We're about two-thirds through our semi(ish) annual(ish) Top 25 Islanders Under 25 countdown, but we pause now for a timely interruption: Kirill Petrov's presence, or lack thereof, on our current countdown.
The English version of Russia's R-Sport has Petrov's agent saying* the Islanders remain in contact with their 2008 pick, who still plays in the KHL but reported to Long Island for the 2010 summer rookie camp and has never ruled out playing in the NHL.
*Granted, "Russian media report" and "player's agent says" are always red flags when sorting out degrees of truth in hockey.
As we explain in most 25U25 posts, we tell our panelists that all Islanders properties under age 25 -- signed, unsigned, or defected -- are eligible for the ballot. Though the emphasis is on "who's better now?", each voter is given leeway to weigh potential vs. ceiling vs. established pro experience vs. might-never-be-here vs. I just don't like the looks of that kid.
For example, last year Anders Lee dropped to 20 when several voters feared he might loophole his way out of the Isles' hands. This year he's signed and in uniform and he ends up at 16.
Petrov is another example. You may disagree, but his KHL performance indicates he could step into the NHL right now. He's not a prolific scorer, but put him on the third line and you likely have the kind of forward depth contenders brag about.
Still, with him signed in the KHL through next season, it's understandable so many left him off the ballot. As offered by yours truly in the pre-25 countdown post about those who missed the cut:
He's obviously talented and could probably step into an NHL role today, based on how he's used and produces in the KHL. He's not a star, but he's a smart, effective player with some attractive tools. But he's still signed in Russia for next season, and many doubt whether he will ever come over. So several voters punished him for that reason.
I placed him 24th (punishing him for signability, but not ostracizing him all the way), while Mike (ICanSeeForIslesAndIsles) put him at 15th based on production in the KHL. Everyone else left him off. As Keith said: "He's dead to me."
Petrov's KHL stats don't inspire coveting until you dig into how they fit on his Ak-Bars Kazan team and watch him play. That's when you start to picture the 23-year-old as a viable candidate to upgrade the Islanders' bottom six two seasons from now.
Now, will it ever happen?
That's where the tongue-in-cheek asterisk above comes into play. As mentioned, Petrov has never closed the NHL door. The Islanders drafted him knowing he was signed long-term in the KHL -- a reason he fell to the third round (#73) in the 2008 NHL Draft. While still under that contract, he made the significant gesture of coming over for Islanders prospect camp in 2010. Last year he signed a two-year extension in the KHL, reportedly upon news about staying closer to home due to his mother's health.
But for his agent, the source of the news from R-Sport above, the time to bang the drum for his next contract begins now. If he wants to drum up good offers from both sides -- and he's an agent, so there's really no "if" there -- then he makes sure both the Islanders and Kazan know that the other is still in the picture.
Thus you get "[the Islanders] are not just expecting him, but they are ready to guarantee him a place in the roster [in 2014]." And you get "We’ll see what will happen after [his contract expires next summer]. Petrov is turning into a leader of the Kazan team, so let’s not jump too far ahead."
No, no we'd never want to jump too far ahead, now would we?
As for the whole "guarantee" of a roster spot, I mean the Islanders would never do that, would they? Er, well. But seriously, if there's any truth to that aspect, it is probably in a Jesse Joensuu sort of way, where there would be an option to return to Europe if the player didn't make the NHL roster out of camp.
(Frankly, it's a smart approach for Petrov: Develop and make more money in his early years in the KHL, then if he wants to come to the NHL later, his ELC will be just one year and he'll be able to get a raise sooner.)
Regardless, this is something for tomorrow, not today. But come this time next year, there might be reason for more of us to put Petrov in our top 25U25.