east of Russia. He played in the WHL for a while, mostly on the Victoria Royals where he wasn’t much of a scorer, but had (brace yourselves, I’m going there) a really good plus/minus in his final two seasons.
He went right back to Russia last year at age 20, and joined CSKA, but played in the lower level and junior league. This season, he has 35 games in the VHL and this is his fifth in the KHL. Well, if Dubas is after him, you really heard it here first! It’s not exactly easy to play defence in the KHL at a year out of junior, though.
Alexander Yelesin, 22, is 5’11” and 192 lb, and he is also a right shot and undrafted. He’s played the whole season in the KHL, and did last year too, minus two games in the VHL, so he’s more experienced. He’s also not really a scorer, and while I’ve watched a lot of Lokomotiv, he never made much impression. That could simply means he doesn’t do anything foolish, though. I’m there to watch Korshkov, and on Lokomotiv if you notice the defence it’s Staffan Kronwall and Jakub Nakladal.
Whatever Dubas comes home with, and it might just be some Russian nesting dolls, it’s fun to imagine the possibilities. But I’m not going to be very surprised if the Leafs sign another undrafted Russian free agent this summer.
Updated: A few people on Twitter have discussed this trip and have speculated about Yelesin in the sort of fairly glowing terms you usually hear about this sort of player. Get your salt out. However, this is written, not as speculation, but as fact:
If Andronov finds an NHL fit, he won’t make the move until next season. https://t.co/MlXvCGJaXh— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) January 8, 2019
So, I hadn’t looked him up very deeply, so here’s some more on him: He’s 29, so St. Louis’s rights to him have expired. He is a left-shooting centre, has no discernible scoring talent at 99 points in 407 KHL games, and he plays at a third line level of minutes despite being nominally listed as the first-line centre today.
He’s been on CSKA, a very good team in the KHL, for years, so he has to be good at his role. He played two uninspiring seasons in the AHL back in the day, and I agree with Dreger that anything north of $1 million is beyond what the Leafs should ever spend on a guy like this. Because of his age, he would not require an ELC with its capped pay rate.
Why is he a player of interest? His faceoff percentage this season is at 60 percent, and that’s not the first time he’s hit that number. If he PKs, which I assume he does, even better. That’s a perfect recipe for a guy you’d love to have anchoring your fourth line, but you don’t pay millions plural to him, not if you’re contending.
This sort of player made more sense when the job open was 3C in place of Tyler Bozak, but these days, he should be someone else’s gamble at that price, not the Leafs.