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Martins Dzierkals joins Dinamo Riga in the KHL

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The Leafs draft pick is moving from the ECHL to the KHL and going home at the same time.

Rouyn-Noranda Huskies v Quebec Remparts Photo by Mathieu Belanger/Getty Images

Scroll down for the news on a trade request and texting Kyle Dubas.

The KHL team Dinamo Riga announced today the signing of Martins Dzierkals for the coming season.

Dzierkals, on an AHL contract with the Marlies, played most of last season in the ECHL for the Orlando Solar Bears. He was a very successful forward there, but in four games for the Marlies, he remained pointless.

Dzierkals, who is 21, was drafted 68th overall in 2015 after playing one season in the MHL club (junior team) affiliated with Dinamo Riga. That season saw him put up .88 points per game.

He moved to the QMJHL the next year and played two seasons there, scoring at a little higher rate, as you should expect. He graduated out of junior hockey last summer, and the Leafs chose not to offer him an ELC at that time. He accepted an AHL contract, just like JJ Piccinich did.

Both players did well in Orlando, but didn’t dominate the league in the fashion you would expect for someone due a promotion to the AHL immediately.

With a move to the KHL, Dzierkals will step into a much more difficult league, and it will be interesting to see if he can get any kind of good ice time or even remain on the team. Dinamo is affiliated with a team in the Latvian league, which is likely below Dzierkals’ level. If he can’t crack the big club in a meaningful way, he’s stuck in an awkward position.

The Leafs still maintain their draft rights to Dzierkals until June of next year. By moving to the KHL, that may now switch to indefinite rights. I will confirm that when more information is available.

Dzierkals was unranked on our Top 25 Under 25 list this year.

Update

Dzierkals played in a preseason game with Riga immediately after his signing was announced. He met with the media after, and some of his comments have been translated and posted by Aivis Kalnins.

The gist of it is that Dzierkals didn’t like being sent to the ECHL last year, and didn’t want to play there again this year. He wasn’t happy that his new contract offer from the Marlies (remember he has only ever been on an AHL deal) wouldn’t guarantee that wouldn’t happen again.

Also he asked for a trade. Although it isn’t at all clear when that was.

The article itself advances the idea the after June rolls by next year, the Leafs’ rights to Dzierkals will expire and he will be a UFA able to sign anywhere. That might be true. The CBA certainly reads that way, and that’s how I’ve always understood it, that players drafted out of Europe have four-year rights and that’s that. Even if they play in junior and then return to Europe, it’s four years. However, CapFriendly (who are smarter than me on this) list Eemeli Räsänen now with indefinite rights. This is moot anyway, because the only team that might use an SPC space on Dzierkals is Edmonton.

Now, about this trade request. This is really weird. No team is going to execute an AHL trade of a player they hold NHL rights to. They might loan that player to another AHL team to get him some ice time but that’s it. Perhaps he meant a trade of his NHL rights? Which is patently absurd because no one would offer even future considerations for an ECHL player on an AHL deal.

Which brings me to his unhappiness at playing in the ECHL. I imagine it’s not fun. The Solar Bears were not a team that was spending much money last year, and the only thing going for them was a Florida location. But there was absolutely nothing about Dzierkals’ play that indicated he deserved to be called up to a team that was not playing anyone at wing who wasn’t on an NHL contract, with the occasional exception of Rich Clune getting in a game.

This might sound terribly old-fashioned, but you have to earn your promotions. He hadn’t.

The article also includes this comment:

During the negotiations for my next contract, there weren’t any guarantees that the same thing wouldn’t happen to me again. The team front office said the same - that I would play in the AHL. I spent some time there but they sent me down. I wasn’t happy with their rules. Eventually, I got tired of waiting, I texted Kyle (Dubas) myself so I could figure things out.

I’m shocked that tactic didn’t work out for him. After all, what GM busy with preparing for the NHL season doesn’t want to chat to a marginal prospect who doesn’t like his rules and wants guaranteed playing time on a team still awash in better players on NHL deals?

He called up the GM of Riga, who used to be his coach, and got his new job that way. It seems Dzierkals is acting as his own agent.

He still dreams of the NHL, according to what he said after this game. Which is fine, he should keep dreaming. He might want to keep his waking thoughts grounded in a little more reality, however. The KHL will pay him a lot more than he’ll ever earn in the minors in North America, and if he makes it, great. But I’m not going to be shocked if he filters out into a lower-level league somewhere.

Martins Dzierkals via Elite Prospects

Season Team League GP G A TP PIM Playoffs GP G A TP PIM
Season Team League GP G A TP PIM Playoffs GP G A TP PIM
2012-2013 SK Saga 18 Latvia U18 20 28 31 59 16
Latvia U17 EYOF 3 1 0 1 6
Latvia U17 (all) International-Jr 3 1 0 1 6
2013-2014 SK Saga 18 Latvia U20 23 35 33 68 43
Latvia U18 WJC-18 D1A 5 0 2 2 16
Latvia U18 (all) International-Jr 12 6 6 12 18
2014-2015 Ogre/Saga 18 Latvia 6 5 5 10 12
HK Riga MHL 32 10 18 28 49 Playoffs 3 1 0 1 2
Latvia U18 WJC-18 6 3 6 9 10
Latvia U18 (all) International-Jr 7 3 9 12 12
Latvia U20 WJC-20 D1A 5 2 2 4 2
Latvia U20 (all) International-Jr 10 4 4 8 4
2015-2016 Rouyn-Noranda Huskies QMJHL 59 24 43 67 42 Playoffs 20 7 10 17 12
Rouyn-Noranda Huskies M-Cup 5 1 0 1 4
Latvia U20 WJC-20 D1A 5 1 3 4 4
Latvia U20 (all) International-Jr 7 2 6 8 6
2016-2017 Rouyn-Noranda Huskies QMJHL 47 21 28 49 44 Playoffs 6 0 2 2 10
Latvia U20 WJC-20 6 1 2 3 12
Latvia OGQ 3 1 0 1 0
Latvia (all) International 4 1 0 1 0
2017-2018 Toronto Marlies AHL 4 0 0 0 2
Orlando Solar Bears ECHL 51 15 21 36 46 Playoffs 7 1 2 3 19
2018-2019 Dinamo Riga KHL - - - - -