One of the great things about having a pre-deadline fire sale is that it leaves you with some extra contract spots. With those, you can take a few chances on players with potential upside. The Toronto Maple Leafs appear to understand this, and as such, have signe free agent Nikita Soshnikov to a three-year Entry Level Contract.
Soshnikov is a twenty one year old right winger from Nizhny Tagil, Russia. While he’s never been drafted by an NHL team, that hasn’t stopped him from progressing into an intriguing prospect. He spent his late teens as a member of Atlanty Mytishchi of the MHL, Russia’s major junior league. In his last full season, Soshnikov scored 38 goals and added 34 assists in 59 games.
In the middle of the 2013/14 season, Soshnikov made the jump to the Kontinental Hockey League, staying in the Atlant organization with the mens club. Largely playing fourth line minutes, he scored two goals and and set up three others in 33 games. This year, he took on an integral role with the big club, using his strong skating ability and good hands to claw up to the top six and produce the fourth most points on the team. In 57 games, he scored 14 goals (all even strength, leading the team), and added 18 assists.
Due to his excellent play this year, the Russian National Team called him up to play two games in the European Hockey Tour. In those games, however, he was held pointless. Here’s an example of Soshnikov in action, against Ilya Kovalchuk’s SKA St. Petersburg.
Overall, this looks like a shrewd move by Leafs management, picking up a player who has shown signs of rapid improvement while playing in a high level mens league.
It’s not quite known what the immediate plans are for him, but with Atlant out of the Gagarin Cup Playoffs at the moment, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Leafs might use up the first year of his contract to let him play in the remainder of the NHL and/or AHL seasons. Soshnikov is ineligible to play in North America until the beginning of next season, according to Chris Johnston.