From 2000 to 2010 the Islanders drafted at least one Russian-league player eight times. None of those players made any sort of impact in the NHL, and only one even played a game in the NHL. We covered the draft picks under Mike Milbury yesterday in Part 1.
Today we visit the Garth Snow years, venturing into the current decade as well, and wonder if one of these days it's going to turn out differently. We'll start with Snow's first draft...
2007 Draft Round 4 Pick #106 Overall
One of a surprising low of nine Russians selected in the 2007 NHL draft. Grachyov wasn't as risky a pick, as he was already in North America playing in the QMJHL. Playing for the Rimouski Océanic (after a trade from his original team the Quebec Ramparts) he lead the team in scoring during his draft year with 35 goals and 42 assists in 70 games. He had a down year in 07-08, but finished his junior career on a high note for the Lewiston MAINEiacs, with 30 goals and 31 assists in 61 games.
He signed an ATO for Bridgeport and appeared in one regular season game and one playoff game. The Islanders never signed him, and he eventually signed on with the Binghamton Senators. He played 40 games with their ECHL affiliate, posting 17 goals and 24 assists. He had 5 points for Binghamton, but was traded to the Rochester Americans, where he had another 4 points. For 2010 he played 13 games in the KHL, getting 0 points and 16 PIM.
Maxim returned to Binghamton for 2011-12, but had no points in 12 games. He ended up playing in the ECHL for the Elmira Jackals again and then the Chicago Express. He totaled 41 points in 46 ECHL games. For 2012-13 he returned to the KHL where he had no success, and finished out his career with a few games in the VHL before retiring. Senstown had an interesting and long interview with Maxim in 2011 that is worth a read. He also talked about his time with the Islanders.
2008 Draft Round 3 Pick #73 Overall
The short story is Kirill was a highly touted prospect, considered first round material for the 2008 draft. Snow grabbed him in the 3rd round when he dropped due to the possibility he wouldn't leave Russia. Eventually Snow signed him when most Islanders fans didn't consider there was a chance we'd ever see him. He played a handful of games in the AHL before returning to Russia.
2009 Draft Round 5 Pick #122 Overall
Anton Klementyev is probably one of the most tragic stories on this list. Before being drafted he came up through the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl system. Not highly rated when he was drafted, he was considered a good reliable defensive presence. The Islanders signed him after the draft to an entry level contract. He played 28 games in Bridgeport and made an emergency appearance in March for the Islanders.
For the 2010-11 season, Kelentyev started the season in Bridgeport and was one of their better defensemen. On a relatively bad Sound Tigers team he was a -3 in 51 games. Although his 9 points were the same as first round bust Ty Wishart that year, with Wishart playing 30 less games that year.
Tragically that September was the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash. Klemntyev was friends and had come through the same system as most of the players who died in the crash. Understandably he struggled following news of the crash. The Sound Tigers also added Matt Donovan, Aaron Ness and Calvin De Haan to the roster and had room for him. When the Islanders attempted to demote him to the ECHL, he refused and the team released him.
Klementyev returned to Russia, playing for the VHL and MHL Yaroslavl teams that season. He played two more seasons in the VHL before heading to Poland for 2014-15. This season he spent some time in the VHL before playing for HK Gomel in the Belarus league.
2010 3rd Round Pick #65 Overall
Finally, we get to Kirill Kabanov. He might be considered the straw that broke the camels back. In 5 drafts since taking Kirill Kabanov, the Islanders have not taken another Russian player. In the year before Kabanov was drafted he went from being a possible top 5, to the 3rd round. Even in the time leading up to the draft he was considered a late first, early second round talent.
I'm going to try not to blame Kabanov himself, as his falling draft stock could probably be blamed on his agent/father and a wrist injury while playing for Montcon in the QMJHL. Kirill first left Russia following a despite about a North America release clause from his contract with Salavat Yulaev Ufa. Returning from injury he struggled and was eventually sent home during Montcon's playoff run. He was then booted from Russia's under 18 team.
Kabanov seemed to turn it around the following season, after getting traded to the Lewiston MAINEiacs. For 2010-11 he had 11 goals and 17 assists in 37 games. Unfortunately Lewiston was shuttered after the season and the players entered a dispersal draft. Kabanov was drafted by Patrick Roy's Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, who actually had no interest in having him on the team. The Islanders threatened to send him to Sweden, and the Armada eventually traded him to the Cataractes.
The following season he was assigned to Bridgeport and managed just 9 points in 32 games on a very talented team (due to the lockout). Ryan Strome played 10 games at the end of the season and had 7 points. The following year Kabanov managed just 16 games in the AHL and 3 goals before being sent to the ECHL. He played 9 games with 8 points with the Stockton Thunder before being loaned to Modo of the Swedish hockey league.
Since then Kabanov made an appearance in training camp for the Rangers, but it seems like the end of the line for making the NHL. Interestingly last season Kabanov played with former Islander Rob Schremp for Skelleftea AIK. Kirill had 11 goals and 18 assists in 43 games, while Schremp had 6 goals and 4 assists in 42 games.
Kirill might have had an even bigger effect on the Islanders organization then the current 5 year run of no Russian draftees. During his first training camp with the Islanders he missed a practice and was late to another. His punishment for these transgressions? A stern talking to and a bag skate. This year the Islanders sent another "controversial" prospect in Josh Ho-Sang home early after he was late to his first practice.
Russian Roulette, Anyone?
The Islanders had an interesting decade of Russian draftees, to say the least. A few were gambles on ever coming over to America. A few had promise that had the same struggles and failings that any other prospect might have from North America. But with the team in better shape today, there seems to be less reason for the team to gamble on a prospect that might never play in North America.
According to a post on the Islanders website from November 2005 Ryan Jankowski was the head European scout while also assistant GM. Meanwhile credit for scouting Russia is given to Sergei Radchenko. There was one other article leading up to the 2006 draft mentioning Radchenko, and then he seemingly disappears. Even more confusing is that Veli-Pekka Kautonen is listed at Eliteprospects as the Isles head European Scout from 2006-07 to today. Yet the Islanders business directory doesn't list Veli-Pekka, but does have Matti Kautto (who came over after Anders Kallur left for the Rangers) as the lone European scout.
It will be interesting to see if this hurts the Islanders in the long run. They don't appear to be making a serious look at Russian prospects at this time. In the last five years Andrey Pedan (albeit from Lithuania, not Russia) was selected but moved as the blueline pipeline got full, and goalie Ilya Sorokin (2014) is a promising prospect thus far.
The KHL though is always having issues paying players, and NHL teams might have an easier time tempting Russian players to come to North America. There will always be a level of risk/reward with any prospect, but it may start being worth the gamble again.