Three weeks ago Alexander Barabanov played in a playoff game for SKA St. Petersburg. He played over 33 minutes, the second most of any forward, in a game that went into three overtime periods. SKA won it on a goal from Lukas Bengstsson at 113:27 into the game giving SKA the sweep of Vityaz in the first round of the playoffs. They were free to rest up for the second round.
And then the season was over. Barabanov wasn’t going to get a chance at another Gagarin Cup (he has two).
Now, a little earlier than usual, the KHL free agents are considering their options. The word is that Barabanov, subject of rumours for some time, is considering the Toronto Maple Leafs for his attempt at NHL hockey.
Hearing Alexander Barabanov is set to sign with NHL teams for the next teams. There's a report in Russia he's going to sign with the #leafsforever. Recently he had 3 teams he would like to go to, one of them should be the Coyotes. Chayka talked with Barabanov visiting St Petes— Igor Eronko (@IgorEronko) March 28, 2020
A quick look at the vital statistics for Barabanov should tell you why it’s the Leafs and the Coyotes, and I’ll bet Chicago, who are interested. He’s 5’10” and 192 lb, which means he’s built more like William Nylander than Mitch Marner, but he’s still one of those small wingers some teams are nervous of. He is a left-shooting right wing, and will be 26 this summer.
His age makes Barabanov too old for an ELC, which raises intriguing questions about his contract structure. When Ilya Mikheyev was signed last summer, he was still 24, so he had to be signed to a one-year ELC. For Barabanov, he can negotiate any deal he likes. For example: he could sign a deal with a team willing to pay him a large portion of his salary as signing bonus, and then, even if he flops and the contract is terminated, he’s been paid almost the full amount. This is the big advantage Toronto has over Arizona if they are still both vying for him.
What sort of player is he?
Barabanov is going to be a great signing for whichever team it is. Absolute workhorse with tremendous hands. https://t.co/VQ2bBLfNay— Alex Nunn (@aj_ranger) March 28, 2020
Alex is a Rangers fan, prospect watcher, and frequent KHL viewer. He’s speaking from a lot of experience watching a team full of Rangers prospects over the years.
But the box cars are not going to impress you in this season:
Barabanov, from St. Petersburg, has grown up in the SKA club, and he impressed in the junior ranks in the MHL averaging over one point per game, with a lot of those points coming from his own goals. In the KHL, that proportion has stayed the same, meaning he’s a shooter as much as a setup man, but the rate has dropped in half — 62 goals in 262 KHL games is not a top line player in the NHL. For comparison, Mikheyev went from .94 points per game in junior to nearly the same rate in the KHL as Barabanov — just over .5. The difference is Mikheyev had a very strong year last season before coming to Toronto, and Barabanov has 20 points in 43 games.
Sibir defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka suspended 2 games for slashing. pic.twitter.com/waEJAbjR3V— KHL (@khl_eng) December 30, 2019
Barabanov’s hand was broken on this play, and that forced him to miss about 10 games, and miss most of the national team action. We also need to understand that he has spent his career playing on the deepest team in hockey. SKA acquired some extra players this season, including Vityaz star and former Marlie Miro Aaltonen, in ways that raise questions about the level of their power to stock their team for cup runs. That’s a problem for other KHL teams to attempt to solve, but the result is that stars come in and shove the ordinary players down the lineup in ways that are highly unusual in pro hockey.
Barabanov began his KHL career playing fourth-line minutes in 2015-2016, his first full year as a pro, and he only climbed over the 14 minute mark for the first time in 2018. He’s been steady at 20 shifts per game and 15 minutes ever since, which makes him a middle-six player. However, this season in his brief playoffs, he frequently lined up with Aaltonen as the centre and Vladimir Tkachyov on left wing. Tkachyov was rumoured to be after an NHL contract last summer, but it never happened. They are two of a kind, small, mobile and good with the puck. But the fact that Barabanov’s ice time went up in the playoffs tells a different story about his most recent season than his raw points do.
This compilation gives you an idea of how he uses his left-shot as a right-winger. Some players really love playing their offside, but it’s entirely possible that like any good winger, he can change over if he needed to.
Just a reminder that as of now, NHL teams are not allowed to sign players for this season, not even their own drafted players on their reserve list. Regardless, unless the NHL makes up a whole new set of rules for a resumption of the 2019-2020 season, a player not on a team’s reserve list (so any free agent) would have to clear entry waivers to be added now. If Barabanov signs a deal, it’s for next year.
This is just the first of many KHL players who will be sought after this year, so expect more ripe, juicy rumours in the days to come.
Update from The Voice of Agents:
Leafs and at least 20 other teams have reached out over the season. Not guaranteed he’s making the move to the NHL. Barabanov and his agent, Dan Milstein, are going to start interviewing teams early next week. https://t.co/ppbeoDcbu0— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) March 28, 2020
Ignore the information in the Hornby tweet, it is nearly entirely inaccurate.
Alexander Barabanov’s agent, Dan Milstein will begin interviewing interested NHL teams today. Toronto and Arizona remain the frontrunners at this stage. Both clubs have been working on the Russian forward for almost two years.— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) March 31, 2020
Kyle Dubas acknowledges the #leafs interest in KHL free agent Alex Barabanov. They view him as a skilled playmaking winger: "One of the other things we like most about him is his ability to make plays under pressure and ... win pucks, protect pucks, when people come after him."— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) March 31, 2020